In 1991, before Achtung Baby would redefine their sound, they were on the brink of a breakup that would have changed the course of alternative music. Without U2's eventual foray into electronic music and their amazing achievements thereafter, many of the alternative bands that enjoy so much success today might not be here.
The song that kept U2 together, the now classic "One," began on a simple riff that lead singer Bono overheard U2 guitarist The Edge casually strumming one day.
From that beginning, U2 found that they belonged together, and their newest album, How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb, finds them meshing better than they have in almost 20 years.
This is a revitalized U2. The energy present on the album is the most urgent and fervent since their mainstream breakthrough album, The Unforgettable Fire. How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb finds U2 swirling in massive cathedrals of sound and rightfully taking their place as the kings of modern rock.
The first single, "Vertigo," is the safest, and therefore most bland, track on the album. Yes, it clues listeners in that this will be a guitar-heavy album for U2, but beyond that, the single is little more than the album's opening jingle. Every bit as inspirational as the opening tracks of U2's greatest album, The Joshua Tree, the band again takes on the timeless issues of loss ("Sometimes You Can't Make It On Your Own"), peace ("Love and Peace or Else") and love ("City of Blinding Lights"). It's no understatement to say that this is the album that All That You Can't Leave Behind, U2's mostly excellent yet occasionally spotty 2000 album, should have been.
The close of the album finds U2 at their most visceral and effective. On "A Man and a Woman," Bono croons, the heartbreak palpable, "No I could never take a chance/of losing love to find romance" while the unmistakable and melancholy guitar of The Edge drifts along effortlessly in the background. "Crumbs from Your Table" is classic U2, complete with soaring riffs, driving bassline and understated yet precise drumming with a subtle political message, "Where you live should not decide, whether you live or die." Yet the album's closing track, "Yahweh," comes closest to defining the essence of U2. The song finds Bono crying out to God not for salvation, but for solutions. "Yahweh, tell me, why the dark before the dawn?" Bono softly sings. How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb is an album of hope and sorrow, joy and pain, loss and triumph. In an era of weapons of mass destruction, terrorism and uneasy unity, the world needs a band like U2. This album elevates U2 to the band we remember them as, the elder statesmen of rock.