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Songs of Ascent (2012)

No Line on the Horizon

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  Summary  

In February 2009, Bono stated that by the end of the year U2 would release an album consisting of unused material from the No Line on the Horizon sessions. Bono labelled it "a more meditative album on the theme of pilgrimage". Provisionally titled Songs of Ascent, it would be a sister release to No Line on the Horizon, similar to Zooropa's relationship to Achtung Baby. In June 2009, Bono said that although nine tracks had been completed, the album would only be released if its quality surpassed that of No Line on the Horizon. A December 2009 report stated that U2 had been working in the studio with the goal of a mid-2010 release. The band revealed that the first single was intended to be "Every Breaking Wave".

In April 2010, U2's manager Paul McGuinness confirmed that the album would not be finished by June, but indicated that a release "before the end of the year is increasingly likely." In October 2010, Bono stated that the new album would be produced by Danger Mouse, and that 12 songs had been completed. He also noted that U2 were working on a potential album of club music in the spirit of "U2's remixes in the 1990s". McGuinness said the next album was slated for an early 2011 release. In December 2010, Will.i.am confirmed that he would be co-producing the next release with Danger Mouse. In February 2011, McGuinness stated that the album was almost complete, giving it a tentative release date of May 2011, although he noted that Songs of Ascent was no longer the likely title. In June 2011, Bono indicated that the next U2 album would be released "next fall." Asked if this album would be Songs of Ascent, Bono answered in the negative, saying the band "felt that the next thing that people need to hear from U2 is not an art project, that it has a rock 'n' roll heart, even if it's not rock 'n' roll music."

  Presentation  

 composition
During the Hanover Quay sessions in 2008, Bono indicated that he had become "tired of the first-person", leading him to write songs from the perspective of different characters. He invented "a traffic cop, a junkie a soldier serving in Afghanistan." Although each character tells a personal story, the underlying theme of the album is peripheral vision, events taking place in the wider world, "just at the edges". Bono described it as "central to the understanding of this album". Nevertheless, as the characters narrate there is an intentional "shutting out" of the wider world, so that the focus remains on their "personal epiphanies". The narrative the group originally planned for the album was broken up in the sessions' final weeks with their changes to the track listing. In January 2008, Bono revealed that numbers were significant in many of the songs. In February 2009, he noted that the album was split into thirds; he described the first section as "a whole world unto itself, and you get to a very ecstatic place", and the second as "a load of singles". The final third is composed of songs that are "unusual territory" for the band.

"No Line on the Horizon" stemmed from Mullen's experiments with different drum beats; Eno sampled and manipulated the patterns, and the rest of the band began to play over the beats. 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 up-tempo song that begins with a synthesizer line by Eno. The band wanted a track that felt euphoric, and the melody, created from a series of chord changes during a jam, was worked on 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 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", improvised and recorded by U2, Eno, and Lanois in a single take, demonstrates gospel influences. Eno and Lanois said the song is the closest to the group's original concept for an album of future hymns. Eno noted, "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." In the song, the addict is having a crisis of faith. In "Unknown Caller", the character is suicidal and, while using 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 song's conclusion was taken from the backing track.

Eno developed "I'll Go Crazy If I Don't Go Crazy Tonight" during the Fez sessions, under the working title "Diorama". U2 reworked it with Steve Lillywhite during a break from recording with Eno and Lanois. Some of the lyrics were influenced by Barack Obama's presidential campaign, while others referenced Bono. 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 150 beats per minute, the song is one of the fastest the band have recorded. Rolling Stone called 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 late in the recording sessions and became a 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 featured 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, only retaining the "for your love" vocal. U2 liked the result at the end of the sessions, but felt that the song would appear too "crafted"; they instead chose an older mix for inclusion on the album. Several of the song's lyrics, including the line, "Be careful of small men with big ideas", relate to Bono's self-mockery. The guitar sound from the experimental "Fez" portion of "Fez – Being Born" was developed while the band recorded "The Saints Are Coming" during the Rick Rubin sessions. Lanois edited the part, adding a beat developed by Eno, before playing it for the group. The sounds of a Moroccan marketplace were also added. The faster section of the song, "Being Born", was altered 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" is included at the beginning of the track.

"White as Snow" focuses on the soldier character's 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 the song on a public domain melody was suggested to Lanois by Newfoundland musician Lori Anna Reid. "Breathe" is set on 16 June, an intentional reference to James Joyce's novel Ulysses. U2 worked on an earlier version of the song for a long time before they scrapped it and re-recorded it with Lillywhite. Two sets of lyrics were also present; one about Nelson Mandela, and the other "more surreal and personal". The band decided to use the latter. "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; the group noted that the ambience of the song was "like a direct throwback to the early 80s". The final verse is a condemnation of the Iraq War.

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  Tracklist   

Standard edition
# Name Artist Live Acoustic Hidden Duration

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  Sources

Whole or part of the information contained in this card come from the Wikipedia article "Songs of Ascent", licensed under CC-BY-SA full list of contributors here.