So I was a bit underwhelmed by U2's 2004 "How to dismantle an atomic bomb", so was hoping "No line on the horizon" would presage a step back in the right direction.
It is a contradiction - it is both new-sounding, and like a throwback. The same way Zooropa was an album to steer them hard-left in an off-kilter, WTF-heavy direction, for the 1990's, No Line is the "Zooropa" of the 2000's.
It starts off with the title track, which starts with a roar, then goes back into loud/quiet ups and downs, solidly played, but it gets kind of lost in itself. Track #2, "Magnificent" is one of the crown jewels of the affair. It starts off with the classic edge guitar lick, kicks into a "almost-lifted-from-pride" beat, and proceeds to knock the speaker cones out. Either playing it safe, or showing "yes, we've still got it", take your pick, it just sounds really damn good. That, and "I'll go crazy if I don't go crazy tonight" both showcase the "well known and well loved" u2 sound.
The rest of the album is populated by an even mix of classic U2 soundscapes yet again ("I'll go crazy if I don't go crazy tonight") and bizarre experiments ("Unknown Caller" and "FEZ - Being Born" 2 of the strangest of those. FEZ itself is like the latter-day version of all the strange-sounds-and-random-noise experimentation that was all over Zooropa, again firming up the earlier comparison. It's a little cluttered, but when it finally gets going it sounds good. The lead single "Get On Your Boots" is ok, but imho, they should have put "Magnificent" as the first single (who knows, maybe it'll end up #2). The closing triplet of "White as Snow", leading up to "Cedars of Lebanon" is a nice soft-ballad U2 style closing, "Cedars" having some rather disturbing lyrics to shake you awake just when you've gotten lost in the song's atmospheric swirls.
Overall? Not in the highest pantheon of U2 discs, but farther up looking at their (admittedly smaller) output of the 2000's, as a whole. They began the decade with "All that you can't leave behind", kicking back into form in high gear. They continued with the too-safe "How to dismantle an atomic bomb" which just...didn't sound that much like U2 for too much of it. It made you wonder who you were actually listening to with some tracks, it was that...off. And finally with "No line" they come back to what they always did well, perhaps the blend was a bit off - the experimentation going too far off the deep end, not as neatly mixed with their classic sound as they used to do - but still leagues above what came before. Definitely worth checking out, a slow burner but a sign they aren't ready to quit just yet.