I started writing this post a few months ago now. It took me by surprise. Just came home one day and had that urge to write about this album. And it just stopped as quickly as it came. It was a weird feeling. Too complicated, too messy, too much. So I didn’t push it. Just left it there in the draft drawer. But this morning, the urge was back. Half of it went to the bin and it all became easy. A sense of clarity that felt so damn good. Like if I already knew what I was going to say, but wasn’t ready to put it into words. Just adding this bit because I think that NLOTH is like this blog post – if you’re not ready for it, it won’t happen for you.
Here’s a few thoughts about that underrated album I love so damn much.
‘No Line On The Horizon’ – A hard reboot of the soul.
Some albums are about music, some are all about the story they tell and others are about the way they turn your emotions upside down. A listening that turns into a turmoil of emotions, plunging you to the darkest corner of your soul and leaving you into that numb high of elation. A roller-coaster. An emotional roller-coaster like always with that band. It pisses me off sometimes that their music has so much hold on me. But why fight it? Why question it? If anything at all, it forces you to face your own truths.
NLOTH is that kind of album undoubtedly. And it doesn’t go for half measures. It just hits you. Hits you hard. Right where it will hurt the most. Those 11 songs are an emotional car crash, leaving you stumbling on the road, adrenaline rushing through your veins, not too sure how anything happened but knowing your strength and limits better than ever. Just glad to have come out of that fucked up alive and unharmed.. Yet, forever changed. And with a tad bit of sheer luck, you finally get that sense of clarity…
So yeah. When people tell me that NLOTH is just another experimental album, overproduced and overthought, I have to resist the urge to throw a few punches.
Maybe it’s not that one for you. Maybe it’s another u2 album, or just another band that inspires that particular feeling. We all have that one as music lovers.
It’s not the perfect album, not even your favorite, but one that is needed and usually falls onto your lap just at the right time in your life to accept that introspection is nothing to be afraid of. Or maybe it’s a process. A long process.
I once wrote on that blog about that album, a long time ago, already professing my love for it. But back then, I had no idea what the fck I was talking about – as always. And only now, many years later, so many years later, I think I’m starting to grasp why I love it so much. This is, obviously, only my very personal opinion on this masterpiece that is NLOTH. But I think that to get it, you need to make it very personal.
It’s not necessarily the album as a whole. It’s those songs. Some you can explain, and some you can’t. But each of them serve a purpose in my own reality, in that crazy mind of mine. Each bringing me something that lifts me up, and brings me down, and again, like the incessant waves breaking on the beach… Each song is a freaking rebirth.
I went back a lot to NLOTH all along 2020. I wasn’t too sure why. Maybe it was just that title, summing up the whole mood of that stupid year. The worst bit of it not being the initial fear, the anxiety, or the loneliness but the fact that there was no light at the end of the tunnel. No deadline to that living hell going on in my mind, no line on the fuckin horizon alright. That’s a feeling we all get sometimes, and i get it more often than i’d wish but yet, it was different this time. It wasn’t just me and the constant struggle with anxiety. We’re not on the same boat, but going through the same storm. Thanks Bono for once again uttering words I could hold onto like a comfort blanket til the end of the nightmare.
All of us were looking at the horizon, wondering when the weather would clear, and when we’d finally see that damn line. Are we there yet? Maybe. Maybe not. But the cloudy sea mist is definitely lifting, and at long last, even though blurry, we can see the light.
Was it any of that? Or maybe my train of thoughts is going way too fast as usual for me to stop saying a lot of shit. I’ll never know, and quite honestly i don’t really care. Whatever it was, it brought me back to that album. And I have no clue if the circumstances made it clearer, or if a bit more maturity helped, all I know is that those songs hit me like never before. A process. A long process. 12 years of processing. See? the magic of music. Whenever you’re ready for it, it reveals its most guarded secret. And for those of you who still think that album is not worth whatever U2 standard you were expecting, I have only one thing to say. Don’t try to understand it. Don’t try to make sense of it. Feel it. Fucking feel it.
Those songs. I was talking about those songs – so many different levels. The roller coaster. The crash. Because it’s when NLOTH hits you in the face, that you can really see it. Some are all about the music, others about the lyrics, but in all of them you can feel the intent if you pay enough attention. But they are also so much more than that.
An uplifting sound, a sentence that carries too much truth, a rhythm that drives you to the very edge of that cliff called sanity. That album is a contemplation, that’s all you can do – contemplate. Everything happens too fast, too hard for you to do anything about it. The spectator of your own reality with the soundtrack of a lifetime in your ears. Not necessarily yours though. Stuff you can relate, and stuff you didn’t want to know about. There’s a violence like that in those tunes. Melodies that grab you by the neck and force you to look at it all – the bigger picture, the emotions so inherently intersected with our human condition, a universality bigger than life itself, and ultimately a darkness you’d rather ignore most days. Eventually, it’s all about that ‘roar that lies on the other side of silence. The forest fire that is fear so deny it’. Stand up to that fear, and you might hear the deafening silence.
So yeah. If you let it, that album will beat the shit out of you and leave you whining on the ground. But what doesn’t kill you make you stronger right? Or some shite like that. And it does. It so does. Because and again i’ll borrow the man’s word, darkness gathers around the light, and when you manage to get through all that – you’ll find the light. The uplifting part of NLOTH. That damn thing is the yin and yang, the moon and sun, it’s just so complementary. It feels like being stuck in a dark room, but when you finally manage to find and push that exit door… it floods you with sunlight.
I think one of the best examples of that is probably Unknown Caller. The darkness that lies in a sweet melody and sounds like the actual roar grumbling behind the silence. The dark room again. But this time, you have the key to the salvation door. You know your name. Reboot yourself. And just like that, without even noticing it, those freaking dudes hack your fears and give you a magnificent mantra. One you can use and apply virtually to any life situation. When everything gets too much, you have that gift. That song. Just reboot yourself. It’s just… brilliant.
NLOTH from start to finish is like a motivational TED talk. Seriously guys. Bono plays with the lyrics, leaving us clues all along the way – some obvious, others hidden between the lines – but it’s you and only you that can solve that enigma. It’s a personal one. We can all pick up the bits that are relevant to us to make it happen. That man is good, so fuckin good at that.
And of course the rest of the band are just as good. The drums intro in Breathe is probably the best pep talk I’ve ever gotten and hell, it doesn’t even include actual words.
Ultimately, they remind you that there might not be any line on the horizon, but nothing prevents you from looking past it. It’s not always clear what you’ll see, but it’s there. It’s real. And maybe, just maybe, that is one of the reasons that pushed me back to that album. Because more than words, more than music, I needed faith. I needed to believe in something we can’t see and just feel.
“We’re not all on the same boat, but we’re all going through the same storm”, but guess what, line or not, the horizon is always there, and the best part of it is that it never ends, which means that a some point, even if we can’t see it, there is light for sure.
It’s maybe their most violent, disturbing piece. A traumatic experience. It will bring you to your knees, but teach you how to get back on your feet too. it’s a leap of faith we should all accept to take at some point. A defying masterpiece waiting for you to be up for it.
So for those who still think that this isn’t a U2 album, I’m sorry to say, you have never been so wrong. It’s 100% U2. They may have changed their sound, their approach to music per se, but the intent behind every single one of those songs is 100% them. This is an album of incredible complexity and richness, and they still managed to not get lost in it and damn that must have been the hardest thing to do. Clarity and humility. They definitely know their name.
In the end, it’s safe to say that NLOTH is my comfort blanket album. It’s challenging and harsh sometimes, but it also brings me that incredible energy that makes me chin up and pushes me forward. A hard reboot of the soul. Not always the easiest thing, but definitely 100% worth it. But most of all, it brings me hope every single time.
So yeah. Please. Give it another try. Make it personal. Face your own moment of surrender. And don’t be afraid to reboot yourself too, because I swear, that’s one of the most salutary kicks in the arse you’ll ever get from a music album.
Shout for joy if you get the chance. Breathe now.
NLOTH – you’re one brilliant little mofo, I love you.