How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb

Studio Album by released in 2004

How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb review

Having redeemed itself big-time with classy throwback All That You Can't Leave Behind, the graying Irish quartet now delivers a totally explosive follow-up with this passionate, well-aged release. A slower album than most, How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb eventually reveals itself as a work of genius, wrapping religion, love and life into emotionally thrilling gifts. As much as we hate to use a bad pun, this album is the bomb.

During the course of Atomic Bomb, you will be urged to ponder death (Sometimes You Can't Make It On Your Own), birth (Original of the Species), God (Yahweh), love (A Man and a Woman), war (Love and Peace or Else) and peace (City of Blinding Lights). Bono scores a direct hit on One Step Closer, an intimate ballad about his father's death in 2001. Touched by the Edge's classic guitar flourishes, sweeping melodies and Bono's all-conquering voice, epic songs like Sometimes You Can't Make It on Your Own (which sounds like this album’s “One” or “Walk On”) and Miracle Drug are easily among the band's best. On Vertigo, the infectious first single, The Edge rips out arena-rock power chords, and the track’s visceral impact first obscures, then reinforces, the sense of unease connoted by the title. Consider Love and Peace, which can be taken either as U2’s answer to The White Stripes’ Seven Nation Army, a modern-day political protest song, an apocalyptic parable or all of the above. At the same time, U2 has no problem jettisoning the thematic cargo and just rocking out on the riff-fest All Because of You. The sultry groove of A Man and a Woman falls somewhere between Sade and Robert Palmer, while the string-enriched Original of the Species – which is at once a power ballad and a lullaby – has the character of U2 acolyte Coldplay. Bono provides a dramatic context for the AIDS crisis (Miracle Drug, Crumbs From Your Table); and he raps it down with his Maker on the closing Yahweh. Overall, the album is unabashedly grand and inspirational.

After grandly taking risks for the better part of a decade, U2 curbed their sense of adventure, consciously stripping away the irony that marked every one of their albums since 1991's Achtung Baby, and returning on long-awaited How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb to the big, earnest sound and sensibility of their classic '80s work. Essentially, U2 are trying to revirginize themselves, to erase their wild flirtation with dance clubs and postmodernism so they can return to the time they were the social conscience of rock music. Gone are the heavy dance beats, gone are the multiple synthesizers, gone are the dense soundscapes that marked their '90s albums. U2 still are expert craftsmen, capable of creating records with huge melodic and sonic hooks, of which there are many on their latest album.

How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb is more consistent than All That You Can’t Leave Behind; indeed, this album may well possess enough substance and power to put it on the rarefied level of The Joshua Tree and Achtung Baby. But How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb is quintessential U2, taken to the next stage. The sound is bigger, the playing better, the lyrics sharper and the spirituality more compelling than anything the act has done in many years. Songwriting may be the most impressive part of a record on which U2 scales new peaks: the album is full of great songs, performed with the vitality of a band that keeps surprising us by simply being itself.