How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb
Is the album a solid piece of work? Definitely—it will push U2’s already successful career forward. But it isn’t necessarily groundbreaking for them. It bears little resemblance to the experimental albums of Zooropa and Pop (both of which I love, for the record). It’s also a noticeably different vibe than the widely successful All That You Can’t Leave Behind, which reestablished the band’s fan base in 2000. All That You Can’t is a set of songs that brings back memories of the early U2 days, namely The Joshua Tree. Whereas, How to Dismantle, with its haunting melodies and sexy guitar layers, sounds much more like something from the Achtung Baby era. Indeed the classic pieces are all here: Edge’s trademark guitar sounds, Bono’s distinctive soaring vocals, and the spiritually charged lyrics.
The music is not purely loud rock n’ roll; in fact, the opening single “Vertigo,” with its catchy guitar riff, provides the biggest punch of the album. The rest of the disc settles into a steady cohesive groove, consisting of pop rock tunes and ballads with a definite acoustic emphasis. The band has always been able to write strong melodies, and this album is no exception. However, as a whole it fails to take the band in any new direction. While the creativity of past work (the aforementioned Pop album, for example) revealed an unusual and innovative side to the band, this album fails to create much excitement. It’s a comfortable fit for the fans, and a pleasure to listen to, but I’d hoped the band would have continued to push the bounds of today’s rock landscape instead of settling for a conservative U2 sound.
What isn’t static is the band’s spirituality, which permeates the entire production. Bono continues to deftly weave together romantic, spiritual, and political imagery in his lyrics. In fact, Bono’s lyrics may be the most explicitly “Christian” that they’ve ever been. He’s become more outspoken in recent years about his faith and doesn’t shy away from writing modern-day rock n’ roll hymns for an un-churched audience. They may not fit into a typical evangelical or mainline church, but Bono and the boys haven’t failed to serve and promote the Judeo-Christian God in a distinctive and powerful way.
The songs on this album indeed have much to say. The Christian message of compassion is represented in the song “Miracle Drug.” Bono empathetically writes to everyone suffering in the African AIDS crisis, telling them that “love makes nonsense of space and time” and beneath the cries of the victims is the voice of Jesus reminding us to help bring comfort and relief (“I was a stranger, you took me in”).
In “Love and Peace or Else” (a song that represents what “Bullet the Blue Sky” might have sounded like on Pop), the band cries out for a cease fire in the Middle East: "lay down your guns, all your daughters of Zion, all your Abraham sons.” Instead of the incessant fighting which has disrupted the region for years, the prayer is for the current generation to develop “a brand new heart.”
The grace of God is the theme of “All Because of You;” In a poetic play on words, Bono uses the name of God that was given to Moses in Exodus 3:14, “I Am.” The Lord is given credit for bringing life and meaning—“You heard me in my tune, when I just heard confusion” and “I’m alive, I’m being born . . . all because of you, I Am.”
“One Step Closer” is a modern sequel to “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For,” displaying the emotional intensity of a weary wanderer in the world. In the midst of doubt, pain, and sorrow, there is still the hope of moving forward (“one step closer to knowing”). Love and mercy are learned through the trials of life, for “the heart that hurts is the heart that beats.”
The album concludes with “Yahweh,” a beautiful contemporary song of worship. “Take this shirt,” writes Bono, “and make it clean,” and “take this soul . . . and make it sing.” The road of sanctification is long and difficult, because there is “always pain before the child is born.” Every believer has wondered why Yahweh allows “the dark before the dawn,” but God continually reassures us of his presence in the world, and this brings hope (“the sun is coming up on the ocean”).
U2 continues to deliver this hope to the shadowy places of the world through artful and inspiring music. Even in the seemingly frivolous world of pop music one can find God’s grace at work, for as Bono reminds us, “blessings are not just for the ones who kneel . . . luckily” (“City of Blinding Lights”). This album affirms that God’s love is available to all people, and that it is only by His grace that anyone can experience true life. This realization drives us to our knees in humility, where we can all join the band in singing the final lines of “Yahweh”: “Take this heart . . . and make it break.”