On the title track of U2's latest album, "No Line On The Horizon," frontman Bono sings "Every night I have the same dream/I'm hatching some plot, scheming some scheme."
The Irish rockers' 12th studio album reflects some heavy scheming on the part of the band, and its longtime producers, to mine wider sonic territory that the band has explored since the 1990s.
The result is an album that feels more compelling in sound and less strident in message than U2's previous two efforts this decade, which offered some bright spots but seemed crafted with a U2-by-the-numbers approach.
The achievement of "No Line" is due to the handiwork of U2's recording studio midwives: Brian Eno, Daniel Lanois and Steve Lillywhite, who have had a hand in shaping nearly every U2 album.
On "No Line ...," Eno and Lanois play a more hands-on role, meriting the duo co-songwriting credits with Bono and the rest of U2 -- guitarist The Edge, bassist Adam Clayton and drummer Larry Mullen Jr. -- on all but four of the album's 11 tracks.
"No Line ... " falls short of the wholesale reinvention that U2 underwent on 1991's "Achtung Baby," but in its best moments showcases a refreshing return to musical exploration for a band that released its debut album 29 years ago.
The driving-but-disjointed leadoff single, "Get On Your Boots," has underwhelmed some U2 followers, but there is reassurance -- the track is not representative of the album.
One standout track is "Magnificent." It begins with a brooding guitar line then weaves into a dance beat backed over layered keyboards and explodes into shimmering, The Edge-trademark guitar fireworks. Bono raises it up a notch, wailing "Only love/Only love can leave such a mark/But only love/Only love can heal such a scar."
The track's anthemic build and release is no less effective than the band's signature stadium-pleaser "Where The Streets Have No Name." But one stretch of lyrics where Bono declares he was "born to sing for you/I didn't have a choice but to lift you up," will do little to allay critics who view the singer as a self-appointed savior-megalomaniac.
Another gem is "Moment of Surrender," a midtempo ballad that clocks in at longer than 7 minutes. With a rolling bassline and church organ sound as a backdrop, Bono delivers a soulful, passionate vocal as he sings "We set ourselves on fire/Oh God, do not deny her/It's not if I believe in love/But if love believes in me."
Thematically, "No Line ..." finds Bono the lyricist exploring familiar U2 fare: love, hope, God and war, but less directly.
On the surreal rocker "Unknown Caller," which opens with the birdsong heard in the open-air space in Fez, Morocco, where it was recorded, Bono sings of a man lost "between the midnight and the dawning/In a place of no consequence or company," and then a sing-along chorus implores him to "Escape yourself and gravity ... Force quit and move to trash" -- a nod to Mac computer users?
The message is more straightforward on "I'll Go Crazy If I Don't Go Crazy Tonight," which despite its cumbersome title has U2 making their most unabashed pop song yet.
Just when you think you've got a handle on "No Line ...," U2 channels its heretofore unseen funky side with "Stand Up Comedy." The song works overall, but stumbles on some awkward rhyming when Bono sings "Stand up to rock stars/Napoleon is in high heels/Josephine be careful of small men with big ideas."
More satisfying is the album's pivot point, the ambient, electro-rocker "Fez-Being Born."
U2 left the most compelling songs on "No Line ... " on the latter half of the album: The fragile "White As Snow," and the cinematic, spare closer, "Cedars Of Lebanon." The song features a half-spoken vocal by Bono delivered from the viewpoint of a war correspondent.
CHECK THIS TRACK OUT: "Breathe," melds some machine gun-vocals by Bono and guitar power chords to create one of the most memorable anthems to come out of the U2 factory.