The first new U2 disc in four years is as an ambling as the title. Sure there are strong tracks like the chart hopping Vertigo but what this album does not have is depth. Unlike the classic U2 albums Joshua Tree, Actung Baby or even their last record, All That You Can’t Leave Behind, a lot of the new tracks feel like plain filler.
There is no denying that How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb starts off strong with Vertigo. But compare Vertigo to their last break out single, Beautiful Day. Vertigo has no lasting power. A decade from now no one will care because it is pop bubble gum from a band that prides itself on being deeper than that.
The second track, Miracle Drug, is just ridiculous. Okay Bono, I understand you care about Africa, but lines like “I’ve had enough of romantic love/I’d give it up, yeah, I’d give it up/For a miracle drug,” are just too hard to take at face value. This is the same guy who wrote One?
Sometimes You Can’t Make It Own Your Own finally deliverers some meat. A strong U2 ballad, it is however, very reminiscent of Stuck In a Moment for their last record. Just as Vertigo was modeled after Beautiful Day, this song is more a “part 2” than an original track.
Love or Peace or Else comes in as one of the few rockers. I suppose it was intended to be written in the same vein as Sunday Bloody Sunday or Pride in the Name of Love. If that was its goal, it failed because it lacked a clear central point of view. The song is obviously intended as a stern rebuke of the deadlocked Israeli Palestinian conflict. But without out having the guts to pick a side in the debate it is hard to take this song seriously. U2 warns us lukewarmly that we need “Love or peace or else.” Or else what? You’ll write a song about it?
City of Blinding Lights is an emo track much in the U2 vein. It has potential, will no doubt be great live, but has a horrible bridge that will probably doom it from not being on the radio. All Because Of You is a Who inspired rocker that is a bit stale and “been done.” Finally U2 delivers some solid original material on the beautiful rocker Man and a Woman, “I could never take a chance/Of losing love to find romance/In the mysterious distance between a man and woman.”
Crumbs From Your Table is another political diatribe thinly veiled. So apparently Europeans and Americans don’t give enough to poorer people, “Where you live should not decide/Whether you live or whether you die.” Thank you so much Bono for those deep words of inspiration. Where are the deep hidden means that this band used to be able to create? Songs like Until the End of the World or Where the Streets Have No Name.
How To Dismantle an Atomic Bomb finishes with three slower tracks, two of which are simply throw aways, One Step to Knowing and Original of the Species. The last track, Yahweh, one of the most overtly religious songs U2 has ever recorded, comes in as possibly the strongest track in the entire collection. Maybe that is because it is the most authentic.
For fans of U2 or even casual listeners, How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb is just a pure disappointment all around. Where are the grand missteps like Discotheque or incredible non-singles like Running to Stand Still? U2 has turned into a band chasing singles and songs full of black and white bumper sticker slogans.