Friday, March 23, 2018

U2 18: Songs Of Experience

While—to nobody’s surprise and despite their insistence otherwise—U2 didn’t have the follow-up to Songs Of Innocence in stores within the year, it did only take them three years to decide on a sequence for it, with a tour thrown in to celebrate thirty years of The Joshua Tree. The hype machine would have us believe that the band was just as important as they’d ever been, if not more, though some of us longtime fans feel that taking a hint from R.E.M. wouldn’t be such a horrible loss. Still, Songs Of Experience is a competent set of catchy anthems, delivered by no less than nine producers, as many as five on a single track.
Rather than blowing the doors open, “Love Is All We Have Left” is about as quiet as they’ve ever been. It makes mention of Bono’s so-called “near-death experience”, as does “Lights Of Home”, a collaboration with sister-rock band Haim (and for which they get full songwriting credit). “You’re The Best Thing About Me” sounds like two different songs duct-taped together, with its trashy guitar verse and a more anthemic (there’s that word again) section used for the chorus. “Get Out Of Your Own Way” would be good advice, but loses points for the closing rap by Kendrick Lamar, which bridges into the bombastic yet dull “American Soul”.
The album starts to sag here, through the lackluster “Summer Of Love” and “Red Flag Day”, though it’s nice to hear the Edge’s vintage harmonies in the mix again. “The Showman (Little More Better)” is something of a departure into mindless pop, but we always hear Stewie and Miley singing about friendship from the Hannah Montana episode of Family Guy. Yet it makes “The Little Things That Give You Away”, moody as it is, a nice diversion.
The sentiment in “Landlady” seems a little strange, until one realizes that it’s a pet name for his long-suffering wife, to whom he’s been apologizing, in song, since the Carter administration. “The Blackout” begins like a generic, annoying dance tune, but develops into something decent by the end. It’s clear they’re trying for big stadium singalongs, so that’s the role “Love Is Bigger Than Anything In Its Way” plays, if the other ones don’t take. Finally, “13 (There Is A Light)” is touching, a hymn of sorts, that reaches new heights by appropriating “Song For Someone”, one of the better tracks from the last album.
That’s where the standard CD ends, but since vinyl was a lucrative format again, the equivalent of side four was added to a so-called deluxe edition of the CD. “Ordinary Love” is an alternate mix of a song they wrote for a Nelson Mandela film bio, “Book Of Your Heart” has potential, but is best appreciated for Edge’s early-‘80s guitar style and tone. The “St Peter's String Version” of “Lights Of Home” heightens the tension big time, while an alternate mix of “You’re The Best Thing About Me” (billed as “U2 vs. Kygo”, a DJ, and included on the deluxe CD and a download with the vinyl) is unnecessary and seizure-inducing.
With all the time and talk that’s gone into every U2 album of this century, we must concede that they haven’t delivered anything pointedly bad or even embarrassing. Songs Of Experience will please the fans, and it’s not a waste of time or plastic. A nice, quiet, graceful retirement isn’t likely in their playbook, unless another “near-death” experience finally gets them off the catwalk. Shave it down and combine with the highlights from the one before, and it would rate higher, but that would mean eight years between albums.

U2 Songs Of Experience (2017)—3

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