U2 - Songs of Experience: Album Review



Hi I'm @pault1888 and I'm about to listen to the new U2 album and talk about it here as I listen...30 years ago this would have been something I'd looked forward to for weeks, talked about with my pals, second-guessed what the songs were going to be like and generally would have been something that generated a lot of excitement and curiosity for me. Now though...to be honest, I'm dreading it.

30 years ago, you could love them or hate them, but it was universally indisputable that U2 MATTERED. The U2 of the late 70's through to the mid-90's had plenty missteps sure, overreached at times and made an arse of themselves (well, Bono did anyway) repeatedly, but there was a spark that came from that naivety, something compelling that made you love or made you hate. Then, The Beige Years...

The last thing U2 did that remotely moved me was this, from '95, a throwaway single from an utterly forgettable movie, but the culmination of 3 years of experimentation with noise and sounds and visuals that bridged Achtung Baby, Zooropa, the Passengers album & some of the greatest live shows that my generation ever had the privilege to see. A renaissance, a last flirtation with relevance.

The last 20 years or so of U2 has largely passed me by: the Pop album from 1997 was a brave, bold but pretty terrible attempt to take the fun experimentation of the early-mid 90's into a disco revival and, coupled with the Spinal Tap-esque live shows they constructed around it, forced me to recoil from them for years afterwards. The gig at Murrayfield the week Princess Diana died was a cringefest.

I blanked out the MOR-tinged blandfest of All That You Can't Leave Behind, returned briefly for the appallingly-titled How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb (Vertigo, innit!) and saw them in New York and Glasgow that tour (decent setlists at both, lots of Boy stuff), then tuned out again for the largely dreadful No Line On The Horizon album (to be fair, Magnificent is a great song from that one).

So then the last album, Songs Of Innocence....where do you start with that? From the incredibly misjudged 'free download' launch, to the fact that it's largely a bunch of intensely personal songs lyrically that should move you but just felt like it came wrapped up in a bundle of overblown insincerity. My problem has become my difficulty in separating Bono the advocate from U2 the rock band I guess.

I cared about U2 back when it felt they cared about the music more than the issues. I enjoyed their motivation to shine a light on injustice, genuinely educated myself at times through finding out more on things I saw them bring attention to (Amnesty International springs immediately to mind), but sometime after Pop it just seemed to go all Rolling Stones and The Thing was bigger than the music.

Anyway, enough of that, I just felt it was only fair to set things in context in case I upset anyone later on....time to talk about the new album, Songs Of Experience. I've heard a couple of the songs that were trailed ahead of release but, to be perfectly honest, they didn't do much for me. When I heard there were 9 producers involved it alarmed me even more, but I'm going in anyway...

Up first, Love Is All We Have Left...it starts well enough, a lingering drone in the background with Bono flipping in and out of autotuned vocals (I saw someone else describe it as Bono Iver, very clever) but it's a bit slight. Kinda like a bookend to "40" off War but without the plaintive cry. It's all a bit forgettable to be honest. Not bad, not really anything but.

Next, it's Lights Of Home. I actually like this. It's got a bit of a gospel thing going on and the guitar is fantastic throughout. Bono's voice isn't straining too much in it, it actually sounds like they've written it in a key he can still sing in. There's space in this one, sometimes in recent years there's been just...too much going on. Surprisingly I'm going to say that's a good song.