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U2 - No Line on the Horizon (March 2009)


Josh Hurst
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Keep with it, Jeffery.

I was much like you after my first couple hearings. A shrug of the shoulders and uninspired "meh" was highest praise I could muster.

Flash forward two weeks into listening to the album and it is on near daily rotation on my Ipod.

There's nothing that wows right out of the gate in the way "Vertigo" or "Beautiful Day" did.

Instead they chose to launch the album with the single "Get on Your Boots", a song so grating and charmless to my ears it quickly made "Discotheque" look like "40".

But even 'Boots', the only u2 song I've ever actively disliked, continues to grow into something less annoying with each hearing.

It is this new 'slow fuse' approach I see as the biggest departure for U2. And that is the very genius of this record.

At the risk of blasphemous paraphrase, this album recalls a chapter from a later part of Isaiah in that it lacks stately form or majesty

that we should should be attracted to it. But take heart, pilgrim! Deeper listenings will reveal the album to be much more.

No Line on the Horizon may not be the second coming of MacPhisto but it certainly is cause for much joyful noise.

Get on your earphones Jeffery, find a cozy chair, and let it let you in the sound.

I don't think you will be disappointed.

After two listens, first impressions:

My first impressions of the last two albums were stronger. If I were to make a "best of the 2000s", there would be more songs from them than from this.

With the exception of "Moment of Surrender," I don't hear anything here as exciting for me as "Vertigo," "Sometimes You Can't Make It On Your Own," "Beautiful Day," "Elevation," "A Man and a Woman," "In a Little While,", or even "All Because of You." And the only other songs that really move here are "Magnificent" and "Cedars of Lebanon." "Unknown Caller" is strong, but lines like "reboot yourself" make me cringe. In fact, there are a lot of lines and forced rhymes that make me cringe. "Everybody needs to cry or needs to spit..." Blech.

I *do* like the emphasis on vocal harmonies. That impressed me in "Get on Your Boots," and I'm glad to hear it carried out through the whole album.

But Bono's lyrics here are equal parts thought-provoking and clunky. And the opening (title!) track feels like the weakest starting point for any of their albums. It sounds like an Achtung b-side, and there were better Achtung b-sides.

I kept waiting, through the whole album, for Edge to step forward and set the thing on fire with something new and exciting and crafted. That moment never comes. He's fine, but most of the time he's not doing anything I haven't heard him do better before. Actually, it's Clayton who stands out to me most on this one. I actually really noticed the bass lines, and that's not always the case.

Perhaps it will grow on me. But at this point, it still feels like a good, but not great, release. I have fond memories of the feeling of awe and joy I felt listening to The Joshua Tree, Achtung, and, yes, Pop for the first time. Those remain very special memories for me.

I'm glad to see they've still got spirit and energy. And I feel like they found songs here that could grow into something really special live. (I already like what Bono's done with "Breathe" on the live performances better than this album version.) Time will tell. Maybe I'll wake up tomorrow and ask myself, "What were you thinking? This is awesome." But right now, I'm more interested in turning up "Elevation" or "Vertigo" to 11 than anything here.

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I am listening to "Unknown Caller" and paying more attention to it than I have before. It's not as bad as I made it out to be. We'll see if I can take all the hundred "OOOOOOOh, Ooooooohs" soon enough.

It's more Clapton than Edge.

Probably another reason not to respond to it. What's Edge gonna do next, perhaps stupidly shout out "Cocaine!" in the middle of the solo?

Edited by stef

In an interstellar burst, I am back to save the Universe.

Filmsweep by Persona. 2013 Film Journal. IlPersona.

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I am listening to "Unknown Caller" and paying more attention to it than I have before. It's not as bad as I made it out to be. We'll see if I can take all the hundred "OOOOOOOh, Ooooooohs" soon enough.

I didn't care for the song the first few times I heard it until I had the subconscious revelation (while I was hard at work on other things and NOT listening to any music) that the song is an encounter between a person (Bono?) and God... something along the lines of the Book of Job. The chanted portion of the song is the voice of God confronting the wrecked person. In the Book of Job, God doesn't explain anything but instead reveals his majesty. In "Unknown Caller", the singer shuts his mouth after God speaks the second time and listens to the music.

"Unknown Caller" has suddenly shot up to one of my top ten favorite U2 songs.

"If the Christian subculture exists primarily to condemn the world, you can be sure that Jesus is not having any part of it." - John Fischer

"Ignorance is excusable when it is borne like a cross, but when it is wielded like an axe, and with moral indignation, then it becomes something else indeed." - Flannery O'Connor

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Here's a riddle for all of you. Which song on the new U2 album "borrows" (as in pretty much note for note) from everybody's favorite '80s power ballad combo Journey? Bono, don't stop believin' (and no, it's not that one).

I have heard the album numerous times and never thought of Journey, although I'm not that familiar with their music beyond the big radio hits. So I'm almost afraid to ask... which song on NLOTH sounds like a Journey song?

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Here's a riddle for all of you. Which song on the new U2 album "borrows" (as in pretty much note for note) from everybody's favorite '80s power ballad combo Journey? Bono, don't stop believin' (and no, it's not that one).

I have heard the album numerous times and never thought of Journey, although I'm not that familiar with their music beyond the big radio hits. So I'm almost afraid to ask... which song on NLOTH sounds like a Journey song?

Then listen to U2's "I'll Go Crazy If I Don't Go Crazy Tonight."

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Of course! Now that I know what it is it seems so obvious; I'm surprised I missed it. But even with that little four-note motif, "I'll Go Crazy" doesn't really bring to mind "Faithfully." I just did a Google search, though, and several other reviews (such as Blender) have made note of it.

This sort of reminds me of when people said the "touch me..." part of "Beautiful Day" was ripped from a-ha's "The Sun Always Shines on TV." Although in that case, I think Bono actually admitted that it WAS inspired by the a-ha song, and in fact I think U2 even incorporated a few lines of "The Sun Always Shines on TV" into "Beautiful Day" when they performed it in Norway, with members of a-ha in the audience. :)

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I finally picked this up last night, and have listened to it several times. I was not overly impressed by what I was hearing through my car's stereo system (factory installed, and bordering on 6 years old). It wasn't until getting it home and playing the CD on a good system, that I was able to really hear this properly. I'm going to say that I even though there aren't what I would call a lot of "catchy", radio friendly songs on NLOTH, I do think that it is much stronger than ATYCLB, and is near to equalling my love of HTDAAB. I'm even finding myself beginning to like Get on Your Boots, which fits in well with the album as a whole.

I only have a few moments here, but I was wondering if anyone else had noticed that musically NLOTH has a great deal in common with Passengers: Soundtracks Volume 1, which I found to be a really interesting compilation, and an extremely underrated collection of work from U2 and Brian Eno. I kept thinking of Passengers when listening to several track on NLOTH, especially Moment of Surrender and FEZ - Being Born, both of which were reminiscent of songs off of Passengers such as Your Blue Room and Miss Serejevo.

Edited by Baal_T'shuvah

Formerly Baal_T'shuvah

"Everyone has the right to make an ass out of themselves. You just can't let the world judge you too much." - Maude 
Harold and Maude
 

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... I was wondering if anyone else had noticed that musically NLOTH has a great deal in common with Passengers: Soundtracks Volume 1, which I found to be a really interesting compilation, and an extremely underrated collection of work from U2 and Brian Eno. I kept thinking of Passengers when listening to several track on NLOTH, especially Moment of Surrender and FEZ - Being Born, both of which were reminiscent of songs off of Passengers such as Your Blue Room and Miss Serejevo.

I also hear lots of bits of Passengers on NLOTH. I've listened to it several times now and am really enjoying it. I'm not sure where it exactly ranks on my list of favorite U2 albums...but somewhere between the top two (Joshua, Acthung) and the bottom (Pop).

I'm excitedly awaiting the sale of tour tix. U2 starting the tour in Chicago: awesome.

One more thing: There's several U2 concerts and LOTS of videos on Comcast's OnDemand until the first week of April. So far I've watched a Joshua Tree show from Paris and the Boston Elevation show. Great stuff!

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I got this on the 3rd, a little extra Barnes and Noble gift card cash left over from Christmas. Listened to it on my computer speakers first time through, which was a major mistake. Then I decided that since U2 releases only come once every five years now, I might as well plug in the speaker system, put everything else aside, and intently listen to it. Far better experience second time through. Here's an extended version of thoughts I've built up over listening to it over several days.

Right from the get-go it's pretty obvious this ain't HTDAAB, which to me is both good and bad. I've felt like U2 has grown increasingly uninteresting, and slightly starry-eyed, if that can be said of U2. Even during Bono's epic, youthfully-charged anthemic days with War, UF, and JT, there's this gritty sense of struggle and connectedness to the plight of humanity, a discontentedness with how things are and how life is. Some of the new U2 stuff, especially during ATYCLB and HTDAAB, has felt like Bono's been living the good life and preaching a little too much, as if he's grown out of his rock star shoes, and would rather wear a comfortable pair of loafers. On the otherhand, I love having some of the epic grandeur of the past that was lost during the 90's. Songs like 'City of Blinding Lights' and 'Beautiful Day' really click for me in a way that songs like 'Where The Streets Have No Name' or 'Bad', albeit the later songs' lack of that unsettledness that so defined their greatest lyricism from the 80's (see 'With Or Without You', 'Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking for'). I'm not a big fan of ATYCLB, but I don't think there was a song on Atomic Bomb that I uncharacteristically disliked, even if many of them left me saying, 'meh'. There were definitely some strong highlights.

Horizon, on the other hand, is a weird hybrid of the pre-2000 U2, with it's struggle, unsettledness and cynicism, and the post-2000 U2, with it's many moral platitudes and bland production. The title track has much more of an Achtung Baby feel to it, at least for me. There's a kind of 90's europop sound to it that harks back to AB, specifically in the refrain. 'Magnificent' is a nice beat, but a little bland lyrically to me. 'Moment of Surrender' has a sort of 'One' feel to me, and definitely feels like the outstanding track on the album, even if it's not stylistically my number one choice from the songs in the set. I don't know if I could say 'Unknown Caller' is a brilliant lyric, but I love the sound of the song, especially the refrain. It reminds me a lot of Peter Gabriel's repetitive lyric from So where a group of men drone the song title in 'We Do What We're Told (Miligram's 37)'. As a matter of fact, the intro on 'FEZ-Being Born' reminds me a lot of several of the songs on So. There's almost a subconscious nod throughout Horizon to Gabriel's masterpiece album.

The weakest part of the whole album for me is the three middle songs. 'I'll Go Crazy', 'Get On Your Boots' and 'Standup Comedy' are all missteps IMO. Any one of them might have fit on either ATYCLB or HTDAAB, but the previous songs on Horizon had already set a tone for the album, and when 'Crazy Tonight' came on, I immediately started to tune out. It's too whimsical, too light. 'Boots' is a fine song, but not appropriate for this album. It feels like an outtake from the other two albums from the '00's, far more in common with 'Vertigo' or 'Elevation', and in that context, but a little like a square peg in a round hole on Horizon. As for 'Standup Comedy', it is far and away my least favorite U2 song in a long time. There's something that really irks me about it. Stylistically it doesn't fit, lyrically, it's got that mischievousness about it that U2 is generally good at, but with only a trace amount of the irony that makes it worthwhile, and it's done fairly badly when it's there at all. These three songs make me feel like U2 isn't as comfortable in their "boots" as they used to be, like they're trying to keep one foot planted firmly in Atomic Bomb, while still maintaining some sort of "reinvention" of their sound. You know what they say about serving two masters...

'FEZ-Being Born' seems to be the song that they were stylistically aiming for with the sound on the album. There's something strangely reminiscent of JT, UF, and War days. Also kind of a 'Ground Beneath Her Feet' sound in there. This is exactly the soundscape I was hoping for with this CD; the frenetic drums and guitar, all in minor tones. I liked some of the middle eastern influences and really wished they would have gone way further than they did. There's something ephemeral and abstract about the song that I really like, even if I can't exactly quantify it. I like it for the same reason I like 'Ultraviolet', if that makes any sense at all. I was certainly hoping for more of this on the album. In one of his interviews Bono said that the album was initially much darker, but that they changed it and rewrote much of it later. There's part of me that wishes (especially in light of the aforementioned three middle songs) that they had followed through with the darker material. I think it ultimately would have, at the very least, given the album more of a consistency.

The final three songs are such an interesting set. White as snow is Horizon's 'Closer To Knowing' moment. I'm thankful to U2 for giving us a reflective moment amidst all the frantic soundscapes preceding and following the song. The lyricism is slightly vague and abstract, a repeated theme on Horizon. Very poetic, entrancing. Almost a little bit of twang, but barely noticeable, and not jarring to the thrust of the song. 'Breathe', on the other hand, is far and away the most frenetic, erratic song of the entire set. It's like Bono so enjoyed singing 'I am the Walrus' for Across the Universe, that he felt it necessary to write a song to commemorate the moment. For some weird reason, I really like it. It's just bizarre enough to be engaging. The lyrics are fabulously confused and wide reaching. Entirely right where 'Standup Comedy' is entirely wrong.

The closing song, 'The Cedars of Lebanon' is most memorable for it's final lyric, at least for me. Finally the old ironic, slightly cynical Bono shows up again. It's very fascinating to compare this to the final song from Atomic Bomb, 'Yahweh'. Where Bono ended the earlier album on a note of hopeful expectation and a plea for divine intervention, on Horizon, he ends the project in confusion, with a pessimistic warning to the listener. It's strangely enough one of the stronger lyrics, and it's definitely one of the most coherent. He seems more honest to me in this moment than in much of the preceding confusion. There's a quiet resignedness to the ending, that is both unsettling, and at the same time appropriate.

This is an Album in between worlds, for a band in transition. I hold it ultimately in tension; I'm very disappointed with the middle part of the set, while at the same time, appreciative of some fine moments in the extremities. It's not their greatest, but it's an interesting moment. I am thankful that quintessentially, it's still U2 at their best and worst. There's the completely preposterous lyrical rhymes and turnarounds, and awkward quasi funk/jazz, paired with some absolutely brilliant, transcendent moments and beautiful soundscapes. For me, the verdict is still out whether or not it was worth a five-year wait. I am looking very, very forward to their Psalms album. It will be interesting to see them focus on something new and completely different. No question that I am always a fan; but I look forward to an album that will, like Achtung Baby or Joshua Tree, really capture my attention.

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I'm on my third listen--I've enjoyed it each time, but wow! it drastically improves with a serious sound system. The only real issue I have with it is Stand Up Comedy, which I thought was more like Sit Down Boredom. But, I'm really digging the rest of the album--fun hearing some Achtung Baby quoted in it on Crazy Tonight. I like hearing O Come, O Come Emmanuel in White as Snow. Really a solid sonic and creative improvement over HTDAAB and ATYCLB, in my opinion.

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I simply have to mention that my friend Beth Maynard has been blogging about some of the spiritual/theological issues on the new album for the past week or two, and she's absolutely nailing it:

The propulsive sunburst of "Magnificent" is retrospective in tone, as the narrator looks back over his life and names it as having been claimed by God from "my first cry," while also commiting to continue a life of service and adoration "till we die." (The "living sacrifice" line "I give you back my voice" is quite poignant, even more so if it happens to conjure for you another close-to-the-bone promise from 28 years ago: "If I had anything, anything at all, I'd give it to you.")

The middle of the album features a three-song pop/domestic set, which comes off to me as picturing a couple at ease with each other in a long relationship. In "Crazy," they're mature enough to have accepted that the sudden victories we dream of in youth nearly always "come slow" and are still far from complete, but they're reminding each other that their quest to get "all the way to the light" is assured of success, and vow to keep generating "sparks" as they go. They look back down the "mountain" from partway up to offer reassurance to those daunted by early stages of the climb, and encouragement to the rest of us to value those "boys and girls" too. (Here's another way to say what I mean about "settledness" here: If this song had been written by U2 in the 80s, it probably would have treated the quest and the climb as demanding uncompromising urgency: tonight! tomorrow's too late! -- yet now the actual topic of record is taking a fun break from it with your lover.)

"Boots" is that break, the "fun fair" at which the reliability of "love and community" proves its ability to "cast out all fear" and overcome the nervous environment; what's actually eternal is not "a bomb scare" but the "laughter" of "[real] joy," which to quote a recent Bono interview is "the spilling over of a life well-lived" (back to "Crazy" and forward to "Comedy" and "Breathe" to see what a well-lived life looks like.)

I've said elsewhere that I spoke on "spiritual health for social justice workers" the day before first hearing "Stand Up Comedy," and one of my initial thoughts was that I could have just played it for the audience, and said "If you sound like this after 33 years, you're doing fine." Bringing that filter to it, you could say that all the standard spiritual pitfalls for people passionate about justice are handily disposed of in this song. The call to take action is undiminished from earlier U2 work motivated by outrage, but now it is pictured as empowered by an unassailable joy (again) that, not being dependent on seeing achieved outcomes, is far more sustainable than anger. Action is also set in the context of non-anxious perspective on one's own flaws, hapless "small child"/"high heels" ego, and hypocrisies. Another part of sustainability is "getting over certainty" (in favor of a more spacious assurance that the Divine is not so feeble and fragile that everything depends on how hard we "help God" get us what we think is right.)

And then there's "Breathe." While the verses are an onslaught of distractions and chaos, everything else radiates spacious ease. It's hard not to just quote the whole thing: "got a love you can't defeat," "there's nothing you have that I need," "I found grace, it's all I found, and I can breathe." Not to mention that culminating "wear them like a crown" line you could cite about a hundred Bible verses for. But all this is not just easy triumphalism; it's rooted in the "every day" task of getting up and doing what needs to be done in a world that is as crazy as those verses. It all adds up to a song -- and an album -- which almost makes me want to say, "If U2 were to quit after this, it would be all right."

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Does anyone know the context of why Bono called Chris Martin a "wanker"? It's not like the usually-inclusive Bono, and IMHO, very bad timing, as Coldplay's Viva La Vida is a much stonger recording than NLOTH. Don't get me wrong, I like most of NLOTH, I just think Coldplay's latest is much stronger.

In an interstellar burst, I am back to save the Universe.

Filmsweep by Persona. 2013 Film Journal. IlPersona.

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Well, I very much disagree with your rankings of the two albums-- though I do really like the Coldplay one-- but, from what I understand, Bono was joking around and being sarcastic. I believe Chris Martin stood up for the guy later and said there were no hard feelings. Just something the British tabloids twisted around.

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This is really strange, and maybe a first for me, but the louder I play this CD, the more I like it. Like, it's really beginning to grow on me when I crank it up to eleven.

In an interstellar burst, I am back to save the Universe.

Filmsweep by Persona. 2013 Film Journal. IlPersona.

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This is what sometimes happens when you translate a review from English to another language, and then back to English:

This is an album all about clip: the ravages of the relentless March of hrs and years, chronos

and kairos, calendar clip and timevs. those moments that are out of clip, that prolong us, those in which we meet something of the Lord. It Holds a subject researched explicitly in `` Minute of Resignation '' and `` Unknown Company, '' and sideways in posterior courses such as the anthemic rocker `` Breathe '' and the atmospherical closer, `` Cedars of Lebanon. ''

This is an album done by middle-aged manpowers still playing a shaver 's game, goodly cognizant of the absurdness of the furnishing ( see the humourous, self-deprecating lines in the funk-driven `` Standup Comedy '' ), and seeking for and sometimes chance grounds to locomote along. Intrinsically, these are vocals that could hold ne'er been composed by Bono Vocalism, the nave, ideal younker of early albums. And in and of itself, these are vocals that could simply hold been indited by Bono, the aging, iconic stone star taken with with Redeemer and himself in equal step, and troubled by the incongruousness. They are great religious and human vocals.

I want more of Bono Vocalism's manpowers.

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I hate to say this, but for me NLOTH just doesn't have legs after the first few listens during the week of the release. :( I'm now finding myself skipping over nearly half the tracks, which is rare for a U2 CD (Zooropa being the only other CD of theirs that I listen to in a similar fashion). In fact, I'm thinking that later tonight I'll burn a CD of the 5 or 6 tracks I like from NLOTH and the 4 or 5 tracks that I like from Zooropa, to make one full length CD of material that I enjoy..... bummer....

Formerly Baal_T'shuvah

"Everyone has the right to make an ass out of themselves. You just can't let the world judge you too much." - Maude 
Harold and Maude
 

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I've come to the conclusion that is four great songs, two or three very good songs, and the final few songs are kinda like, ok, that was nice but it went nowhere.

Got great seats for the Soldier Field show. Looks like some friends and we are about 8 rows up next to where Adam normally would be. This is the moment of a lifetime. A lifetime Bears fan getting to see his favorite band (more than a band, an idea) in one of the strangest and most wonderful stadiums in the world.

From Wikipedia:

While Bears fans generally regard the renovated exterior appearance as strange and ugly, they find the interior to be a pleasant and comfortable place to watch a football game.

soldier%20field.jpg

Yes it looks like a UFO landed on the Great greek-style columns, but when you see the greatest football team on earth there, there is nothing but exciting, energetic, screaming joy-fun. I'm sure the same can be said for the greatest rock idea on the earth.

Edited by stef

In an interstellar burst, I am back to save the Universe.

Filmsweep by Persona. 2013 Film Journal. IlPersona.

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... but the last three songs are, like, the best part of the record!

But then, I seem to be the only one who thinks this album is stone killer, from start to finish.

Yes, you are. But convince me, 'cuz I love this band (Idea).

These songs really do correspond to me. Help me love them from what you understand.

Edited by stef

In an interstellar burst, I am back to save the Universe.

Filmsweep by Persona. 2013 Film Journal. IlPersona.

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... but the last three songs are, like, the best part of the record!

But then, I seem to be the only one who thinks this album is stone killer, from start to finish.

I'm with you, Josh. My estimation of the album rises every time I hear it, which is a couple of times most every day since it came out. At the moment, I can't get over how great the second verse of "Stand Up Comedy" is.

Stand up, this is comedy,

The DNA lottery may have left you smart.

But can you stand up to beauty, dictator of the heart?

I can stand up for hope, faith, love,

But while I

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But then, I seem to be the only one who thinks this album is stone killer, from start to finish.

Add me to the list of those who like it all the way through. Breathe especially has really grown on me. I think it's one of U2's greatest songs ever now. FEZ - Being Born is interesting the way some of the tracks on Unforgettable Fire were, but it really works for me in context of the record.

I can't imagine this album in any other song sequence, though I heard a rumor it was changed at the last minute...

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The running order is, indeed, inspired. The album fits into three fairly distinct sections-- the first four songs, then the three more pop-oriented pieces, and then the final four songs-- with each section flowing logically (i.e., "Moment of Surrender" leading into "Unknown Caller," when it's very possible that both songs feature the same character; "Fez" cleansing the palette after the pop songs and introducing the moodier, darker back half) and the three sections playing off of each other in surprising ways (the three pop tunes in the center seem to me like they're thematically very closely connected to the more "serious" songs).

And there's something very profound going on with the final three songs, I think, though I'm not sure if I'm ready to verbalize what that is just now...

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