The warning has been sounded. ''Danger! Danger! U2 are experimenting again!'' This is not exactly welcome news for those who remember the band's attempts at reformulating their cathedral-rock sound with of-the-moment trendiness (Zooropa, Pop) as something to be endured, not embraced, and who had been thrilled by their return to ''old-school U2'' on 2000's All That You Can't Leave Behind. Only once, with Achtung Baby, have Bono and Co. ever stretched far and found glory.
But with their 12th studio album, U2 have Achtung it again. No Line on the Horizon is an eclectic and electrifying winner, one that speaks to the zeitgeist the way only U2 can and dare to do. ''Let me in the sound!'' Bono yelps several times on the record, most notably on the dense-and- danceable first single, ''Get On Your Boots.'' To be clear, No Line isn't some radical evolution of rock & roll. It's not even a radical reinvention of U2. Dirty guitar, heavy bass, cheesy keyboards, beeps and loops those sounds were all there during the Zooropa/Pop digression. The difference this time is that U2 don't sound lost in them. ''No, no line on the horizon,'' Bono sings on the title track, a raw and moody ode to the muse, where The Edge's rough riffing is soothed by ethereal synth. This is an adventurous experience created by responsible people, for responsible people a record about searching for meaning, but always knowing the way home.
The album's risk/reward pays off early with a pair of six-minute-plus epics, both of which have Bono seeking and receiving something like divine revelation in the rattle and hum of the everyday world. ''Moment of Surrender'' wherein a profound encounter with ''a vision of invisibility'' goes down at an ATM is an organ-fueled hymn that takes its own soulful time coming to an end. It is immediately followed by ''Unknown Caller,'' a rousing if kinda goofy spiritual wake-up call aimed at a culture of blurry-eyed BlackBerry addicts. Computer jargon is turned into spiritual maxims issued by a voice-of-God shout-chant chorus: ''Shush now/Oh, oh/Force quit and move to trash.'' Now you know what didactic spam sounds like.
But what's eye-rolling and oblique at first becomes can't-stop-thinking-about-it infectious upon repeat listens: No Line is, for certain, a grows-on-you proposition. ''Get On Your Boots,'' which has invited some ''Do I like this or not?'' head-scratching among fans and critics, blazes to life as part of a trio of great, galloping rockers that form No Line's fun-and-fiery middle section. Yet the record's instant classic is its penultimate track, ''Breathe,'' a stomping, snarling rumination about engaging the world with open arms despite so much external gloom and internal angst. Ever the optimist, Bono evokes the threats of a global pandemic, an economic crisis, and hostile neighbors, then insists: ''These days are better than that.'' Preachy? Hell, yes. And bring it on. No Line on the Horizon offers idealism spliced with new attitude and the same old grace, and is all the better for it. Memo to U2: Don't leave this behind. A–
Download This: Listen to songs from the new album on the band's MySpace