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Pop Music Review

U2's new 'Boots' is band's call to arms

January 20, 2009|ANN POWERS | POP MUSIC CRITIC

Bono and his band of merry men are not ones to miss a window of hope. And so on the eve of Barack Obama's inauguration -- just hours after the Irish rock ambassadors entertained the president-elect with their MLK Day anthem and their unofficial post-9/11 elegy at the Lincoln Memorial -- U2 unveiled a new single. Way to claim your spot on the "Yes, We Can" caravan, boys!

"Get on Your Boots" is a first taste from the band's new long-player, "No Line on the Horizon," which hits the global marketplace Feb. 15. Pundits already are splitting hairs about "GOYB" -- does it sound like Elvis Costello circa "Pump It Up" or the Temptations classic "Ball of Confusion"?

Both connections are plausible, and there's also a fuzzy Stooges-style guitar riff that would have made Ron Asheton chuckle. But the fusion "GOYB" represents is hardly new for U2 or producers Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois.

U2 got its mojo back with "Achtung Baby" 15 years ago by realizing that as white guys, they had to loosen up and get a little dirty if they wanted to explore black-invented sounds. Since then, one of the band's many missions has been to meld rock and soul in a way that doesn't feel retro and honors both traditions.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday, January 21, 2009 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 38 words Type of Material: Correction
U2: A review in Tuesday's Calendar section of the new single by Irish rock band U2 said the group's upcoming album, "No Line on the Horizon," would be released Feb. 15. The album is due out March 3.

"GOYB" is sharper-edged than "Mysterious Ways," faster than "Elevation" and more nonlinear than "Vertigo." It's dance-rock with a few small, tricky changes: a very Eno-esque bridge to nowhere, based on the phrase "you don't know how beautiful you are" that drags out the beat like Silly Putty, and a break near the end that has Bono rapping "let me in the sound" over a muscular Larry Mullen Jr. drumbeat that yells "I love rock and roll!"

As usual, modern rock's beloved grand uncles have been absorbing the lessons taught by their progeny. "Get on Your Boots" is quick and multilayered, more like the dance rock preferred by kids who grew up on electronic music than a baby-boomer boogie fest.

This is happy stuff, almost hedonistic, with not a whiff of anxiety or paranoia or even sexual tension. "Get on Your Boots" is a song about letting loose and letting go and moving toward a brighter future.

So what is sexy about donning boots, in a song whose cheerful tone and other lyrics about forming community and growing up hardly suggest a pair of stilettos? To turn a phrase that once belonged to Paris Hilton, it's hot right now to ponder cleaning up a mess. And that's what "Get on Your Boots" means to inspire us to do.

This is U2's celebratory announcement of a new historical moment, one in which America and the world confront the catastrophes of the recent past and bust out some elbow grease to make things better. It's not quite time for a new anthem, this song seems to say, it's time to get to work.

In its playful way, "Get on Your Boots" is a work song, a little jolt for those ready to rise up together toward change. Let me in the sound, indeed.

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ann.powers@latimes.com

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