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After elevation, vertigo
U2ís How To Dismantle an Atomic Bomb
BY JEFFREY GANTZ

When we last heard from U2, on the 2000 release All That You Canít Leave Behind, Bono and the boys were elevating their status as the Greatest Rock and Roll Band in the World while trying to figure out what they could and couldnít leave behind. Their voices spent from crying in the wilderness on The Joshua Tree, they began their current journey in 1991 with Achtung Baby, their bullet train whooshing into Berlinís Zoo Station, with love just two stops down the line. They went techno (1994ís Zooropa), they went disco (1997ís Pop), they turned their money into light but not salvation. All That You Canít Leave Behind postponed the end of the world, the band attempting to enjoy each beautiful day without getting stuck in the moment. The "Elevation" tour that followed took us "higher than the sun," Bono looking to attain the orbit of his belovedís hips while keeping one foot on the ground beneath her feet. U2ís popularity and their sales figures soared to dizzying heights. Little wonder the single and opening track from the new How To Dismantle an Atomic Bomb (Interscope) is called "Vertigo."

When it comes to money, of course, U2 have always had clear heads and all feet on the ground. As the past issue (November 25) of Rolling Stone reported, theyíd never before licensed their music for commercial use (its appearance in three Wim Wenders films hardly counts as commercial), but now theyíve teamed up with Apple to release "a special black U2-edition iPod for $349 with band autographs laser-engraved on the casing." Buyers will, moreover, get a $50 discount off the $149 price of The Complete U2, an iTunes package with more than 400 U2 songs. Apple has also been running, in advance of the video on MTV, TV iPod commercials in which the boys perform "Vertigo." Notwithstanding the Rolling Stone photo of Bono and the Edge posing with Apple co-founder Steve Jobs and Interscope co-chairman Jimmy Iovine (Bono making a victory sign as he holds the U2 iPod), the bandís new enterprise is a matter of selling rather than selling out, iTunes and the iPod simply the means of spreading the Word. High volume has enabled U2 to take the high road; more treacherous is the stony pass traversed by lesser bands whose labels are shopping them to everyone from Mercedes-Benz to The O.C. and sports video games. "Target your brands with our bands" is the RS-reported word from Atlantic chairman Jason Flom. In George Bushís capitals of tin, can rock and roll be about revolution as well as royalties? When on the new album Bono sings, "Oh you look so beautiful tonight/In the city of blinding lights," is that Godís beauty he sees or the one created by the neon god of Simon and Garfunkel?

"The more you see the less you know/The less you find out as you go" is how "City of Blinding Lights" begins, and thatís the watchword for an album that far from hoping to go somewhere (Berlin, pop heaven, Godís heaven) is just looking to get its bearings. "Vertigo" disorients us from the outset: Larry Mullenís one-two-three-four drumstick taps seem to be taking us back to Berlin, but instead of "Eins, zwei, drei, vier" we hear "Unos, dos, tres, catorce!" (not four but 14). Are we hanging with the Tupamaros? The Zapatistas? Whatever, the trademark fat groove that kicks in tells us the band arenít waiting for God to send his angels. "Hello, hello," Bono sings in the chorus; "Hola" from the band in the background. "Iím at a place called Vertigo," Bono continues; the band ask, "ŅDónde está?" "The night," we learn, "is full of holes," the kind made by men who go out walking with a Bible and a gun. Jesus is dancing with a girl who has crimson nails (and, one presumes, is wearing that velvet dress). Bono shifts into mantra mode: "All of this, all of this can be yours/Just give me what I want/And nobody gets hurt." Do you feel loved? Bono does: "I can feel your love teaching me/How to kneel" ó but in prayer, or for execution? Yes, is the answer, Bono exiting with a "Yeah, yeah, yeah" Beatle affirmation. ŅDónde está?

No "Beautiful Day" this time out. No "Elevation." What we need is a "Miracle Drug." Over a chiming wash that recalls All That You Canít Leave Behindís "Peace on Earth," Bono tells her (Her?), "I want to trip inside your head/Spend the day there/To hear the things you havenít said/And see what you might see." The tempo goes upbeat as he wonders whether science and medicine can take him inside another person. "There is no failure here sweetheart/Just when you quit" and "Love and logic keep us clear/Reason is on our side, love" are brave sentiments his romantic love canít sustain: "Iíd give it up/For a miracle drug" dissolves into slide guitar and the echoey uncertainty of "God I need your help tonight" before science picks up the pulse again. No affirmation on the exit this time: "miracle drug" doesnít resolve.

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Issue Date: November 26 - December 2, 2004
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