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U2's latest a muddle of music both memorable, middling

graphic U2
All That You Can't Leave Behind
(Interscope Records)

(CNN) -- That giant whooshing sound you hear is the collective breath of relief coming from U2 fans around the world. The band that defined anthem-like protest alternative-rock during the 1980s is back.

Well, nearly.

  ALSO
  • The making of 'Beautiful Day'
  • U2 rocks on with 'All That You Can't Leave Behind'
  • U2 looks back on two decades of innovation
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    "All That You Can't Leave Behind" is not exactly akin to the guitar-centered fiery rockers U2 released during the 1980s, nor is it like any of the techno-laced junk from the 1990s. Rather, it is a blend that's sure to please few, irritate some, and land flaccidly in the middle of modern-day musical relevance.

    It's not that the album is boring; it's just not what's happening now. Sure, that's a good thing. Do we really need another Limp Bizkit release? But for the first time in their careers, the lads of U2 are standing at the crossroads: Are they hip? Are they revolutionary? Or are they soft?

    Instead of answering any of those questions, the band has offered up a timid collection that catches fire about as often as it lays flat.

    Granted, expectations are tremendously high for one of the world's biggest rock 'n' roll bands, but U2 doesn't live up to the hype this go round.

    One of band's the charms, even during the, well ... interesting last decade, was Bono's charged look at the state of the world. He penned lyrics filled with outrage and called listeners to arms.

    graphic

    On this latest disc, we get such timeless lyrics as "Grace, it's the name for a girl" in "Grace," the album's closer. A name for a girl? Come on. Surely there were better songs thrown off "The Joshua Tree" (1987) than this clunker.

    And it seems that,instead of looking outward, the songwriter is peering into his own soul. One would assume, with his breadth of community work and leadership, that Bono's better than this. He has been in the past.

    Refreshingly, the band is as tight as ever. The Edge drenches his guitars in a multitude of effects, while still spinning out his trademark lead lines and rhythm parts. Larry Mullen Jr. adds a touch of humanity to the number of synthesized percussion and drum loops, and bassist Adam Clayton remains one of the most rock-solid players in the business. Even the assorted keyboard parts added by the production team of Daniel Lanois and Brian Eno add to the musical layers, rather than dominating them.

    The album has its highlights. "Stuck in a Moment" is an inspirational number that combines a modern-day gospel feel with an ascending horn line and a slightly faint, yet powerfully flavorful organ. "Elevation" is a throwback to 1993's "Zooropa," and "Wild Honey" is a nifty Rolling Stones-esque rocker that could have fit comfortably on "October," the band's 1981 offering.

    "All That You Can't Leave Behind" is a nice reminder of where the band came from two decades ago. Hopefully, U2 will continue finding those touchstones while pushing forward and serving as a living example to younger artists. A multitude of new performers could learn much -- musically, lyrically, emotionally and spiritually -- from U2.



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