U2 – All That You Can’t Leave Behind (2000)
Bottom Line Up Front: This is a 4.8 out of 5 stars album. It’s not a perfect album but it is really close. There is a lot to like here and I fully agree with the statements of this album being U2’s third masterpiece. For me, it was the consistency in quality across this album that really impressed me as I listened to it all week.
Artist Background: Really? The background of U2? There’s probably entire books dedicated to this. Oh look at that. There are. I’m going to do my best anyways. They formed in 1976 and are from Ireland. The band’s lead singer, Bono, is always wearing sunglasses. The band’s lead guitarist is The Edge and he is always wears a beanie. Those two are really easy to pick out in a picture. Adam Clayton plays bass and Larry Mullen, Jr plays percussion for the band. They reached international super stardom in the 1980s with their album, The Joshua Tree. In the 1990s, they experimented with their sound by incorporating different genres. Overall, this did not go as well for them as they probably would have hoped. In 2000, they decided to go back to basics which led to the album I’m reviewing. Their most notable recent moment was the fiasco with Apple where they gave a free digital copy of their new album, Songs of Innocence, to anyone with an iPhone 6. Not everyone was happy about this as U2 can be pretty polarizing. There are people that absolutely worship the band but there are also people that completely hate U2. If you are wondering, I don’t fall into either of those categories.
Album Background: The rock album, All That You Can’t Leave Behind, is about 50 minutes long. The most notable thing about this album is that it won Grammy Record of the Year in both 2001 and 2002 for two separate tracks off of the album. This is the only album to ever do that so I think regardless of how you feel about U2, you need respect that accomplishment. But all together the album won 7 Grammy awards. Development took place from 1998 to 2000 and they brought back producers they worked with on Joshua Tree and Achtung Baby which are considered their other two notable albums. I assume it was done in an effort to recapture the sound of their earlier work.
Favorite Track: You would think I would pick one of the songs that won Record of the Year. You’d be wrong. Well, then you would think I would at least pick one of the 4 singles from the album. And again, you’d be wrong. So what in the world did I pick? I actually went with the sixth track off of the album: In A Little While. In terms of lyrical content, it’s your basic song about returning to one you love. It’s not surprisingly addressed to his wife who inspired Bono for many of U2’s songs. The song is also held in high regard by U2 because it was the last song Joey Ramone listened to before he died. While many songs have been done on the topic, it doesn’t really take away from the song in my view. If it’s good, it’s good. I really like the intro. It starts off with a nice guitar hook that draws you into the song. Bono’s voice has this raspy quality to it that I also really like. It adds to this idea of being worn out but still putting in all your effort to make it back to the person you care about most in the world. Bono also wrote an incredibly beautiful verse in this song that I think could easily be included in a book of poetry. “A man dreams one day to fly, A man takes a rocketship into the skies, He lives on star that’s dying in the night, And follows in the trail, The scatter of light” Maybe I’m partial to it because I’m in awe of what the human race has been doing in terms of space exploration over the past couple years. Or maybe it is actually an excellent verse. Overall, it’s a nice laid back song worth listening to a couple times. Hopefully, within a short period of time from now.
- Edge One popular song off of the album was Elevation. Some of Bono’s vocalizations on the track probably are what make it stand out the most, but I think a major reason why the song works is the guitar playing from The Edge. It’s just this crazy wall of sound rocking your ears from start to end. And works so freaking well. This isn’t the only song that is a winner because of him, but it’s a good example.
- Bono An aspect of this album that really stood out for me was how well Bono can make his approach to singing on a particular song blend so perfectly with everything else with the song. He’s like a vocal chameleon. Maybe it’s not so apparent with casual listening, but I was seriously impressed by the end of the week. In addition, Bono can write such beautiful lyrics as I already noted. Unfortunately, his lyrical prowess is not nearly as consistent as his singing.
- Intros U2 knows how to write a track opening. Kite‘s opening is interesting since it sounds almost like the note is being playing backward with Edge on a sliding guitar. It’s a unique note to build a song around but it works. Many times they slowly eased into the song like an old man into a nice warm bath. Grace and Peace On Earth are great examples of this.
- Stacked I’m not a particular fan of front loading an album with your strongest material. I like it to be distributed evenly throughout the album. Reward me for sticking it out and listening to everything. And it’s impossible to not accuse U2 of doing this when the four singles from this album were the first four tracks of the album AND they were released in the same order that they appeared on the album. It is the textbook example everyone should refer to. And the second half does suffer because of it. The first six tracks for me are absolutely amazing. The weakest point of the album for me is probably track 8 through 10 where I kind of get my typical ‘lost in a U2 album’ lost. Thankfully, Grace is a strong closer.
- Bono You know how I said Bono can write beautiful heartfelt lyrics? Well, sometimes I wonder if U2’s writing process is more like this:
Bono: Okay, next!
Larry: But that lyric doesn’t make any sense. In fact, it’s kind of silly.
Bono: Does it rhyme, Larry? Does…it…rhyme?
Larry: Well, yeah. But..
Bono: Okay then. NEXT!
In Conclusion: If I wasn’t all that familiar with U2 and I wanted to get a better feel for their music, I would honestly start with this album. I know Joshua Tree is this incredible 80s album that’s probably on a good chunk of Albums to Listen to Before You Die lists but it also sounds incredibly 80s. I think ATYCLB still sounds very modern and almost timeless due to the mix of their attempt to go back and reboot their sound mixed together with everything they learned from experimenting with other genres in the 90s.