U2: No Line on the Horizon (Island) Oddly, U2 is very predictable in its bad-album output. It's always the last album of the decade: Rattle and Hum in 1988, Pop in 1997, and now No Line on the Horizon in 2009. I suppose one bad album per decade is forgivable, but when you're only making three per decade, it hurts more. Based on the past two decades, it seems that Bono only has two albums' worth of good songs every ten years. No Line on the Horizon sounds good. With Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois teaming up on production duties again, that's to be expected. Even with all the bands that have copied them, there's still no mistaking the real thing. But this time out, it's all icing and no cake. None of the songs stick in the memory except "Get on Your Boots," and that one by the adhesive power of extreme annoyance (imagine one of those early '90s funk-metal bands rewriting Elvis Costello's "Pump It Up"). Pitchfork's reviewer puts this failure down to U2 repeating themselves, but that's not it. In fact, they try very hard to sound modernized, though usually just in the introductions to some songs, which sound pasted on, most obviously on "FEZ-Being Born" and "Cedars of Lebanon." (I would like to hear Eno and Lanois take back those intros and develop them on their own.) The maligned How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb gave us nothing we hadn't heard from U2 before, but the songwriting was so good that after two times through, every track was permanently embedded in my memory and, aside from "Vertigo," it was a pleasure having them there. Inspiration is a hard thing to explain and a harder thing to capture. It would be easy to say that Bono's been too busy trying to save the world to have time to write good songs, but that would be a cheap shot. I won't pretend to know why it is that, except for the occasional flash (a bridge riff here, a stirring chorus there), No Line on the Horizon doesn't sound inspired. I will just hope that the pattern holds up and the next two U2 albums will be good. - Steve Holtje Mr. Holtje is a Brooklyn-based poet and composer who splits his time between editing Culturecatch.com, working at the Williamsburg record store Sound Fix, and editing cognitive neuroscience books for Oxford University Press. No prizes for guessing which pays best.