Now that the hype, the glowing reviews, the magazine covers, the Grammys, and the inevitably nervous kickoff to the inevitably nervous world tour are behind U2, we can admit in earnest that All That You Can't Leave Behind
, the band's big-deal new record, is boring as hell. It essentially provides 11 uninspired pop tunes with forgettable soft-rock arrangements and unnaturally lame lyrics. Even the moments that do work merely sound like factory-produced hit singles, the kind of crap we expect from Sting and Matchbox Twenty. Yes indeed. Our megastar Irish heroes have sounded worse (Zooropa
, say), but they've never sounded blander or more resigned. The breathless praise heaped on Behind
is probably just relief that U2 didn't make Pop
again. But while that record ultimately failed in its mission to make electronica play on VH1, it certainly sounded adventurous, innovative, and ambitious. Though modern Bono apologists hate hearing this, there's not one song from the last three records that even approaches the artistic or emotional level of "Where the Streets Have No Name," "New Year's Day," or even "One." The rock god grandeur and anthemic bliss are gone. They're slumming. Shilling for the man. But now that the megalomania (not to mention the giant lemon) has thankfully retired, U2 probably still throws a fine bash, hopefully sprinkled with several of the vintage songs mentioned above, along with, oh, maybe 15 others. But just stack up those golden oldies next to the inevitable Behind
tracks that Bono and the boys will trot out, and ask yourself if this new "stripped-down," "back to the basics" U2 can even play in the same league. In a word, no. For the first time in years, we can live, with or without 'em.