U2, Rufus soar with powerful, refreshing releases

Sheila Burt

Listen to me now, I need to let you know,” Bono sings in U2’s new album, “How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb,” released Nov. 23.

With this gorgeous new album, you’d be a fool not to adhere to his request.

“How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb” is the kind of album that reminds rock ‘n’ roll fans why U2 remains one of the most relevant and important bands — ever.

Similar to 2000’s “All That You Can’t Leave Behind,” U2’s latest album highlights their remarkably solid song writing. The 11 songs on this album are quintessential U2 — emphasizing unity and strength in times of sorrow. The album plays like an Irish gathering: laughter, sadness but with the conviction that life goes on.

Don’t let the band’s slick first single “Vertigo” fool you. The rest of the songs play with a much more somber tone, often lingering like fond memories. This sentiment leads the rest of the album, as the song’s topics range from war (“Love and Peace or Else”) to pure love (“A Man and a Woman”).

“Let me take some of the punches for you tonight,” Bono sings on the hopeful “Sometimes You Can’t Make it On Your Own.” With lyrics like this, you’re reminded of U2’s power to take the simplest of phrases and transform them into a powerful statement, calling for action.

On the lovely “City of Blinding Lights,” the band explores memory and loss intertwined with beautiful imagery (“a city lit by fireflies”) as Bono carries the song with a simply touching chorus: “Oh you look so beautiful tonight, in the city of blinding lights.”

The album isn’t as remarkable or monumental as the band’s defining “Joshua Tree” released in 1987, but “How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb” is a powerful declaration of U2’s staying power as an innovative musical and political force.

On the band’s first album “Boy,” the four Irish lads from Dublin sang “I was on the outside” with such that conviction that there was little room to dispute a powerful force just entered the music world. More than 20 years later, the band certainly is on the inside, but we want them there — always.

Writing and performing a pop-rock opera — if there is such a thing — without sounding overly dramatic is an amazingly difficult task.

If you do it poorly, the results are most likely to sound like a Meat Loaf album. But if you do it with style and substance, the results will be closer to Rufus Wainwright’s “Want Two,” released Nov. 16.

The album is the companion to last year’s excellent “Want One,” in which Rufus searched for love while delicately playing his piano. On “Want Two,” Rufus continues that search — and it’s even more tragic and beautiful.

“Want you to make love to me and only to me in the dark,” he sings on “One You Love.”

The album isn’t a dramatic departure from “Want One,” but Rufus still sounds fresh and utterly heartbroken.

The playful “Little Sister”– performed with a stringed orchestra — flows like a neat 19th century fairy tale.

Rufus previewed many of the new album’s songs at his Oct. 14 show at Pick-Staiger Concert Hall, and the studio versions wisely don’t depart from the magic of his live performances.

Besides Rufus’ drama, another one of album’s charms is the backing vocals of his sister, Martha Wainwright, whose voice shines on several tracks.

While the album opens with the over-the-top “Agnes Dei,” the following tracks find a strong middle ground between pop, rock and classical music.

The album returns to its extravagant sound, however, for the closing track “Old Whore’s Diet.” But the track shines with a Middle-Eastern feel to it as Rufus sings, “An old whore’s diet gets me going in the morning.”

Right on, Rufus.

Reach Sheila Burt at [email protected]