Trading a woozy tingle for a restorative jolt, Bono and Edge abruptly switch from margaritas to coffee as they prepare to leave their hotel for a rehearsal stage in downtown Los Angeles. They grew accustomed to such giddy and pronounced mood swings while recording U2's 12th album, No Line on the Horizon, a kaleidoscopic quest that rivals 1991's Achtung Baby for audacity and innovation.
"We had to learn a lot before we could do this," Bono, 48, says. "Normally, you zone in on a particular area and make it your own. On this, we seemed to be able to meander from joy to despair, from introspection to exhibitionism. And there's a lot of humor. I'm surprised, because people don't generally buy a U2 album for the laughs.
"There's fun and frolics here. Real joy, and that's the essence, the life force, of rock 'n' roll."
One of the year's most eagerly anticipated albums, Horizon is garnering raves for brazen and byzantine sonic architecture that rises from U2's familiar foundation of heartfelt rock. The 11-track disc, out Tuesday, found the Irish foursome recording in Morocco, then in Dublin and later in New York and London. The album closes the band's longest gap between studio albums, following 2004's How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb, which sold 9 million copies worldwide and generated eight Grammys.
Edge, 47, is relieved to emerge from what he calls the "oil rig" after a long spell of concentrated but isolating creativity with Bono, drummer Larry Mullen Jr. and bassist Adam Clayton. Horizon's lengthy gestation wasn't the result of setbacks or writer's block, but rather a geyser of impulses and detours.
"We would have loved to finish the album last summer, but the songs weren't finished with us," says Edge, sharing a couch with Bono in a Chateau Marmont bungalow cluttered with video gear. "Realizing there was more to this album than what we had, we kept going. We dropped two or three songs, finished up others. It would have been a darker record before."
At Mullen's urging, the band had no timetable and missed the lucrative fall release schedule.
By briefly considering a late 2008 release date, "we lost our way a bit, but when we blew out the deadline, we came back," Bono says. "When anyone said, 'Look, we have to put this out,' Larry said, 'Oh, it's going to ruin everything.' We were making music for its own sake and for each other, and Larry wanted to keep that as long as we could. It was a lovely thing to be lost in."
More cloistered than on past efforts, the band "wasn't thinking about who would be listening to the music in the future or how it would go over live," Edge says.
Second disc on the horizon
After a leisurely recording pace, the band spent a frenzied 48 hours in London rotating seven final mixes, eight vocal versions and lyric rewrites.
Tunes left behind, including the soulful Every Breaking Wave, are slated for a more meditative album due possibly by year's end. U2 also is sitting on material from early sessions with Rick Rubin, benched after the band reconnected with longtime collaborators Brian Eno and Danny Lanois, who produced Horizon with Steve Lillywhite.
"Rick is a minimalist, which is about getting back to pure essence," Bono says. "That's the theme of this album lyrically, but musically, this is maximalist. He wants to make a U2 album that is hard as nails and tender as can be but musically bare-boned. There is a place for that. This was the time for experimentation, wanderlust and finding other colors."