Songs Of Experience


Universal/Island, 2017

REVIEW BY: Benjamin Ray


Shortly after the inward-looking, history-recalling Songs Of Innocence, U2 released its companion piece Songs Of Experience. The prior album – which, despite its rollout, was a very good album ripe for rediscovery – found Bono and the guys looking back at their childhood in Ireland and how it shaped them (“The Troubles,” “Song For Someone,” “The Miracle [Of Joey Ramone],” “Cedarwood Road,” “Raised By Wolves,” to name a few).

The conceit of Songs of Experience, then, is to look forward, to express in songs everything that Bono and the guys have learned, discovered, found out, etc. now that they are grown and have been through a lot. And these truths? Uh… love is awesome, I guess, and believe in yourself. There’s honestly not much more than that, and it’s why this album was probably the least-loved U2 disc since Pop. The appearance of multiple producers doesn’t make a difference; it seems this band has run out of things to say, on an album ostensibly about all the things they want to say.

The song titles alone sum this up: “Love Is All We Have Left,” “Summer Of Love,” “You’re The Best Thing About Me,” “Love Is Bigger Than Anything In Its Way,” “Ordinary Love.” Note that the latter song was a soundtrack piece released a few years prior; it appears on the deluxe edition in a different mix. Worse, though, the songs are slow or midtempo, not reaching for soaring heights like No Line or back to post-punk like Songs Of Innocence or even the sound of my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 The Joshua Tree. It’s safe, it’s pleasant, it’s blandly anthemic. Maybe people will find comfort in “Get Out Of Your Own Way” or feel “You’re The Best Thing About Me” is a love song of substantial import, but they’re really not.

The best song, bar none, is “Red Flag Day,” and that’s because it calls back to U2’s War-era post-punk sound. Not unlike the water necessitating the object of the title, the guitar and beat is choppy, a little dangerous, melancholy, and hard to look away from. The Edge contributes his background vocals, which have been sorely missed, and the piece leaves the listener wanting more. It stands out on an album that’s otherwise a pleasant sea of banality.

“American Soul” tries for something a little different, muting the fuzz on the guitar, setting it to a stomping beat and lyrics about how awesome America is or can be; that said, it’s hard not to cringe at the shouted line “RefuJesus!” Pure Bono. “Summer Of Love” also mines a jazzy mood and an exploratory feel and is better for it. These three songs make up the best sequence on the album, a hint at what could have been. Also of note: “The Blackout,” which uses the same fuzz guitar as “American Soul” and some swirling sound effects to create a foreboding feel. It’s a sonic treat, ruined only by Bono singing “when the lights go out” about 87 times in five minutes.

But man, is it hard to get through the bad grammar of “The Showman (Little More Better),” the deadly dull “Landlady,” “13 (There Is A Light)” and “The Little Things That Give You Away” and “Love Is Bigger Than Anything In Its Way.” Lots of overly long song titles on this one, like the band is trying to write capital-E Epics. It doesn’t work.

I’m a U2 defender to the core. I actually hosted one of the “Desire” segments on the band’s Sirius XM station, where listeners pick their top five songs and talk about them in between, like a half-hour podcast. It was great fun. So it is with disappointment that I heard Songs of Experience; despite multiple listens, it just sits there like a dead fish on the grass, with few exceptions. I should also note that I’ve listened to many other “Desire” shows from fellow fans, and not one has included a song from this album, which has been out for five years.

That should give you a clue that, for maybe the first time, U2 doesn’t know who they are anymore or how to release music. Songs Of Experience ends up trying to do all things – be modern, have radio hits, be political, be epic, please older fans and bring in new ones – and ends up failing across the board, mostly. No Line On The Horizon and Songs Of Innocence (the last two albums prior to this one) did all those things without trying so hard. It’s a shame that this is the state of things, and one hopes the next album, whenever that is, doesn’t try so hard.

Rating: C-

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



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