Songs Of Surrender


Universal, 2023

REVIEW BY: Benjamin Ray


So what does a band do when they run out of ideas? Greatest hits packages, but U2 has already done that three times. Live albums? No need; the DVDs are plentiful. Re-record your old hits? Bingo.

Arriving in early 2023, Songs Of Surrender is an unwieldy 40-track collection that sees the quartet re-recording a mostly-predictable selection of their biggest hits, mostly in a hushed acoustic coffeehouse style. The intent, I think, is to strip the songs of their bombast and familiarity, to see if the sentiments and songwriting hold up without the arena-shaking noise, performed by men much older and wiser than when they originally wrote many of these tracks.

There are several editions of this album; this review addresses the full-length 40-track version, but there are shorter ones on physical media if desired. Still, you mostly needn’t bother, as this is not an exciting album. Slowing the songs to a crawl, removing percussion, singing in hushed tones, etc. may be a reinvention, but it’s not a necessary one, and the results are quite dull.

The more bombastic U2 songs work because of their reach. “Where The Streets Have No Name” is supposed my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 to reach for the sky, to raise you up, not put you to sleep. “One” is already fine as is; making it even slower and more acoustic does the song no favors, and just makes you want the original. Same with “Beautiful Day,” “Walk On,” “The Miracle (Of Joey Ramone),” “Vertigo,” “I Will Follow,” “City Of Blinding Lights” and, most egregiously, “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For.” Also, of course, is “With Or Without You,” which was perfect as is; for this one, Larry Mullen is kicked out of the room and Bono speaks the vocals slowly with his lips two centimeters away from the microphone. It’s barely a song, but it works to put your kids to sleep, I suppose.

The second component are songs that were already slower or acoustic leaning, and their inclusion here almost seems like the band just wants more people to hear them because they didn’t get enough attention the first time: “Invisible,” “Ordinary Love,” “Electrical Storm,””40,” “If God Will Send His Angels,” “Lights Of Home,” “All I Want Is You” and “Stay (Faraway, So Close),” among others, are tracks that just slow down the tempo and more or less remove the percussion, then call it good.

There are a few genuine moments where this new approach works, though. “The Fly” transforms into something almost unrecognizable, stripping away the veneer and discovering the song underneath. “Sunday Bloody Sunday” is turned into a chilling acoustic ballad, akin to how the band performed it on the Popmart tour in the late ’90s; “Dirty Day” is unearthed from Zooropa and given new life; and “Red Hill Mining Town” is just as effective in this setting as its original Joshua Tree form. “Desire” could have been good in this stripped-down method too, but Bono elects to sing in a Prince-like falsetto the entire time, and it gets really irritating.

There is a strong emphasis here on tracks from Songs Of Innocence, and certainly some of the deep cuts and singles here are worth rediscovering. Had the focus been on only these songs, this could have been a much stronger project; in this age of streaming, it’s advisable to pick these out and make your own playlist, instead of snoring through five dull songs to get to the next good one. In bits and pieces, the best of Songs Of Surrender make the case for U2 as songwriters and a rock band not afraid to reinterpret its past to see what comes up. Unfortunately, the best of the album is weighed down by a lot of ballast. Sometimes, you don’t need to mess with perfection.

Rating: C-

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