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U2

How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb (Interscope)

The triumphant, iTunes-aided arrival of U2's latest flaunts the band's rapidly diminishing skills -- both the "diminishing" and the "skills." First, the latter: "Vertigo" -- as brash and unhinged and Dude, turn it up, dude a tune as this fat 'n' happy pack of rock-god lifers could ever hope for -- earns a place in the pantheon. "Miracle Drug" even trumps it, burying bumbly lyrics (Freedom has a scent/Like the top of a newborn baby's head) in one of those monolithic, blood-freezing blowout choruses that remain solely U2's provenance.

What's diminishing? Ballad quality control. Those who cling to "One" or "With or Without You" are left without once more: These guys are hell-bent on pounding out as many mid-tempo, somber-but-optimistic self-help VH1 rock numbers as space and time will allow, and Bomb's second half is loaded with well-meaning, well-worn vanilla lullabies. Nice singles, Bono, but just do a duet with Dido and get it over with.

 
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