In 2014, Apple added U2’s new album, “Songs of Innocence,” to every iTunes account. Apple and U2 thought of it as a gift. The vast majority of iTunes’ 500 million users thought differently. The gift, or PR stunt, turned into a ton of noise about invasion of privacy, the cost of free art and the relevance of the “world’s biggest band.”
The noise buzzed so loud, you could barely hear the music, which is a shame, because “Songs of Innocence” had plenty of powerful songs. Tomorrow the band releases “Songs of Experience” without the iTunes gimmick and grandiosity.
Meant as a companion piece to “Songs of Innocence,” “Songs of Experience” comes from a different place.
The band swapped out hip producers Danger Mouse and Paul Epworth for old pals Jacknife Lee and Steve Lillywhite (sadly, cornball Ryan Tedder of OneRepublic and other producers remain). The switch can be heard in the sonics: the brittle, magnetic guitar tone of “Red Flag Day,” the drum and bass thump of “The Blackout,” the skeletal swagger of “Lights of Home.” Nearly every cut on “Experience” just sounds better than the stuff on “Innocence.” But what matters more: The songs are better.
Between the two albums, Bono had a yet-to-be-detailed health scare. While he still has a lot to learn about humanity (crusaders for the poor don’t look for tax shelters, see the Paradise Papers), he woke from the fright to become a more creative, engaged songwriter.
He and the rest of the guys make an artistic sprint early on.
“This is no time to be alive,” sings Bono over strings and synths on “Love Is All We Have Left,” a wounded, tender opener.
Then he turns around and cries, “I shouldn’t be here cuz I should be dead” at the top of the raw, ragged bursts of rock ’n’ roll that begin “Lights of Home.”
Bono leads the band through more magnificent moments. Over Edge’s guitar thrust, Bono tells the tale of migrants drowning just out of reach of European shores on “Red Flag Day,” a rushing, rumbling anthem fit for the “War” album. Then he turns around and joyously embraces the jangle pop and campfire rock of “The Showman” (the track has the simple magic of a Beatles tune).
“Songs of Experience” revels in being a U2 album. Despite the long list of producers and guests (Lady Gaga, Haim, Kendrick Lamar), the band shows no fear of leaning into its legacy. Their chronic attempts to innovate often take a backseat to indulging in old, tried-and-true tricks. This leads to an occasional lapse into obvious song construction, into cliched guitar tones and expected melodic turns. (The chorus of “You’re the Best Thing About Me” is almost cringe-worthy.) But more often, enthusiasm, pure energy and 40 years of experience power the album.
Like the reboot of 2000’s “All That You Can’t Leave Behind,” “Songs of Experience” is a celebration of U2 as a simple band, as songwriters first and foremost....Read more