You don't need me to tell you whether the songs on the new U2 album reflect the social, political, economic, and religious turmoil that seems it's been defining global affairs since before we can remember. (Oh, to party as if it were 1999.) First, of course they do. Second, Bono's already been quite clear on the subject: "I feel as an artist that my job is to try and understand the forces that are shaping the world that our songs occupy," he told the New York Times earlier this month.
Instead, allow me to make a smaller but no less salient point about No Line on the Horizon, U2's third album since getting back to the business of being U2 a little over a decade ago: it's proof that right now nobody is better at mingling the expansive and the intimate. These 11 tunes deliver both the thematic and the sonic hugeness we expect from U2; you only have to proceed about 80 seconds into the opening title track before the Edge is spraying his trademark guitar sparks everywhere and Bono is observing that infinity is a great place to start. (To start!)
Yet No Line is also packed with fine-grain detail that demonstrates how engaged these guys still are in the art of record making, and how deeply they still yearn to make their music feel like something you can step inside of: the killer dub-gospel bass line in "Moment of Surrender," for example, and the flicker of "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel" in "White As Snow." This stuff isn't just ear candy, either (though it's definitely that); it works toward a kind of musical architecture. Get off your boots and stay a while.