On Second Thought: U2 – How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb (2004)

When returning to this U2 record, I thought it’d be kinda fun to just type in my impressions as the tune goes by — listening while at lunch: tuna on a sesame bagel, small cup of broccoli soup.

We all know its history by now — as How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb ended up winning nine Grammy awards, selling more than 9 million copies (making it fourth biggest seller of 2004), and made Rolling Stone’s 100 Best Albums of the Decade, at No. 68. Still, going in, there were those who thought U2 was past its prime, unable to fashion a more straight-ahead rock sound after years of experimentation with dance music in the 1990s.

Here are some more thoughts, between bites …

VERTIGO: Back then, you heard it over and over on that danged iPod ad: Unos, dos, tres, catorce! After hearing the whole thing again, you certainly can’t say that this band was anywhere near washed up: This song kicks it, and would have fit in easily beside tunes on The Joshua Tree or Achtung Baby. I don’t care if they’ve ‘sold out,’ this is a great fricken’ song. Love the snarling guitar at the end.

MIRACLE DRUG: It starts out very plaintively, with trademark chimey guitar notes in the background. Verses build up the tension slowly before the whole thing becomes anthemic. Very powerful. The slide guitar break is very effective as it holds back, disguising the EdgeExplosion&trade to come.

SOMETIMES YOU CAN’T MAKE IT ON YOUR OWN: At the time, The Boston Globe’s Steve Morse thought that some of Bono’s best work here was in response to the death of his father. He might have been right. Constructed somewhat like “One,” this song bubbles over with emotion:

I know that we don’t talk
I’m sick of it all
Can – you – hear – me – when – I
Sing, you’re the reason I sing
You’re the reason why the opera is in me

LOVE AND PEACE OR ELSE: Ominous synthesizers frame a swaggering tune that contains the kind of peace, love & war sentiments that drive some folks batty. Hey, what would a U2 record be without one of these things? Oh, and all of those bell-like guitar notes during the bridge…so choice.

CITY OF BLINDING LIGHT: Beginning with stuttering guitar (a la “I Will Follow”), this one has the U2 of old feel. I don’t know what Bono’s talking about, but I want to sing along.

ALL BECAUSE OF YOU: It’s a tribute to a loved one, a parent, God. Dunno. Weirdly, if you remove the chimey guitar bits, you can imagine the Stones playing this song.

A MAN AND A WOMAN: Strummed acoustic guitars form the rhythmic bed for a heartfelt take on what it means to be in love, and what it means to value that love above all other things.

CRUMBS FROM YOUR TABLE: Partially distorted guitar arpeggios and glockenspiel (I’ve gotta look up that word every damned time I use it). Wow…replace the chiming guitar solo with a few bent notes and you might have the E Street Band.

ONE STEP CLOSER: “One step closer to knowing” … apparently, about the end. With its spooky and swirling atmosphere, this song had to have been a huge hit at the live shows. It’s again just dripping with emotion and builds and builds and builds …

ORIGINAL OF THE SPECIES: Another anthem from the days of yore. Cripes, what took these guys so long to return to this particular form? I guess if you toss out all of the attempts at sounding “modern,” this is what you get — though their last record (2000′s All That You Can’t Leave Behind) had really been a step in that direction, too.

YAHWEH: U2 closes out the program with a fine example of what a ‘spiritual’ song can be. Too subtle for contemporary Christian crowd? I’ll have to ask TheWife&trade.

As I cleaned away the remnants of the tuna and the soup, I thought: ‘This album rates right up there with The Joshua Tree or The Unforgettable Fire.

Washed up? No way.

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Mark Saleski

Mark Saleski is a writer and music obsessive based out of the woods of central New Hampshire. A past contributor to Jazz.com, Blogcritics.org and Salon, he writes several weekly features including the Friday Morning Listen, (Cross the) Heartland, WTF! Wednesday, and Sparks Fly on E Street. Follow him on Twitter: @msaleski. Contact Something Else! at reviews@somethingelsereviews.com.

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