Review: Songs of Experience U2

U2 SONGS OF EXPERIENCE
*** out of ****

U2’s Songs of Experience dropped today. My first impressions are to give it three out of four stars. It is not one of U2’s best records but it is not one of its worst either.

WHAT’S NOT TO LIKE

LYRICAL ISSUES

So, it’s 2017 and the world has lost its mind. Nuclear war is a real threat again. Racism and sexism and drug abuse have been exposed as the major problems they are. A selfish, egocentric bully is in the White House.
You would think this would be the moment for U2 to reassert itself into the cultural fry and say something. After all, some of their best songs are social/political songs. Sunday Bloody Sunday, Bullet The Blue Sky, Pride, Bad, Running to Stand Still immediately come to mind.
That is why it is so ironic that the worst moments on Songs of Experience are the moments that attempt to address the politics. The missteps on this record tend to be verses that are forced on potentially good songs. American Soul is a particular dud. But The Blackout and Get Out of Your Own Way also suffer from bad political verses as well.
And it is not just the political verses that sometimes suffer. It is also the trite, bland self-helpisms that seem to fill so many of the songs. The album begins with, “Nothing to stop this being the best day ever.” And is littered with these kinds of sayings:
“Oh you’ve seen enough to know it’s children who teach.”
“Nothing’s stopping you accept what’s inside.”
Phrases like these seem to belong on Zoo TV screens while The Fly plays. They don’t need to be sung honestly and earnestly in actual U2 songs.

MUSICAL ISSUES

The one issue I have with the music is that it sometimes chases after what bands like The Killers and Coldplay are doing. Sometimes I want to scream, ‘You are U2! They imitate you; you don’t need to imitate them!’

WHAT’S TO LIKE

Okay, I know I just complained about lyrics and music. But there is also a lot of to like in both of those categories.

LYRICAL MOMENTS

While most of the political stuff falls flat, much of the more personal lyrics are great. The lyrics to The Little Things That Give You Away are particularly powerful (Though musically I wish they had either gone with the version they sang on The Joshua Tree Tour or the one from their appearance on Jimmy Kimmel). It appears Bono is calling himself out throughout the whole song. It is one of those rare moments where you face yourself and attempt to admit to your failures as a person. The end of the song is quiet a confession:
Sometimes I can’t believe my existence/I see myself from a distance/I can’t get back inside/Sometimes the air is so anxious/all my thoughts are so reckless/and all my innocence has died./Sometimes I wake at 4 in the morning/all the darkness is swarming/ and it covers me in fear./Sometimes I’m full of anger and grieving/so far away from believing/that any sun will reappear./Sometimes the end is not coming, it’s not coming/the end is here.

And just so you don’t think the record is too heavy, U2 delivers one of its more ironic songs in The Showman. There are some genuinely amusing lyrics here, including these:
Walk through the room like a birthday cake/when I’m all lit up, I can’t make a mistake./And there’s a level of shallow that you just can’t fake.

MUSICAL MOMENTS

My biggest criticism of Songs of Innocence was that it seemed so conventional. Songs of Experience is not as conventional. There is some experimentation with U2’s sound. Now, make no mistake, this is no Joshua Tree or Achtung Baby. Unfortunately, some of the experimentation makes them sound like some of their imitators instead of pushing forward.
Love is All We Have Left is a different sound for the band. It’s like Bon Iver stepped into a U2 song and it is a welcomed change for the guys. Red Flag Day, The Blackout, Landlady, and Love is Bigger Than Anything in Its Way are all well crafted songs. There’s an interesting 70s feel to Summer of Love and Lights of Home.

It’s a good record. I know it is supposed to be a companion to Songs of Innocence but, to me, it seems like a companion to All That You Can’t Leave Behind. Even to the level of individual songs, the comparisons are extensive. Get Out of Your Own Way is Beautiful Day in more ways than one.

So, if I had to rank every U2 record today it would look like this:

Two of the best records in rock history –
Achtung Baby
The Joshua Tree

Two records that changed my life –
Under a Blood Red Sky
The Unforgettable Fire

Three Great records –
How to Dismantle An Atomic Bomb
War
Boy

Two Good records –
All That You Can’t Leave Behind
Song of Experience

One record that has 4 incredible songs but the rest of the album is mysterious bad –
No Line on The Horizon

Two Strange Hybrids that could have used some work but still had great moments –
Rattle and Hum
Pop

Two that have moments but struggle at times –
October
Songs of Innocence

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