Sunday, March 22, 2009

U2: No Line On The Horizon

U2 has a new album out and you know what that means: incredible sound with a wealth of keening lyrics that we have no idea about.

Their latest effort, No Line On The Horizon, has a thoughtful, self-searching sound undergirded by the Edge's riffing guitars which borders on the melancholy. In other words, it's vintage U2.

Bono's lyrics are that odd blend of politics, religion, and world weariness that allow it to be both relevant and transcendant at the same time. The band has managed to keep themselves relevant for the better part of three decades, experimenting musically while keeping true to their rock roots.

The abstract lyrics are the perfect enigma: is Bono the faithful Christian soul who is struggling to reconcile his faith with the mystery of evil in the world, or is he the post-modern man who is lost among the cares of the world but can't escape the touchstone of his religious upbringing? Personally, I have always posited that U2's music represents Bono's public fight with God.

In No Line On The Horizon, Bono returns to themes he has explored again and again: the search for love and meaning, the mystery of evil, birth and re-birth, and social justice. The songs are peppered throughout with religious phrases and imagery. The track Magnificent proclaims
From the womb my first cry, it was a joyful noise... /
Only love, only love can leave such a mark /
But only love, only love can heal such a scar /
Justified till we die, you and I will magnify /
The Magnificent
Is it true the perfect love drives out all fear? he asks on I'll Go Crazy If I Don't Go Crazy Tonight. Yet we're never quite sure what it is that Bono so desperately seeks. In Moment of Surrender he writes he is "begging to get back / To my heart / To the rhythm of my soul / To the rhythm of my unconsciousness / To the rhythm that yearns / To be released from control".

Yet it is exactly this tension between the worldliness and Godliness that makes his lyrics so attractive. The raw emotive power of the music draws the listener in, while the words are ambiguous enough to allow them to be reinterpreted in any number of ways. In Biblical study this is called isogesis -- reading meaning into a text -- rather than reading meaning out of a text, or exegesis.

So is there an open question on whether U2's music is Christian in its essence? This topic has been hotly debated by devotees on all sides. writes about an interview with Bono in 2005:
Is Bono, the lead singer and songwriter for the rock group U2, a Christian? He says he is and writes about Christianity in his lyrics. Yet many people question whether Bono is "really" a Christian, due to his notoriously bad language, liberal politics, and rock star antics (though he has been faithfully married for 23 years). But in a new book of interviews, Bono in Conversation by Michka Assayas, Bono, though using some salty language, makes an explicit confession of faith.

"And yet, along comes this idea called Grace to upend all that. . . . Love interrupts, if you like, the consequences of your actions, which in my case is very good news indeed, because I've done a lot of stupid stuff."

"That's between me and God. But I'd be in big trouble if Karma was going to finally be my judge," says Bono. "It doesn't excuse my mistakes, but I'm holding out for Grace. I'm holding out that Jesus took my sins onto the Cross, because I know who I am, and I hope I don't have to depend on my own religiosity."
The album booklet ends with an invitation to a laundry list of U2's favorite causes: Amnesty International; Burma Freedom Campaign; Greenpeace; the One AIDS Campaign; and the Irish NGO, Concern.

Love or hate the politics, the music still rocks.

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