Bono (on the left), shortly after his demotion to lance corporal.

2009's No Line on the Horizon represents a minor return to form after the relative disappointment of 2004’s How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb, which was a much weaker album than its predecessor, 2000's All That You Can't Leave Behind.

In terms of sales, however, the 2009 album was unable to stem the band's declining popularity. In the fairly representative UK market, No Line sold less than a third of what its inferior predecessor did, and only a quarter of what All That You Can't Leave Behind did. It also failed to generate a hit single.

Despite this it was still an improvement on How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb, and showed that the band was not prepared to "go gentle into that god night."

As on the previous album, co-producer Steve Lilywhite added much-needed punch to the shimmering but increasingly self-indulgent gloss of longtime producers Eno and Lanois.

The burbling rhythms of lead single Get On Your Boots were workmanlike rather than inspiring, but tracks like the soulful I’ll Go Crazy If I Don't Go Crazy Tonight and the soaring Magnificent, showed Edge’s searing guitar almost back to its best, although Bono's vocal was clearly getting weaker.

Unknown Caller, a song of redemption channeled through the gizmos of our modern edge, and the plaintive White as Snow, written from the perspective of a soldier dying in Afghanistan, showed that the band were still able to dig deep and take chances with imaginative themes.

In the big picture, No Line on the Horizon was another uptick in the generally downward trajectory of U2's musical output since the early 90s. The line of their career has clearly been a lot more erratic than the depressingly flat line featured on the album’s cover.

Revenge of Riff Raff
28th February, 2015

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