With all the doom and gloom news about flat CD and concert ticket sales, maybe the most subtle indication of the music industry’s doldrums is the heap of praise lavished on U2’s How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb.
Mainstream music magazines consistently gave the album four-star reviews, and it’s safely ensconced in the upper echelon of critics lists and reader polls.
I don’t get it.
If How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb is the best the music industry has to offer — and the best music audiences are willing to entertain — then perhaps I should just sit in the corner with my copy of Shiina Ringo’s Karuki Zaamen Kuri no Hana.
How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb is, by no means, a bad album. In fact, it deserves the good reviews it’s garnered so far.
“Vertigo” is U2’s grimiest song, surpassing even “The Fly” for pure grit. The swaggering shuffle of “Love or Peace or Else” makes it both alluring and untrustworthy, while “Miracle Drug” comes close to the pomp and circumstance of “Beautiful Day”.
“Crumbs From Your Table” has that nice drama reminiscent of Achtung Baby, while “Yahweh” almost feels pre-Joshua Tree.
Like All That You Can’t Leave Behind before it, How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb draws upon all eras of U2’s oeuvre to create its aural atmosphere — the bombast of its late-’80s work, the electronic effects of its ’90s output.
Problem is, U2 is responsible for a lot of “essential” moments in rock ‘n’ roll. Achtung Baby, The Joshua Tree, War (perhaps U2’s most overrated album) — the band has to compete with its own legacy.
And How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb achieves a very strange distinction — it is, by comparrison, a mediocre work.
Let’s face it — when U2 fuck up, these guys don’t pussyfoot. Rattle and Hum was just overblown, and Pop was just excessive.
How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb doesn’t reach that level abysmal, nor does it really feel like it a remarkably high point either.
It’s a good U2 album. But for a band that built a career on revelatory listening experiences, it doesn’t elevate.
The best thing is, U2 deserve to make this album — they proved their game in 25-plus years, so why should they top The Joshua Tree?
But How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb isn’t an album that should be adored the way it is.