Twenty years ago, U2 -- via frontman Bono -- announced I Will Follow and then instead proceeded to lead its fans on a stirring, challenging journey.
Things took off with War and The Unforgettable Fire, then The Joshua Tree, ultimately ending up with the "PopMart" spectacle, in which the earnest Irish quartet that came to change the world and make it a better place for rock and roll cloaked itself in irony and humor. In other words, it's been a long, not-so-strange trip, but one that's had plenty of twists, turns, and deliberate deconstructions of image and expectations. Then again, we've come to expect nothing less from U2; even when they're joking, Bono and his mates -- The Edge, Adam Clayton, and Larry Mullen Jr. -- do so with serious intent, with grand statements in mind and good, important music as their primary mission. The group's 12th album, All That You Can't Leave Behind, doesn't disappoint in that regard. Longtime U2 fans will surely delight in its return to an emphasis on conventional songcraft, along with the reappearance of some of the group's sonic trademarks. But they should also be pleased that it doesn't abandon the experimental tack, either, but rather finds a way to weave together the strains of U2's '80s and '90s work into a collection that heralds the beginning of a new path for a group that's never shied away from tangents. It had a difficult birth -- at least one false start and the theft of Bono's lyric-filled laptop computer -- but Bono says the results more than justify the effort.
Prior to the new album's release, there was lots of scuttlebutt about what it was going to sound like, including reports that it was going to be a raging rock record. What was the group was looking for?
Songs. That was it, really. We thought, "It's not time to be hip, it's not the time to be groovy, and the time is right to write songs with melodies that you can hear across the road and through the walls." And to limit our options by just making it about that and about the dying art of the single, because it's the era of pop. But, of course, all the great rock bands were pop groups, too, including Nirvana; I remember Kurt Cobain saying, "We're a pop group. That's a pop song," talking about "Smells Like Teen Spirit." And he wasn't just being funny.
(read the rest of the interview at www.wallofsound.go.com