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Sunday, 29 October, 2000, 10:18 GMT
CD Review: U2
U2: All That You Can't Leave Behind (Island)
By the BBC's Nigel Packer

It may be better to burn out than fade away, but the best option of all is to do neither.

U2 wisely chose that particular route, and by a process of constant evolution became one of the few bands to remain fresh and relevant over the course of two decades.

All That You Can't Leave Behind, their ninth studio offering, is the kind of relaxed and expansive album which could only come from a band in this exalted position.

After an experimental decade, which began with the frazzled sounds of Achtung Baby and ended with the slick dance grooves of Pop, they have now returned to the original blueprint of big, sincere anthems.

U2: Several tracks rank alongside their best work

It may bring a shudder to those who found the early incarnation of the band too earnest by half, but happily this is no mere re-treading of the past.

The years of musical travel have enriched their sound considerably, and of course Bono has come a long way as both singer and lyricist since the mullet-laden days of his youth.

Beautiful Day is the album's wake-up call, reassuringly familiar in its dynamics.

Rhythm section Larry and Adam go about their business as unobtrusively as ever, leaving the limelight to Bono's vocals and the shifting guitar textures of The Edge.

And if what follows is not always an outright success - Wild Honey and When I Look At The World sound almost workaday by U2's standards - then the album contains several songs to rank alongside their best work.

Stuck In A Moment You Can't Get Out Of is its crowning glory - a beautifully gritty ballad with one of those timeless choruses which seem to have been hanging in the ether just waiting to be discovered.

Mick Jagger and daughter Elizabeth provided guest vocals on an early mix of the track, and sure enough the spirit of the Stones lives on in the song's gutsy-but-tender delivery.

Grace, on the other hand, is a slick fusion of co-producer Brian Eno's artier leanings with the band's more commercial instincts.

An intoxicating mix of delicate guitars and thoughtful vocals, it finds Bono once more revisiting the spiritual theme which underpins pretty much everything he writes.

In A Little While boasts a strikingly soulful performance from Bono, who belts out the melody like a man possessed, and Walk On is a real blast from the past - a sweeping melodrama awash with chiming guitars.

For all the big emotions on show, however, it is perhaps the least dramatic line on the album which best explains the secret of U2's long-term success.

"I'm just trying to find a decent melody," sings Bono on Stuck In A Moment...and sure enough this album highlights his band's uncanny ability to do exactly that.

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