Currently boasting 33 years on the go and hailed by many as "the biggest band on earth," I'll not be the first to say that perhaps the secret to U2's unfaltering success is their ability to pick up on current trends and appeal not only to their hardcore fans but also to a new generation. There's been a sort of 80s revival happening in indie rock, electro punk and pop music for the last couple of years. U2 were around for the real thing, and on No Line On The Horizon they use their first hand experience to do an uncanny job of melding currently popular electronic beats and synthesisers with their own original rock sound.
The impact of Brian Eno's songwriting and production contribution here is palpable, with the ambient minimalism he's famous for often giving a most familiar band a strangely atypical sound, particularly during the glorious extended intro of Fez - Being Born. It's only a shame that these influences are never given free reign, but smothered by U2's unyielding loyalty to stadium rock. On the many tracks driven by keyboards and synths rather than guitars, it too often seems that crisp, clean guitar solos are laid down on top merely to give The Edge something to do, while Bono's vocals can be overbearing when added into these surrounds.
That said, this conflict of styles is sidestepped when they aim for funkier guitar based rock. The monotone style verse and quirky percussion of single Get On Your Boots are knowingly contemporary while the 70s style rock riff of Stand Up Comedy is surely one for air-guitarists the world over. The highlight though is undoubtedly Moment of Surrender, which feels a mere fraction of its 7mins23. Layering drums, synths and seeping strings with organ and gospel choir, the sound reflects the song's religious reference to the stations of the cross and its plea for "vision over visibility." Though Bono's sanctimonious presence in these kinds of lines can often grate, the subtlety of closer Cedars of the Lebanon (despite the nauseating lack of subtlety of its title) manages to convince you of the sincerity of its sentiment.
Whether accomplished with ambient electronics, solid drums, layered vocals or scuzzy guitars, you can't fault U2's ability to create an epic sound that can thoroughly fill a room. Let's just say, they're not coming down off their rock throne any time soon.