On Friday, U2 released their 14th studio album Songs of Experience after a one-year delay. While their first five records Boy (1980), October (1981), War (1983), The Unforgettable Fire (1984) and especially The Joshua Tree (1987) will probably always remain my favorites, after listening to the album various times, I agree with NPR’s take that it is a reboot the Irish rock band needed after the botched release of its predecessor.
Bono mentioned Songs of Experience the day Songs of Innocence was released in September 2014, but he didn’t start writing until after his serious bike accident in November that year. Using a mobile studio, the band worked on the album during the 2015 Innocence + Experience Tour. Work continued in 2016 with the goal to release the album toward the end of the year. But after the outcomes of the Brexit vote and the U.S. Presidential elections, U2 decided to hold and reassess the record. Bono reportedly ended up rewriting some of the lyrics.
The album opens with Love Is All We Have Left. As is common for U2, the lyrics and the music are credited to Bono and the band, respectively. The song was produced by Andy Barlow, one of multiple producers U2 used for the album, mirroring the approach for the predecessor. The tune’s opening lines Nothing to stop this being the best day ever/ Nothing to keep us from where we should be were criticized by various reviewers as out-of-touch optimism – not the first time U2’s lyrics have caused such reactions.
You’re The Best Thing About Me is the record’s lead single, which was released on September 6. The track was produced Jacknife Lee with Ryan Tedder, Steve Lillywhite and Brent Kutzle, who also were involved in most of the other tunes. As Rolling Stone reported, Bono characterized the catchy tune as “defiant joy” during an interview with Jimmy Fallon on the Tonight Show in September, adding, “It’s a love song to my Mrs., and in these difficult times it’s important to tell your loved ones how you feel.”
American Soul is one of album’s openly political tunes, produced by Lee with Joylon Thomas and Declan Gaffney. Even though it doesn’t spell out names, the spoken intro by rapper Kendrick Lamar leaves little doubt who the song refers to: Blessed are the bullies/For one day they will have to stand up to themselves/Blessed are the liars/For the truth can be awkward. The tune’s line, It’s not a place, this country is to me a sound of drum and bass, you close your eyes to look around, is taken from Lamar’s track XXX, which appeared on his most recent studio album Damn.
The Little Things That Give You Away has a touch of Joshua Tree with The Edge’s signature echo guitar sound. While it’s of course not new, to me this sound doesn’t get boring, and I actually wish he would have used it more often on the album. Thomas and Barlow are listed as the tune’s producers.
The last song I’d like to highlight is The Blackout, which U2 first presented on their Facebook page at the end of August. Produced by Lee with Tedder and Kutzle, the haunting track is characterized by a stomping bass line from Adam Clayton and The Edge’s heavily distorted guitar. In September, Bono told Rolling Stone the tune “started off its life about a more personal apocalypse, some events in my life that more than reminded me of my mortality but then segued into the political dystopia that we’re heading towards now.”
Songs of Experience, which appears on Island Records, was recorded in Dublin, New York and Los Angeles. It is available on digital and CD as Standard and Deluxe, and as a double vinyl album. The album’s cover shows Bono’s son Eli Hewson and Sian Evans, The Edge’s daughter.
U2 will support the record with a North American tour next year, the eXPERIENCE + iNNOCENCE Tour 2018. Things will kick off in Tulsa, Okla. on May 2 and conclude in Newark, NJ on June 29. I saw U2 in July this year as part of their Joshua Tree Tour 2017 to commemorate the album’s 30th anniversary – an amazing show I don’t think they can beat!
Sources: Wikipedia, NPR, Rolling Stone, YouTube