U2’s new album, “All That You Can’t Leave Behind” begins with its cover. The group, clad entirely in black, is small and nondescript in the vast expanse of white that makes up the remainder of the cover.
When studying the cover, it is revealed that it contains various shadings, but the initial impression is of bright white. On a first listen, this album seems rather plain with songs sounding similar and streaming into each other, but, if you pay close attention to the various shades, you find a very complex, textured treat.
U2’s latest album is best labeled as adult-contemporary, but there arises a question of classification of this genre of music. The youth generated phobia surrounding this term might lead people who shy away from adult-contemporary albums to claim that the band has lost their edge.
This album is more for adults. It does not have the gritty politics of “War” and “Boy.” Likewise, it does not have the experimentation of “Zooropa” or Brian Eno’s “Passengers.” To its credit, it is catchy and–the more important definition of adult contemporary–mature. The instruments blend in even layers, creating a sophisticated flowing texture of sound.
In earlier albums, The Edge’s guitar was the centerpiece of the songs. In “All That You Can’t Leave Behind,” the guitar provides highlights while the keyboards and synthesizers convey the core of the 11 tracks. One of the exceptions is the standout number, “Elevation,” which resonates classic U2 circa “Achtung Baby.”
The songwriting, mostly by Bono, is creative and intriguing. However, the album’s main flaw is that the music and lyrics do not always reflect mutual feelings. The beginning of the album shows music and lyrics in synchronicity. The first four songs sound and read like a self-help book. The opening song on the album, “Beautiful Day,” tells us not to worry about our future or past, but to live in the moment, because it is a beautiful day. The music for this inspiration is uplifting, especially toward the middle of the song where the music crescendos with Bono chanting “Touch me, take me to that other place/ Reach me, I know I’m not a hopeless case.” The last half of the album is where the feel of the music and lyrics tend to separate.
The music maintains its cheery attitude [the only track on the entire album that is not feel-good is the dark “New York”], while the lyrics become increasingly morbid and irate. The best example of this is the song “Peace on Earth”. In this track, the music slowly seems to build throughout the piece while maintaining a slow, calm tone. The song, like the others on the CD, sounds uplifting. The lyrics, on the other hand, reflect an entirely different meaning. The term “peace on earth” is employed as an irony. With the light-hearted music, it sounds like Bono is praising peace on earth; instead, he is stating that there is no such thing. The message “She never got to say good-bye/ to see the colour in his eyes/ now he’s in the dirt/ that’s peace on earth” echoes of an earlier, angry U2. Without the harsher sound, the message can be lost in feel-good waves. Perhaps it is subliminal, but I do not believe that the contradiction between music and lyrics works for this album.