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No Line on the Horizon is the twelfth studio album by Irish rock band U2. Released on 27 February 2009, it comes after the longest gap between studio albums in the band's career. It is their first since 2004's How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb. The material was originally intended to be released as two EP, titled Daylight and Darkness, but it was decided to combine them into one album. A companion film, Linear, was developed and released in conjunction with No Line on the Horizon.

U2 began work on the album in 2006 with producer Rick Rubin but later decided to shelve most of the material from those sessions. The band collaborated with producers Brian Eno and Danny Lanois from June 2007 to December 2008 for the album, allowing them to be involved in the songwriting process. Writing and recording for the album took place in four different cities. No Line on the Horizon was planned for release in November 2008 when the band had written approximately 50–60 songs, but it was delayed as they wished to continue writing.

Prior to release, U2 indicated that their collaborations with Eno and Lanois, as well as the brief time they spent in Fezmarker, Moroccomarker resulted in a record more experimental than their previous two albums. Upon release, No Line on the Horizon received generally favourable reviews from critics, although many noted that the album was not as experimental as previously suggested. The band are supporting the album with the U2 360° Tour, and they have indicated plans to release a follow-up record titled Songs of Ascent.

Recording and production

Aborted sessions with Rick Rubin

In July 2006, U2 sent e-mails to subscribers of U2.com, confirming that the band had begun work on the follow-up to 2004's How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb with producer Rick Rubin in the south of Francemarker and in Abbey Road Studiosmarker. Two songs from these sessions were released on the compilation U218 Singles: a cover of The Skids' "The Saints Are Coming" with Green Day, and "Window in the Skies". In a January 2007 radio interview with Jo Whiley, lead singer Bono stated that the band intended to move in a different direction musically with their next album, saying, "We're gonna continue to be a band, but maybe the rock will have to go; maybe the rock has to get a lot harder. But whatever it is, it's not gonna stay where it is."

Rubin encouraged a "back to basics" approach and wanted the band to bring finished songs to the studio. This approach conflicted with U2's "free-form" recording style. They eventually decided to cease recording with Rubin and the material from these sessions was shelved, though they expressed interest in revisiting the material in the future. They subsequently employed Brian Eno and Danny Lanois as principal producers and co-writers. Steve Lillywhite was also brought in to produce a few of the tracks.

Sessions with Brian Eno and Danny Lanois

The No Line on the Horizon sessions with Eno and Lanois began in June 2007 in Fez, Morocco after Bono had accepted an invitation to attend the World Sacred Music Festival and invited his bandmates, along with Eno and Lanois, to attend. The six of them traveled to Fez and rented out the courtyard of a hotel Riad, turning it into a makeshift recording studio. The initial intent behind the album was to create a series of "future hymns", songs that would last and continue to be sung forever.

Recording in Fez at the same time as the World Sacred Music Festival allowed the band to take in the sounds of Hindu and Jewish music, as well as Sufi singing and Joujouka drums. Bassist Adam Clayton said the music they heard in Fez "had a primitivism... but there was an other-worldly feel, there was that connection with that Arabic scale." Many of the tracks conceived in these early sessions were unsuitable for radio airplay or for playing live. Eno insisted that drummer Larry Mullen, Jr. use an electronic drum kit during these sessions. The open-air Riad allowed the band to hear the overhead birdsong during their sessions, as captured in the introduction to "Unknown Caller", but the birds also defecated on Mullen, Jr.'s drum kit. "Moment of Surrender", "White as Snow", "No Line on the Horizon" and "Unknown Caller" were written at this time, each track being recorded in one take. The band spent two weeks in Fez before leaving, and the exotic influences that they explored in Morocco inspired them to pursue a more experimental sound; the band wished to take more songwriting risks after their previous two albums presented a more straightforward rock sound. After leaving Fez, the band spent time recording in Hanover Quay Studios in Dublinmarker, New York City, and Olympic Studiosmarker in London.

"...the reason none of that [experimental Moroccan music] really appeared on the record, even though we did quite a lot of stuff there, was because it sounded kind of synthetic.
It sounded kind of like "world music" add-on.
I'm sure it would have got a few people saying, oh, how interesting, they've broken out into North African music, but actually it just didn't sound convincing.
We were very impressed by the music while we were there, but there was no realistic or emotionally satisfying way of marrying it using the music that we were doing, so in the end not very much of it at all showed through."

Brian Eno



Pre-release interviews with U2 compared the extent of their expected shift in musical style to that of 1991's Achtung Baby. The band decided to scale back these experimental pursuits, however, and Mullen, Jr. noted "at a certain stage, reality hits, and you go, 'What are we gonna do with this stuff?' Are we going to release this sort of meandering experimentation, or are we gonna knock some songs out of this?" Bono shared this opinion, stating, "We went so far out on the Sufi singing and the sort of ecstatic-music front, that we had to ground it and find a counterpoint." Brian Eno commented that many of "the more contemplative and sonically adventurous songs" had been dropped, attributing the lack of African-inspired music to it sounding "synthetic" and unconvincing when paired with the rest of the songs being worked on.

At various stages of the writing and recording process Adam Clayton filmed the band's progress; these videos were subsequently added to the subscribers section of U2.com, providing a look at the band's songwriting process. On 16 August 2008, an eavesdropping fan recorded several songs playing from Bono's beach house in Eze, France. These "beach clips" were subsequently uploaded to YouTube, but were removed at the request of Universal Music. In November 2008, guitarist The Edge noted that the band were scrambling to finish the mixing of the album as the new February release date drew closer, while also confirming No Line on the Horizon as the working title. An interview with Q revealed that will.i.am had worked with the band on the track "I'll Go Crazy If I Don't Go Crazy Tonight".

In December 2008, U2 were at Olympic Studios to put the finishing touches on the album. Many changes were made at this time. Prior to the final sessions, they were planning on releasing the material as two extended plays, titled Daylight and Darkness. Ultimately, the band decided in London to simply compile the best songs onto one album. The band struggled to finalize "Stand Up Comedy", a song they had been working on in the 16 months since the Fez sessions, and one that had gone through multiple iterations and titles (including "For Your Love" and "Stand Up"). "Winter", a song Eno had tried to convince the band to complete, was cut, as were "Tripoli" and "Every Breaking Wave"; the latter was not included because it would have made the album too long. "Winter" makes an appearance on the accompanying Anton Corbijn film, Linear. All three had previously been mentioned in pre-release album reviews.

Many tracks had their names changed during the recording sessions; "French Disco" and "Chromium Chords" were retitled as "Magnificent", and "Fez – Being Born", respectively, while "Crazy Tonight" was renamed "I'll Go Crazy If I Don't Go Crazy Tonight" near the sessions' end. "Fez – Being Born" and "Get on your Boots" were considered for opening the album, but the band decided that "No Line on the Horizon" was a better selection. "White as Snow" was chosen for inclusion at the end of the sessions to balance out the rockier tunes present earlier on. The band had tried to keep the theme of war out of the album with the exception of this track. In early December 2008, Clayton stated "this is definitely the last week of recording. But then again, last week was definitely the last week of recording, and the week before that." The final sessions were completed later that month. By the album's completion, the music had come closer to matching the band's traditional sound of the 1980s and 2000s. No Line on the Horizon is dedicated to Rob Partridge, who signed the band's first record deal in 1979 and died of cancer in late 2008.

Linear

A film called Linear, directed by Anton Corbijn, is included with the digipak, magazine, box, and deluxe iTunes formats of the album. The idea behind the film originated from a U2 video shoot in June 2007. During the shoot, Corbijn asked the band to remain still while he filmed them; this created a "photograph on film", in which U2 did not move but the objects around them did. Impressed, the band believed that the online album listening experience could be enhanced with moving imagery, and in May 2008 they commissioned Corbijn to create the film. Corbijn has claimed that the film is not a music video, but rather "a new way to listen to a record" and "a new way to use film to connect to music".

The film is based on a story by Corbijn and Bono, and includes several of the characters Bono created for the album. The plot focuses on a Parisian motorcycle cop (played by Saïd Taghmaoui) who has become disillusioned with his life, as well as the conflict between immigrants and the police in the city, causing him to leave and see his girlfriend in Tripolimarker.

Songs of Ascent

In a February 2009 interview with Sean O'Hagan of The Guardian, Bono stated that U2 would release another album by the end of the year that would consist of material recorded during the No Line on the Horizon sessions, labelling it "a more meditative album on the theme of pilgrimage". Provisionally titled Songs of Ascent, it will be a sister release to No Line on the Horizon in a similar way that Zooropa was to Achtung Baby. The first single is intended to be "Every Breaking Wave", which the band hopes to release early in 2010. In a later interview with the Irish Independent in June 2009, Bono noted that although nine tracks had been completed, the album would be released only if the quality surpassed that of No Line on the Horizon, and that it would not be in 2009.

Composition

During the writing and recording at Hanover Quay Studios in June 2008, Bono indicated that he "got tired of [writing in] the first-person so [he] invented all these characters; a traffic cop, a junkie, a soldier serving in Afghanistan." This lead him to write songs from the perspective of different characters. Although each tells a personal story, the underlying theme of the album is periphery vision. Bono described it as "central to the understanding of this album." As the characters narrate there is a intentional ignorance of the rest of the world, so that the focus remains on their "personal epiphanies".

In a February 2009 interview with Absolute Radio, Bono noted that the album was split into the third sections. He described the first section as "a whole world unto itself, and you get to a very esctatic place". The second part contains "a load of singles", while the final third is composed of songs that are "unusual territory" for the band. In an earlier interview in January 2008, he revealed that numbers were significant in many of the songs.
"Bono had this idea - where the sea meets the sky and you can't tell the difference between the two.
And the vocal happened very early on, that whole - a-whoawhoawhoawhoa!
- that little hook.
The vocal delivery, the vibe was there right from day one.
I was very proud of Bono."

— Daniel Lanois on the creation of the title track, "No Line on the Horizon".

"No Line on the Horizon" stemmed from Larry Mullen Jr. experimenting with several different drum beats; Eno sampled and manipulated the patterns, and the rest of the band began to play over it. The lyrical idea of a place "where the sea meets the sky and you can't tell the difference between the two" and the vocal delivery were both present from the start. Bono noted that the theme behind the song was infinity, and that the track was inherently optimistic. "Magnificent" is an uptempo song that begins with synthesizer line by Eno before the song's guitar riff begins. The band wanted a track that felt euphoric, and the melody, created out of a series of chord changes during a jam, was worked continuously by Bono. The setting in the lyrics was described by Lanois as "New York in the 50s", written from the perspective of "a Charlie Parker kind of figure". The song has been described as "echo[ing] The Unforgettable Fire's opening track "A Sort of Homecoming" in its atmospheric sweep".

The drug addict character appears in the songs "Moment of Surrender" and "Unknown Caller". "Moment of Surrender" was improvised and recorded by the band, Eno, and Lanois in a single take. The song is closest to the band's original concept for an album of future hymns. Eno noted that "Apart from some editing and the addition of the short cello piece that introduces it, the song appears on the album exactly as it was the first and only time we played it." Bono cited it as his favourite track on the album. In the song, the addict is having a crisis of faith. In "Unknown Caller", the character is suicidal and, when attempting to use his phone to buy drugs, begins receiving cryptic text messages with technology-inspired directions. The track was developed early in the Fez sessions. The guitar solo at the conclusion of the song was taken from the backing track.

"I'll Go Crazy If I Don't Go Crazy Tonight" was developed by Eno during the sessions in Fez; at this time, it had a working title of "Diorama". The band reformed it with Steve Lillywhite during a break in the recording with Eno and Lanois. Some of the lyrics were influenced by Barack Obama's presidential campaign, while others were about Bono himself. Album reviews described the song as a joyous pop rock composition. "Get on Your Boots" stemmed from a guitar riff The Edge created and recorded at his home. At a speed of 150 beats per minute, the song is the fastest the band have ever recorded, Rolling Stone calling it a "blazing, fuzzed-out rocker that picks up where 'Vertigo' left off." Thematically, the song is about Bono taking his family on vacation to France and witnessing warplanes flying overhead at the start of the Iraq War. The chant "let me in the sound" was developed comparatively late in the recording sessions and later became a running theme throughout parts of the album.

"Stand Up Comedy" went through numerous iterations; at one point, Lanois noted "that song was about six different songs". In its original concept, the track contained mandolins playing in a Middle Eastern beat. The riff was altered and a chorus of "for your love" was introduced. This version was discarded as the band came up with a new riff and lyrics, with only the "for your love" vocal remaining. The band liked the result at the end of the sessions, but also felt that the song would appear to have been too "crafted". An older mix was ultimately chosen instead. Several of the song's lyrics, including the line "Beware of small men with big ideas", relate to Bono's self-mockery. The guitar sound from the experimental "Fez" piece of "Fez – Being Born" was a carryover from the Rick Rubin sessions, first developed during the recording of "The Saints Are Coming". Lanois edited the part, adding one of the beats developed by Eno before playing it for the band. The sounds of a Moroccan marketplace were also added. The "Being Born" piece, the faster section of the song, was later placed into the same key as "Fez" and Lanois placed the two sections together, creating the one song. The "let me in the sound" chant from "Get on Your Boots" served as the song's opening lyric in the "Fez" section.

The soldier character appears in "White as Snow", which focuses on his last thoughts as he dies from the wounds suffered from an improvised explosive device. The song is based on the traditional hymn "Veni, veni, Emmanuel"; the idea to base a song on the public domain melody was suggested to Lanois by Newfoundlandmarker musician Lori Anna Reid. The song features a plaintive acoustic guitar part. "Breathe" is set on 16 June, an intentional reference to James Joyce's novel Ulysses. One version of the song was worked on for a long time before the band scrapped and re-recorded it with Lillywhite. Two different sets of lyrics were also present; one about Nelson Mandela, and the other "more surreal and personal". The band eventually decided on using the latter. The hushed "Cedars of Lebanon", written from the perspective of a journalist covering a war overseas, was created in a similar manner to "Fez – Being Born". The song's melody was based on a sample of "Against the Sky", a track Eno and Lanois had collaborated on with Harold Budd for the 1984 album The Pearl, with the band noting that the ambience of the song was "like a direct throwback to the early 80s". The final verse is, in part, a condemnation of the Iraq War.

Release

At Midem 2008, U2 manager Paul McGuinness said No Line on the Horizon would be ready for release in October 2008. Danny Lanois corroborated that in an interview with RTÉ Radio on 4 June 2008, stating the album should be ready in 3–4 weeks and "We're just finishing the vocals. Bono's in great form, singing fantastic." On 3 September 2008, U2.com posted an article in which Bono revealed that the new album would be out "in early 2009", also noting that "around 50–60 songs" had been recorded in the sessions. It was later confirmed the album would be released on 27 February 2009 in Ireland, 2 March in the UK, and 3 March in North America. The gap between the release of How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb and No Line on the Horizon was the longest in the band's career.

Universal Music Group took extreme measures to prevent the album from leaking by offering pre-release listening sessions for critics instead of sending out review copies. However, Universal Music Australia's online music store, getmusic.com.au, accidentally released the album for digital sale on 18 February 2009, almost two weeks before the scheduled release date. The complete album appeared on the website for a short time before it was removed, and the accidental sale led to the album being leaked and shared across the Internet. The band reacted to the leak with some positivity. The Edge stated "The one good thing about that is a lot of our fans have already given us their thumbs up. Even though it was fans getting it for free."

Cover art

The cover art for No Line on the Horizon is a photograph of Lake Constancemarker, taken by Japanesemarker photographer Hiroshi Sugimoto; titled Boden Sea, it is one of 200 pictures in his Seascapes collection. The image was the inspiration for Bono's lyrics on "No Line on the Horizon". Sugimoto and U2 struck a deal in which the band could use the photograph as the cover art and Sugimoto could use the track "No Line on the Horizon" in his future projects, with the only provision being that no text could be placed on top of the image. Original releases of the album's cover had an equals sign superimposed in the middle of the cover, but later releases featured only the image itself. When the album was released an equals sign was attached to the plastic casing, but did not appear on the artwork itself.

The exact same image had previously been used by Richard Chartier and Taylor Deupree for their 2006 album Specification.Fifteen. Both album covers are very similar, though No Line on the Horizon has a white border around the image, and Specification.Fifteen had a box at the top of the cover with the artists' names and the album title. Deupree blasted the band, labelling it "nearly an exact rip-off" and stating that for U2 to obtain the rights to the image it was "simply a phone call and a check." Sugimoto refuted both of these claims, calling the use of the same photograph a coincidence and stating that no money was involved in the deal.

Formats

No Line on the Horizon was released in five different formats and was made available for pre-order on the iTunes Store on 19 January 2009, the day "Get on Your Boots" premiered on radio. iTunes album pre-orders contained bonus tracks unavailable with any other version. Digital versions were also initially available from Amazon.com in MP3 format, as well as U2.com in both MP3 and FLAC formats. In addition to the digital versions of the album, five physical formats of the album were released, four of which were considered "limited editions".

Format name Album medium Booklet Linear film Limited edition
Standard jewel case CD 24 pages
Digipak format CD 36 pages with poster Downloadable
Magazine format CD 60-page magazine Downloadable
Box format CD 64-page hardback with poster DVD
LP vinyl Two vinyl discs 16 pages


Promotion

A street sign reading "U2 Way" was added to 53rd Street in Manhattan during the album's promotion.


Despite No Line on the Horizon not being eligible for nomination, U2 performed "Get on Your Boots" at the 51st Grammy Awards, the 2009 BRIT Awards, and the 2009 Echo awards in promotion for the album. The band later appeared on French television and radio on 23 February 2009, and on 26 February they taped a segment for Friday Night with Jonathan Ross, which was aired the next day. On 27 February they made an appearance on a Live Lounge session for BBC Radio 1, followed by a mini-concert on the roof of the Broadcasting Housemarker. On the week of 2 March 2009, U2 appeared on CBS-TV's Late Show with David Letterman for five consecutive nights to promote No Line on the Horizon, the first time a musical guest has performed for an entire week on the show. The band performed "Breathe", "Magnificent", "I'll Go Crazy If I Don't Go Crazy Tonight", "Beautiful Day", and "Get on Your Boots". On 3 March, Michael Bloomberg, Mayor of New York City, added a street sign reading "U2 Way" at 53rd Streetmarker in Manhattanmarker, for the entire week while U2 was performing on the Late Show. In addition to the Late Show, U2 also performed at Fordham Universitymarker on 6 March 2009 for an appearance on ABC-TV's Good Morning America. From 9 to 11 March, the band participated in "U2 3 Nights Live", a series of radio interviews and performances that were broadcast across North America and streamed live on U2.com.

From 11 to 17 February 2009, U2.com hosted a promotion where 4000 fans could win a 7" single collectors edition box set that would contain all four of the singles released from No Line on the Horizon. A version of the title track, "No Line on the Horizon 2", debuted on RTÉ 2XM on 12 February 2009; it was later used as the B-side for the first single, "Get on Your Boots". The full album began streaming on the band's MySpace page on 20 February 2009, and on U2.com a few days later.

Singles

The first single, "Get on Your Boots", was released as a digital download on 19 January 2009, and in a physical format on 16 February 2009. The iTunes store held the exclusive digital download rights to the single for the first 24 hours. The second single, "Magnificent", was released in the United Kingdom on 4 May 2009. The third single, "I'll Go Crazy If I Don't Go Crazy Tonight", was released on 7 September 2009.

Reception

No Line on the Horizon received generally favourable reviews. Website Metacritic calculated an average score of 72 out of 100 from 30 professional reviews, three of which gave the album a perfect score. Rolling Stone gave a perfect score of 5 stars, labelling it "their best, in its textural exploration and tenacious melodic grip, since 1991's Achtung Baby." Blender and Q also gave it a perfect score. Mojo and Uncut both gave the album 4 stars, the latter commenting that "It's U2's least immediate album - but there's something about it that suggests it may be one of their most enduring." Entertainment Weekly graded it an A−, calling the album "an eclectic and electrifying winner, one that speaks to the zeitgeist the way only U2 can and dare to do." NME gave it 7 out of 10, calling it "a grand, sweeping, brave record that, while not quite the reinvention they pegged it as, suggests they've got the chops to retain their relevance well into their fourth decade as a band." Time Out Sydney gave No Line on the Horizon two stars out of six, stating "U2 return with a new album. Sadly, it's Brian Eno's... for all that's new, there's no way that you'll mistake it for another band." Pitchfork Media gave a score of 4.2 out of 10, stating "the album's ballyhooed experimentation is either terribly misguided or hidden underneath a wash of shameless U2-isms." Time also gave it an unfavorable review, calling the effort "unsatisfied" and "mostly restless, tentative and confused."

No Line on the Horizon debuted at number one in 30 countries, including Australia, Belgium, Canada, France, Ireland, Japan, the Netherlands, Portugal, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Over five million copies have been sold worldwide. In the United Kingdom, the album became U2's tenth number one album, making them the fifth most successful act on the UK album chart. First-week sales in the United States were over 484 000, the band's second highest figures after How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb. It was their seventh number one album in the United States, placing them third behind The Beatles and the Rolling Stones for the most number one albums in the country. Within one week of release the album was certified platinum in Brazil, a record for the country.

Eight months after the album's release, Bono said he was disappointed in the album's sales, which were the group's lowest in more than a decade. In the UK, it had less than a third of How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb's and a fourth of ''[[All That You Can't Leave Behind]]'''s sales amounts, and had failed to generate a real hit single either there or in the US. Regarding the lack of commercial appeal, Bono said: "We weren't really in that mindset. We felt that the 'album' is almost an extinct species, and we [tried to] create a mood and feeling, and a beginning, middle and an end. And I suppose we've made a work that is a bit challenging for people who have grown up on a diet of pop stars." The Edge predicted that despite the lack of a big hit, No Line on the Horizon would grow on listeners over time.

Supporting tour

The U2 360º Tour features the largest concert stage ever constructed.


U2 have begun a worldwide stadium tour titled the U2 360° Tour to support No Line on the Horizon. The tour began on 30 June 2009 in Barcelona and included European and North American legs in 2009, each approximately six weeks long, with additional shows to follow in 2010. The tour features a 360-degree staging configuration with fans surrounding the stage from all sides. The idea for a 360-degree staging with some initial design suggestions had been proposed to the band by the set designer, Willie Williams, at the end of the Vertigo Tour in 2006. At 50 meters (165 feet) tall, the stage is the largest ever constructed and twice the size of the previous largest set, which was used on The Rolling Stones' A Bigger Bang Tour. The tour is expected to be a major source of income for the band, especially due to the declining number of album sales. Tickets sold out quickly, prompting the band to add additional concerts at several venues.

Track listing

Charts and certifications

Album
Chart (2009) Peak

position
Certifications

(sales thresholds)
Sales
Australia 1 Platinum
Canada 1 2× Platinum 160,000+
Europe 1 Platinum 1,000,000+
France 1 63,000+
Germany 1 Platinum
Ireland 1 3× Platinum
Italy 1 2× Platinum
Spain 1 2× Platinum 80,000+
United Kingdom 1 Platinum 157,000+
United States 1 Platinum 1,000,000+


Singles
Song Peak
AUS

CAN

IRE

NZ

UK

US

"Get on Your Boots" 26 3 1 20 12 37
"Magnificent" 9 5 42 79
"I'll Go Crazy If I Don't Go Crazy Tonight" 5 7 32
"—" denotes releases that did not chart.

Personnel

U2


Additional personnel


References

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