It felt like forever since there had been a U2 album when they released All That You Can’t Leave Behind. I think it was because after the weirdness of Pop (I use that word advisedly) there was something that seemed missing for a while. All That You Can’t Leave Behind was a breath of fresh air, and not just because it had a long title that I can use to fill in the word count. But speaking of, have you ever noticed how word counts changed over the years with the band? Most notably in the album titles, which started with one word (Boy, October War), then went to three (The Unforgettable Fire, The Joshua Tree, Rattle And Hum), then went back down (Achtung Baby, Zooropa, Pop), and back up again (All That You Can’t Leave Behind, How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb, No Line On The Horizon). Now we go to Songs Of Innocence and Songs Of Experience. After that will have to be another three word album. Okay, diversion over.
I remember being astounded by All That You Can’t Leave Behind. It was a wildly different album from Pop, it was really quite different from most of the others. There were hints of different things, it was rock and roll much more than many. I would suggest it most sounded like The Joshua Tree, but even that’s a bit of a stretch. It was more mellow, more laid back, somewhat more musical than other albums. That sounds weird when I put it like that, but it’s a little bit true. We’ve all heard them grow up through their career, from the early days when they were enthusiastic but inexperienced, through the experience and power of the middle days, and as they passed by that little weird phase they kind of grew up a lot. It led to an excellent album, outstanding in some ways, and one that I rate the third best album they’ve released.
They had the musical and emotional power in Walk On, a song for the ages. They had a string of decent and above average songs through the middle of the album, and little that is weak. And that’s been the thing about many of the albums, the difference between being good and great is that you have a short tail, nothing weak at the end. Almost every album has a top song or two, but to get to the best albums you have to eliminate the bad stuff at the bottom, the songs that get kept because there’s nothing else to replace them. All That You Can’t Leave Behind does this well, the lowest rated song being a four.
There are a couple of real rockers in Beautiful Day and Elevation, but most of the rest of the album is smooth and relaxing. It is another of those albums where I can put it on and wallow in the music, listen attentively and deeply, or that I can turn on and use as background noise. It works both ways, and I like that about it.
My rating for All That You Can’t Leave Behind: 6.3 / 10