Serving up healthy portions of hot soul food, U2's All That You Can't Leave Behind is the epitome of what Roddy Doyle's fictional band, The Commitments, would refer to as "Dublin soul." At times channeling the likes of James Brown and Wilson Pickett, Bono proves himself to be a soul brother and in the best shape of his career. Whether you consider ATYCLB as the album wherein U2 return to their roots, or to take Bono's view - in which the band was merely "advancing toward simplicity," it's a solid collection of meaningful music.
In some ways, ATYCLB is an album of destiny, featuring a power and resonance that has grown since its release in the midst of a world taking a turn down a dark and dangerous path. Most significant would be the events of September 11, after which the album would gain even greater gravity and relevance. Particularly poignant is "Peace On Earth," a song reminiscent of "Mothers of the Disappeared" off of The Joshua Tree. With its yearning for Heaven on Earth, it sums up the pain of a world having a hard time keeping itself together.
Prior to 9/11, the song "New York" seemed like a self-absorbed rock star tune; but now it captures the heat and the humidity of the Big Apple and serves as the best love song to the city that never sleeps since Sinatra crooned "New York, New York."
Other events have also helped shape ATYCLB's emotional significance.
"In A Little While" took on new meaning after the death of Joey Ramone, who reportedly died listening to the tune. As Bono would phrase it in concert, Joey turned a song about a hangover into a gospel song.
Then the death of Bono's own father, Bob Hewson, would further color the meaning of the songs, especially "Kite," with its soulful lyrics about parents, children, and an uncertain future.
Also demonstrating the power of Bono's lyrics are the nice turns some of the singles have taken, particularly "Walk On," which on the album features an introduction by Bono serving as an Irish Barry White. Stripped of that intro on the single, the song becomes a powerful "unplugged" hymn of self-respect and perseverance.
Then there's "Stuck In A Moment You Can't Get Out Of," a song for anybody who's ever been through a rough patch in life. "Stuck In A Moment"’s acoustic B-Side incarnation also proves the power of a stripped-down U2.
At the other end of the spectrum, "Elevation" can be heard as a rocking exclamation of the joys of love and life on the album's mix and as a more enchanting B-Side with its sitar-heavy mix, but it was also given a harder edge on the Lara Croft: Tomb Raider soundtrack.
Since the days of Boy, the band's first full album, U2 has achieved the goal of world domination. The band's been all over and the world's been all over U2. It's only fitting, then, that "Beautiful Day" kicks off ATYCLB with a heartbeat - the heartbeat of a band that still wears its heart on its sleeve, even after all the hype and gloss of ZooTV and PopMart.
U2’s collective heart is abloom and beating stronger than ever with high-profile songs like "Walk On" and "Elevation," hidden pop gems like "Wild Honey" and "When I Look At The World," and the album's quietest tune, "Grace," with its "thought that could change the world."
ATYCLB is, three years after its release, an album that keeps on giving and is one of the band's most inspirational works.
Remember: The goal is soul.
• Originally published at Interference.com on 07-16-2003 at 06:13 AM
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