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Are U2 Back With A Bang Or A Whimper?

One of our few remaining rock giants stomped back into the ring yesterday as U2 began streaming "Get On Your Boots," the first single from the band's upcoming, No Line on The Horizon, on U2.com. Unlike with 2000's All That You Can't Behind and 2004's How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb, advance word was that the new album is a more experimental effort rather than a retrenchment, so I was particularly psyched to hear what the lads had been working on.

I wasn't disappointed. While "Boots" doesn't quite bear out pre-release quotes like co-producer Daniel Lanois' "[Horizon is] going to push the known limits in the sound arena" (what could bear that out?), it's a nicely malevolent jolt of garage rock that augurs well for the album to come.

Anchored on a thickly distorted single-note Edge guitar riff and pummeling drum beat, the verses are a close cousin to the rapid fire role calls of Elvis Costello's "Pump It Up" and Bob Dylan's "Subterranean Homesick Blues," as Bono rolls out rapid-fire lines like "The future needs a big twist/Winds blow with a kiss" and then throws some dread confusion (e.g., "Satan loves a bomb scare but won't scare you") into the mix.

But my favorite part of the song is the little tag at the end of the verses, when Bono lets out a "Sexy boots!/Get on your boots!" It's a deliciously glammy touch--you can easily imagine Ziggy-era Bowie feyly purring the same line. In the space of that one bar, Bono even manages to capture a bit of the Thin White Duke's predatory decadence. And when, on the chorus, he sneers, "You don't know how beautiful you are," he does so with a seductive arrogance we haven't heard since the disco-rock of 1997's Pop.

That album, of course, is generally seen as a turning point in U2's career, when they took their dabblings in Euro-glamour and pop music artifice one wink too far. Since then, the band has taken solace in the soaring, anthemic sweep of The Joshua Tree. It's a great, galvanizing sound, but one that risks sounding pious when rock'n'roll almost always benefits from a shot of the profane. But with "Get On Your Boots," the Irish quartet proves that, no matter how high minded its band members might be, it's still comfortable slopping around in the mud. And thank heavens for that.

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