U2: Songs of Experience (Deluxe Edition)

by Griff Stevens

U2 is back with a new album Songs of Experience (Deluxe Edition). Do words like heal-the-world, love or compassion irk you.  Well, this is not the album for you then.  Get back in your cynical hater car and just drive away.  Songs of Experience, is the band’s long-awaited sequel to the 2014 album, Songs of Innocence.

Bono has self-described Songs of Experience as a collection of letters to family, fans, and America.  His goal is counter the rage, hopelessness and disparagement of 2017 with adamant optimism.  Some have to remember the origins of U2 to understand this was actually their same message when breaking onto the scene. The band formed at Mount Temple Comprehensive School in 1976 when the members were teenagers with limited musical proficiency. Within four years, they signed with Island Records and released their debut album, Boy (1980). Subsequent work such as their first UK number-one album, War (1983), and the singles “Sunday Bloody Sunday” and “Pride (In the Name of Love)” helped establish U2’s reputation as a politically and socially conscious group.

As bookends, the opening “Love Is All We Have Left” and closing “13 [There Is a Light”] seem to signal transitional messaging.  Both songs offer deep messaging but are more of a placeholder to a journey of the album, lyrically and musically.

“Lights of Home,” seems to benefit the cohesion of the band being on the same page again.  Bono seems to be reliving his bike crash on “Lights of Home” sporting distorted acoustic guitar with big production values and rock cymbal crashes, a gospel-esque backing from Haim, adds a lush depth to the tune, who I might add is given co-credit for the music.

A highlight on the album overall is guitarist The Edge (David Howell Evans),  his guitar is as poignant as ever, with a jangling presence over the sleek groove on “Get Out of Your Own Way,” while the stripped down electro-sound of “Summer of Love” gets back to a more pleasing vocal sound for Bono. Sometimes the mountains of reverb and auto-tune is just too much to take. It was great to hear a more organic vibe on this tune.  On the stately “The Little Things That Give You Away,” we hear a much more reminiscence of the U2 sound that made them popular to begin with, The Edge’s guitar rings with his signature sound. Bono’s voice finally reaches the heights on this tune that you expect from a U2 recording.

As intolerable as U2 can sometimes be, you gotta give em the “hang” award.  The years have brought triumphs, embarrassing overreaches, and hits and misses, but you still have to give them props for continuing to try to reinvent themselves.  If they could only just realize that their more organic sound really does work.  Its not necessary to change the sturdy framework that catapulted them in the 80s.  Getting back to basics might just to the “new” that is needed.

Tracks to sample first: “Red Flag Day,” “Summer of Love.”  The song to take a chance on is “American Soul.”

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