Bono and friends having the nerve to poke their nose into an already deflated pre-October schedule after the mess they made with Songs of Surrender is bold. Surely seeing the criticism and disgruntled legions of U2 fans shake their fists and hold their nose at the collection of covers, the band offers a new song. An appeasement deal is struck and out of it comes Atomic City. They have seen the nuclear reaction to their earlier work this year and the almost radioactive waste of an album which headed up such a rabid response. All they can do is apologise. Should Atomic City be a way of mending the relationship, then it certainly does its part in helping.
Whether this is the cash-grab tip of the hat to Las Vegas and their sphere-related performances or not is beside the point. Sort of. It is very hard to detach Atomic City from its spot as a Vegas-ready piece which, regardless of the cutting work provided by The Edge, has one job on its mind. Advertise the shows and residency. It spends much of its time doing so before launching into a track of good people falling to the scorched earth of Las Vegas. With a lick and riff similar to the most forgotten of The Hoosiers’ work, the lighter bridges of Atomic City are likeable, but not groundbreaking. Jolly little notes and numbers push through and capture the same generic rock structure some base their entire careers. For U2, it feels like a strange change of pace.
Not as tightly put together as their works of an earlier era, though it has not been the same since the turn of the century. Repeating “Atomic City” over and over before crashing this melody or that backing vocal with a bit of brass into place is never going to set the world on fire but it does a good job of highlighting The Edge as a still-great guitarist. Atomic City feels firmly set in the mid-2000s, and with a legacy act variety to it, can never shake the similarities it has to the likes of Council Skies from Noel Gallagher. The implication of a legendary act phoning it in and providing a track for the sake of it. Not much of an apology for Songs of Surrender but it sure did feel like they had laid down their instruments after that one. New material for the Las Vegas crowd to get their hearts pumping and their hands in their wallet for another trip to a sphere-based residency is a smart move.
After a slap in the mouth earlier this year it only feels fair Atomic City is deemed marginally better than limp acoustic covers of their best works. With a non-existent replay value to it, U2’s ode to Las Vegas is an obvious attempt at drumming up interest in their shows. But for those across the world who have no chance of attending, it is a reminder of it being some time yet before they can even hear the Bono and friends’ band live. Everything will sound like gold after stomping through a string-clad, watered version of Red Hill Mining Town. Whether Atomic City is actually any good, and not just an acceptable hangover cure for the band’s lowest point, is difficult to differentiate.