A Sound of Drum and Bass: The U2Songs Staff Reviews Songs of Experience
Original Story by Don Morgan (2017-12-05)
Sometimes the hype surrounding an album release gets so big that the music gets lost in the shuffle.
Here at U2Songs we’ve been bringing you the latest updates on the launch of SOE, from listening parties in Los Angeles and New York to a promotional contest in Poland. We’ve got articles on single releases, artwork, packaging, and of course, the Great Ticketing Discussion.
But what about the music itself? At the end of the day, that’s what brings us all back. So the U2Songs team (along with U2Songs contributor and friend Cindy, for some much-needed female perspective) is taking a quick breath to just talk about the album itself… the music, the lyrics, the experience of Songs of Experience. Every fan’s tastes and opinions evolve as they spend more time with an album, but here are our first impressions after spending a few days with SOE:
I’ve sat down a number of times to try to write something about this album, but I’m struggling with it. It’s too fresh and too new to give it a good review. I like to live with things for a bit longer to see what gets under my skin. But the initial impressions of Songs of Experience are good. Really good. I’ve been enjoying it as an album. I don’t find myself skipping songs and jumping around, I enjoy listening to this one as a whole, start to finish. I find myself really drawn to “Summer of Love,” “Red Flag Day,” and “The Showman” in the middle of the album. Those are a U2 we know, but one that’s fresh at the same time. I love the slow opening of the album. That song sets up everything that comes next. I do hear the influences that Bono loves to talk about as I listen. There’s a touch of the Beach Boys in there, a bit of The Beatles. David Bowie dances around in places. And I can’t help but hear Leonard Cohen in my head as I listen to “Book of Your Heart.”
Early favorite would have to be “The Blackout,” that song got under my skin, and just makes me want to jump around. Biggest clunker on the album for me is the end, “13 (There is A Light),” while fine as a song, I get thrown every time the “Song for Someone” lyrics come in. Personally I think I would have preferred “Book of Your Heart” to make the final album track listing instead of “13.”
While Songs of Innocence had some great tracks, and a clear theme, it did not feel like an album, a unity. Songs of Experience does. Not only that, it also brings unity to SOI. Remember, the two were meant to be parts of a double album. The musical and lyrical bridges across them, “Lights of Home”/”Iris,” “American Soul”/”Volcano,” “13”/”Song for Someone,” make them a whole.
U2 have almost coined the term “defiant joy”, and nobody does it better than them. But that’s not all they have to offer. Some of the lyrics are brilliantly dark. “Summer of Love.” “Red Flag Day.”
Trying not to single out any songs just yet, but man, “Red Flag Day”— the intro just sets me back to pre-Boy songs, like “Touch” or “The Fool.” There’s a nod to some early The Cure in there, too. I can’t get past “Red Flag Day” easily right now…
And the best part, every single one of those songs will sound even better LIVE, 2018 can’t come soon enough!
Brad (on the left!):
Well, let me start by saying that SOI and SOE are not my favorite flavor of U2. That would be The Joshua Tree/Unforgettable Fire followed by Achtung Baby/Zooropa/Pop. The last two albums have been a mix of what I call adult contemporary U2, which I don’t particularly care for, and a smattering of rock and pop. The non-AC songs skew more towards rock on SOI, but more towards pop on SOE, so I actually prefer the former. “The Blackout” is definitely my favorite track on the new album. I like where “American Soul” goes musically, but the lyrics are just too cringey. I have heard a lot of people say that they were disappointed in the singles, but that those are not the best tracks from the album. I actually agree with the singles choices, but “Best Thing” and “Get Out of Your Own Way” are a bit too poppy for my tastes.
I’m not sure I’m ready to do a track-by-track breakdown. I don’t think I have heard the album enough times yet to really digest everything, though I will admit that I am warming to “Summer of Love” and “Red Flag Day.” Even caught myself humming the latter earlier today.
I will make a plug for referring to the bonus track as “Lights of Home (Burn The Witch Version).”
For me SOE wasn’t as immediately satisfying as SOI. I don’t think there’s anything on SOE that rises to the level of “The Troubles” or “Sleep Like a Baby Tonight.” And when it comes to album outtakes, I’d pick “The Crystal Ballroom” over “Book of Your Heart.” I’m also sad that U2 felt the need to insert Donald Trump into SOE. We hear enough about him already, and it dilutes the continuation of the personal themes of SOI (what happened to “The Morning After Innocence” for example?).
That said, SOE does sound pretty consistent despite the presence of 9 different producers and I think it holds together better than SOI as a full album. Some people don’t like “Get Out of Your Own Way” but I think it’s the most obvious hit single on the album. Catchy in the best possible way. The Kendrick Lamar segue from GOOYOW to “American Soul” is amazing… it’s the one point on Songs of Experience where I feel an Achtung Baby-esque electricity. I wish there was more of that. I love the band dynamics on “Summer of Love” and “Red Flag Day,” two favorites for me. Unfortunately they are followed by “The Showman,” which I can’t bring myself to like no matter how hard I try. “The Little Things That Give You Away” lifts off in a way it didn’t during the JT Tour… the coda is Bono at his most heartfelt. “Sometimes the end is not coming, the end is here.” Wow. I love the big emotions of the final two tracks as well. “Love is Bigger…” is like a 21st century Beatles song and a sequel to “Kite.” As a father of two girls, it wrecks me… only to be wrecked again when “13 (There is a Light)” comes on. A great ending to the album.
I usually get excited about new albums, but nothing has grabbed me lately like U2’s newest. I’ll listen once or twice and they usually have to grow on me. I have to get to know them, get used to them, and remember them. With Songs of Experience though, my feeling was different. I already was in love with “You’re the Best Thing About Me” and had a feeling the rest of the album would be good. “You’re the Best Thing About Me” was catchy and memorable; I could picture it live in the arena or stadium. The same goes for the rest of the album. I can’t get “Get Out of Your Own Way” out of my head since I’ve heard it. I visualize “American Soul” as an arena/stadium rock anthem, with the audience going back and forth with Bono singing “You are rock and roll/You and I are rock and roll/You are rock and roll” and the audience loving it. That may be my favorite track on the album. Songs of Experience was MADE to be performed live!
I found myself singing along to “Summer of Love” after only hearing it 2-3 times. For some reason the songs on this album are hooking me in right away. “Red Flag Day” makes me think of old U2, which I love. At first I thought the words of “Song For Someone” were strange in “13 (There Is A Light)” but I guess that’s how it ties back to the companion Songs of Innocence album. “Love Is Bigger Than Anything In It’s Way” is exactly what would be expected of U2 at this point, but the world needs a song like that right now. I feel the album is the perfect vehicle to get people excited for a tour. U2 really delivered this time!
Overall I feel this is the strongest album as a whole since Pop – it’s an interesting synthesis of the 21st century U2 and the sound they had before without playing to nostalgia. “Love Is All We Have Left” is a brave unusual start – quiet and moody, and the autotune is used to good muted effect vs. an eye-rolling attempt to stay relevant. It thematically segues into “Lights of Home” – which plays on the imagery of seeing a white light before you die and the light in the eyes of those that love you as home… powerful stuff which makes “You’re The Best Thing About Me” feel a little less pop while still allowing it to lift the mood (and I do love the key change on “why am I walking away?”).
Next we start looking outwards with “Get Out Of Your Own Way” and “American Soul” – some nice playful lyrics and imagery, for the seriousness of the subjects. This flows into the “sunny” middle section of the album – “Summer of Love” flows from “American Soul,” referencing thinking of the west coast of Syria during a cold UK winter. I also feel it’d be a great song for a commercial showing off the beaches of Perth during said winter. The slight surf beat / 80’s feel of “Red Flag Day” works really well, and I like the different levels to the lyrics – it’s probably the song I keep coming back to. “The Showman” again adds a twist with golden oldie style backing vocals, but a classic vocal line grounds it and it’s my favorite of the self-deprecating Bono songs/lines (Napoleon in high heels, etc) because it digs a little deeper than most. It’s also the deepest of the sort of fun acoustic songs on an album (looking at you “Wild Honey”).
“The Little Things That Give You Away” brings us back into “classic U2” territory sound wise – it’s refreshing to just hear the The Edge being the The Edge. There’s a lot to the lyrics that I like, though I feel like it would have made for a much better transition into “The Blackout” than “Landlady.” “Landlady” is… charming, but probably not one I’ll go back to often, though Larry’s drumming is great (he’s busting out some technical chops there in the background). It feels a bit more like a Song of Innocence, to be honest. “The Blackout” is a great fun song and kicks in a bit of energy that’s been lacking. The lyrics are a bit problematic… current politics aren’t quite that dire, so climate change impacts? The collapse of late stage capitalism? People find who they are in times of stress, but in a true extinction event people probably aren’t going to be exploring “the light they can really be.” The ties to being at a live concert give it a nice balancing positive imagery. My major qualm is with “Love Is Bigger Than Anything” – it’s sonically generic and doesn’t say anything that hasn’t been said already on the album. Why it wasn’t swapped out for the superior “Book of Your Heart” on the bonus tracks I’ll never know. “13 (There Is A Light)” is a lot more moving and covers some of the same ground.
Like any good U2 album, Songs of Experience has elicited a wide range of opinions among fans — and the U2Songs staff is no exception. What are your favorite SOE moments? What lyrics move you the most? What would you change if you were in charge of putting the album together? Let us know on Facebook or in the U2Songs Forum!