Rick Keene Music Scene; U2 Borrows from The Sixties to Avoid Jumping the Shark.
Just call it the ‘In Through the Out Door / Steel Wheels phase.
Very successful bands reach a point where they’ve written everything in their style and have experimented with new sounds to reach new heights and / or fans. Suddenly , they find themselves in the studio, looking in the mirror and realizing they are close to parodying themselves. It’s one thing to be U2 and entirely something else to try to be U2.
In recent years , most agree – U2 have lost an edge. No no, The Edge is still plucking away on his guitar strings but it’s been more and more the Bono show. Self indulgent on the world stage as he has tackled issues more than he probably should. Sadly – that self indulgence poured into U2 territory on disc. The band lost as many fans as the number of people fleeing the Province of Quebec. La plus CA change … c’est n’etait pas la meme.
Songs of Experience is a fitting title for the new disc. First , perhaps the experience of losing respect the past few years kicked the lads in their Irish cabooses. Forcing them to investigate albums such as War to discover the magic. The recipe for creativity.
Second , their experience as musicians and their vast catalogue has taught them things most artists never learn. Passing the career hump and still ranking close to the top with a longevity that will probably never been seen again with a band is a flowery guitar pick in their hats.
In 2017, U2 has / had everything. Accolades, money and presumably at one point; ‘ chicks for free’. Take it all away and the love for each other is all they have left. Which brings us to the opening track on Songs of Experience.
Love is All We Have Left introduces the punters to the new record in eye opening fashion.
At first listen , the production values of the song / disc slap the listener silly. Operatic without the make-me-puke reverbs from songs like A Beautiful Day. Think Cold Play with talent. Bono’s voice a brighter shade of yellow. A soul grabbing track that invites curiosity into the intestines of the album. The journey begins with meloncholy surrounded by hope. U2 sounds different and fresher than the past decade.
Lights of Home , the second track introduces a new Edge. Something is different with the tone of those familiar riffs. The chorus is U2 and it borders on recent recordings by the band but with keys more predominant and The Edge more melodic. It’s the bridge to the best and catchiest track on the album ; You’re the Best Thing About Me.’
Vintage U2 with catchy riffs and catchy lyrics. It’s Bono and The Edge time with Larry and Adam joining in. Bono,sounding much younger than his fifty-seven years. The tune is a throwback to the late 70’s blending of Punk Rock into 80’s new age. In effect, recent U2 without the self indulgent ego. U2 with energy.
There are some tracks on the album that are very good background candy. Of the seventeen songs, half are non offensive. Wash the dishes, vacuum the rug or write an album review, all tasks made comfortable with the album Songs of Experience as the little yellow pill.
In an age when new dangers threaten peace of mind and the planet, Bono instills peace.
What makes the album somewhat relevant is the return to the simple sounding riffs and choruses of the sixties.
Red Flag Day , The Showman, American Soul and the aforementioned Your the Best Thing About Me – all included with an innocence not heard of for a while with U2. Just like that, Eddie Murphy traded places with Bono and added a poor man’s point of view. U2 are back from the future and jammin at the high school sock hop. U2 seemingly have returned from the dead. Sorta.
Songs of Experience contains many tunes that once upon a time were shocking to fans. Songs that were shunned in the past are currently the norm for U2. Status quo for men sneaking up on their 60’s. Gone is the hunger of Sunday Bloody Sunday. Gone is the anger of Bullet the Blue Sky. Even Vertigo is fading. U2 are the modern day crooners.
Balance wise , Songs of Experience is the best U2 record in ten years. Maybe more.
The weaker songs are framed by the stronger tunes and are short. No annoying things happen on the album and if they do; they don’t last long. To place the album in a bottle and toss it to sea is not a bad idea. Sharing the experience is a good thing in a day and age where music is suffering commercially. The airplay with Songs of Experience could wake young bands up. Production – wise , a modern day Sgt. Peppers or Pet Sounds (well, U2’s version anyways).
With the album atop the Billboard charts, it’s hard to decipher why. A group such as U2 gathers quite a bit of moss ( fans ) in forty – odd years. Even if one quarter buy the disc , the album would shoot to the top. U2 groupies will tell you it’s because it’s a great album. Music aficionados will say it’s because the rest of the music out there sucks and a sub par U2 album is still better than the best of the worst.
In other words; same thing that happened when In Through the Out Door / Steel Wheels was released.