Island Records – 2004 - 53 minutes

Four years ago U2 released one of their worst records. Nobody seemed to notice though, because 'All That You Can't Leave Behind' still sold in staggering numbers. U2 obviously took heed, and have decided why change a bankable formula?

'How To Dismantle an Atomic Bomb' is more of the same. The band's 1990s experimentation makes you think of a completely different outfit, and while some of that was doubtlessly misguided, it still meant that if U2 weren't pioneers, they were at least daring. Now it's all just safe, safe, safe.

Although it probably packs a punch live, opener and lead single 'Vertigo' is hardly the gargantuan rocker it has been hailed in some quarters. And yet it's still addictive. Unfortunately, most other tracks aren't. 'Crumbs From Your Table' sees Bono set his God-like crusade against world poverty to music, but lyrically it's too blunt. Musically 'One Step Closer' rips off 'Miss Sarajevo', while the glam-ish 'Love and Peace Or Else' is plain irritating.

Elsewhere there are sporadic flashes of magic, but far too few. And when you consider that Steve Lillywhite, Jacknife Lee, Nellee Hooper, Flood, Daniel Lanois and Brian Eno among others add their input to production duties, you have to wonder whether this was just an exercise in mutual back-slapping. Ok, that's probably too harsh, but when did mediocrity become acceptable? Perhaps U2 are now a victim of their own achievements. Over the past three decades they have had some sublime moments, but the law of diminishing returns is a remorseless pursuer.

It's impossible to avoid puns here so there's no point in even trying, but several guitar bands have released albums this year that utterly blitz this. Interpol and The Killers immediately spring to mind, but there are plenty of others. Yet 'How To Dismantle an Atomic Bomb' will outsell all of them by millions. That, to be fair, is not U2's fault. But musically, the buck stops with them. They got away with it once, twice would be a travesty.

Tom Grealis

Tracklisting: Vertigo – Miracle Drug – Sometimes You Can't Make It On Your Own – Love and Peace Or Else – City Of Blinding Lights – All Because Of You – A Man and A Woman – Crumbs From Your Table – One Step Closer – Original of the Species – Yahweh – Fast Cars