U2: Stage And Studio
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Q // No Line On The Horizon - preview



Q has had a world exclusive preview of the forthcoming new U2 album, provisionally titled No Line On The Horizon.

Sessions for the long awaited album were completed at a feverish pace at Olympic Studios in West London throughout November. However, recording actually began in October 2006, with U2 teaming up once more with producers Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois after first exploring the idea of working with Rick Rubin. Between them, Lanois and Eno worked on the key triptych of U2 records - The Unforgettable Fire, The Joshua Tree and Achtung Baby.

"We learned a lot from Rick," says Bono. "He's head over heels in love with the concept of the song. But our feeling was, you don't go to rock'n'roll just for the songs. We wanted songs that would take us into a different world.

"And because Brian and Dan are experimental in their niches, the opportunity to bring some experimentation into the pop consciousness is so exciting to them. And to us."

By the time U2 arrived at Olympic Studios, Eno was shepherding the album to a conclusion with various other producers being called in to mix specific tracks - long-time cohort Steve Lillywhite and Black Eyed Peas man Will.I.Am among them. As has become customary for U2 records, tracks were being re-worked - and in some cases completely overhauled - right up to the final deadline.

Q initially heard previews of seven tracks at various stages of completion as the band were winding up. First impressions were that, while the two most recent U2 albums (2000's All That You Can't Leave Behind and 2004's How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb) marked a return to basics, No Line On The Horizon is more in keeping with the spirit of 1991's Achtung Baby: which is to say, a bolder, more testing collection.

The material itself runs a gamut from the classic U2-isms of Magnificent, which echoes The Unforgettable Fire's opening track A Sort Of Homecoming in its atmospheric sweep, to the straight up pop of Crazy Tonight (the track Will.I.Am was taking a pass at) and the swaggering Stand Up, wherein U2 get in touch with their, hitherto unheard, funky selves - albeit propelled by some coruscating Edge guitar work, a signature feature of a number of the tracks. The latter track is also home to the knowing Bono lyric, "Stand up to rock stars/Napoleon is in high heels/Be careful of small men with big ideas."

Among other instantly striking tracks are Get Your Boots On, a heaving electro-rocker that may mark the destination point the band had been seeking on Pop; Winter, featuring a fine Bono lyric about a soldier in an unspecified war zone, surrounded by a deceptively simple rhythm track and an evocative string arrangement courtesy of Eno; and the stately Unknown Caller, which was recorded in Fez and opens with the sounds of birdsong taped by Eno during a Moroccan dawn.

At Olympic, particular excitement was reserved for two tracks: Moment Of Surrender and Breathe. A strident seven-minute epic recorded in a single take, the first of these sounds like a Great U2 Moment in the spirit of One, while Eno suggests the latter (at the time still a work in progress) is potentially both the best song the band had written and that he had worked on.

A week after the Olympic playback, Bono treated Q to a private audience of two further unfinished tracks - playing both on his car stereo at teeth-rattling volume whilst being piloted through London's rush-hour traffic. Two versions of the title track were extant: the first is another Unforgettable Fire-esque slow burner that builds to a euphoric coda, the second a punk-y Pixies/Buzzcocks homage that proceeds at a breathless pace.

"We recorded the second version just last night," explained the singer whilst enthusiastically air drumming along to it. "I'm very excited by that one,"

Q begged to differ, casting a vote for the more layered earlier version.

One other track, Every Breaking Wave, was beginning to take shape around an emotive Bono vocal and an appropriately grand swell of a climax. "We might be on to something special there," noted Bono.

And within the U2 camp, this is the general consensus around the album as a whole. A clearly excited Eno told Q No Line On The Horizon could be the band's greatest album, a view also echoed by the Edge.

"We've learnt a few things over the years," said the guitarist. "So I think (the album) could be a bringing-to-bear of all those eureka moments from the past."

No Line On The Horizon is set for release on March 2. And you can read more about the album in Q magazine's world exclusive U2 cover feature from December 31.


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