There are several species of U2 fans.
The diehards who own every album since 1980’s Boy. The music collectors who own the band’s critical and artistic highlights (one or several of the early albums, plus The Joshua Tree and Achtung Baby). And those who are “tuck in the moment: favoring a particular era in the band’s creative cycle, all while fussing that their “past/present stuff just doesn’t grab me like (insert favorite here).”
It doesn’t matter what kind of U2 fan you are. All That You Can’t Leave Behind recalls the elements that made their early years great while simultaneously justifying their ’90s experiments in sound, writing and production.
The band has returned to more of a guitar-based sound but retains many of the “gee whiz” production methods that have marked their more recent offerings. Carried out to perfection by U2 and its collaborators, as a true ensemble, this seamless melding of distinct styles complements the heartfelt lyrics of their latest songs — songs that, in the band’s long-standing tradition, are meant to make audiences think while they are being entertained.
All That You Can’t Leave Behind is a grab bag of musical influences that the band adapts, bringing out different dimensions in each of the tracks with striking results. “Stuck in the Moment” takes an updated Motown-feel and applies it a U2 theme, pulling yourself up and moving forward. Trippy electronica is echoed in “Elevation,” probably the album’s designated fun song. A lazy guitar melody and easy drum beat propels “In a Little While” into Rolling Stones-style blues territory with lyrics that note how time passes both too slowly and too quickly. And the upbeat “When I Look at the World” is a passionate statement of longing and hope for the peace some are able to obtain, despite the difficulties that are out there.
Two tracks, in particular, are representative highlights of the album. The triumphant “Beautiful Day” is destined to be played to death at a radio station near you. The song’s prologue, a combination of the band’s early, vaguely spare sound and Bono’s half-spoken, half-sung words, quickly gives way to the meat of the piece, an exuberant, forward-moving current of sound that depicts the freedom of having no where to go but up and the realization of what is truly important. A cousin in terms of intent is “Walk On,” an anthemic track that features the album’s title lyric and is a passionate plea to keep moving forward.
Finding what is still good and using it as a starting point to make change is an ever-present theme throughout the album, which is upbeat, despite what could be considered heavy subject matter. The key is delivery. Instead of overtly preaching to listeners, U2 has crafted radio-ready, rock pop that doesn’t pander to its audience. It challenges them, as the band has challenged itself over the years: to remain passionate, active and hopeful despite the obstacles life throws in the way. Sincerity tempered with realism but not cynicism.
Appreciating what is right in the present, learning from the past and looking toward and planning for change in the future. A musical and thematic embodiment of this philosophy, All That You Can’t Leave Behind is an album that all species of U2 fans can appreciate.
ALL THAT YOU CAN’T LEAVE BEHIND © 2000 Universal International Music, BV., exclusively licensed to Interscope Records in the U.S.A. All rights reserved. All songs written and performed by U2.