U2’s Past Fire Just Embers On “All You Can’t Leave Behind”

published in The News-Sentinel

I flipped on my car radio a few weeks ago and hear it – that distinctive echoing, melodic guitar that could only be U2’s The Edge. It was a “Beautiful Day” indeed when I learned the Irish rock/advocacy group was bestowing upon fans its 10th album.

I had high hopes that “All That You Can’t Leave Behind” would be a return to the passion and unforgettable fire of the days when “Boy” was spit out and recorded by four angry young men. The group’s involvement in causes political and social, led by vocal front man Bono, is legendary.

But fans of U2’s ’80s anthem rock will find little to rally behind here. This is a quiet album, even skimming gospel with “Stuck in a Moment You Can’t Get Out Of” and verging on country on “Wild Honey.” Other tracks, such as “New York” and “Kite,” simply dangle in mellow middle ground.

For those who grooved on U2’s more recent synthesizer candy, radio single “Beautiful Day” will sound tempting. But it’s the sole such treat on the album.

As one who views 1984’s “Unforgettable Fire” as the perfect fusion of melody and meaning, I find the band at its best on “Peace on Earth.” A haunting, melancholy but spiritual tune carries lyrics such as “Tell the ones who hear no sound/Whose sons are living in the ground/Peace on Earth.”

And the final track, “Grace,” mingles sensual, delicate notes with Bono’s trembling ode to “a thought that changed the world.”

U2 is still out to change the world. But 20 years after the pulsing urgency of “I Will Follow,” this clan seems to be chasing its causes at a more placid pace.

© Julianne Will 2016