Recent criticism levelled at the band has essentially been thus: since 1997's techno-dance experiment Pop, U2 have played it too safe. To be fair, the earnest, straight-faced stadium rock of All That You Can't Leave Behind and How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb did seem like a musical retreat after their experimental forays of the '90s. Bono and co. must be credited for at least responding to these complaints on their 12th studio album, even if they're not always successful in the execution. 'Get On Your Boots', which features the uncomfortable sound of a 48-year-old father-of-four howling about "sexy boots", may have been the band's first single not to break the top ten in a decade, but its camp frivolity is at least a noticeable shift from previous lead singles 'Vertigo' and 'Beautiful Day'.
'Boots' serves as light relief at the centre-point of the album, but it couldn't be a worse representation of what Horizon is about or how it sounds. There are plenty of lighters-aloft-at-Wembley moments here - the swirling anthem 'Magnificent' and punchy rock of 'Breathe' could easily have slipped onto either of the band's last two records. However, more importantly there's also a return to the atmospherics and quasi-religious bluster of Joshua Tree and Unforgettable Fire. Chalk it down to their well-documented trip to Morocco if you will, but U2 appear to have rediscovered how to make super-sized rock that hasn't been shredded of all soul and intrigue.
Elsewhere, the ridiculously titled 'I'll Go Crazy If I Don't Go Crazy Tonight' sounds far better than any will.i.am/Bono collaboration has any right to, while the seven-minute preachathon that is 'Moment Of Surrender' comes closest to achieving a 'One'-style universal anthem. Meanwhile, The Edge's scratchy guitars on the title track and the band's harmonies on the slow-burn album highlight 'Unknown Caller' are neat reminders of how this band became the biggest in the world.
And Bono? Well, he has a nasty habit of nudging and winking at the listener ("I don't want to talk about wars between nations", "Be careful of small men with big ideas"), but generally sticks to grand gestures such as the "stand up for your love!" cry on 'Stand Up Comedy' or opaque character explorations such as 'White Snow' and 'Cedars of Lebanon'. Fans of the singer will lap it all up, but there's plenty for the detractors to sink their teeth into too. Still, after 30 years in the business U2 are fully aware of what makes their fans tick and what makes a good U2 album. Sadly for all the Bono-bashers and Edge-haters out there, the lads from Dublin don't seem to be going anywhere just yet.