“Heeeeeey now! Do you know my name?”.
Yes, we do Paul Hewson. Can it.
Since the turn of the century, U2 have had releases usually take longer and longer to create and each release seems to see mixed reception becoming more common. Each album has had good songs, but enough others to leave one wondering if the increased time spent on each release as beneficial.
So we have a new collection of U2 songs under the title of Songs of Experience.
Many of these are really light, reflective and uplifting pop songs.
The lighter, softer sound is overall a good thing as the album is much less bombastic than most of what U2 has done since the 80’s. Bono has reigned himself in a significant amount and so has the rest of the band which suits the lighter and more uplifting mood just fine. This also allows for more energetic songs such as “The Little Things That Give You Away” stand out a fair bit more.
However, the band are playing it a little too safe with many of these songs and, whilst it is nice to hear them leaning a little more toward sounds they’ve shied away from for a while, the ultimate problem with the album is there’s too many cooks in the kitchen. In having a substantial amount of producers on this record, part of the identity of U2 is buried underneath all the layers. Sure, there’s decent stuff and there’s some things that do sound very much like U2, but too many of the songs sound quite derivative and could have come from a stock-standard indie band.
With that being said, some standouts are “Love is all we Have Left”, “Lights of Home”, “The Little Things that Give you Away” and “Landlady”. They’re all strong songs that feel as though they had more work put into them than plenty of others on the album.
Subsequently, these are also the songs where Bono’s lyrics are more consistent. “Roam / The Phone is where I live till I get home” (from “Landlady”) is far more resonant, human and thought-out than “Freezing, we’re leaving / Believing that all we need’s / Ahead of us somewhere / In a summer to come / So we run” (“Summer of Love”), or “Walked through the room like a birthday cake / When I’m all lit up I can’t make a mistake” (“The Showman (Little More Better)”), even though it should be the reverse. The way that the words are used in certain songs brings the themes out very well, but in others they aren’t effectively used. You get the meaning but feel detached by the way it’s expressed.
At this point the album is standard thoroughfare for U2. There’s good songs among a bunch that can be disregarded.
It would probably be beneficial for U2 to just sit down and make a guitar record at this point. No frills, no excess sounds outside of what the band can do on their own in a live setting. They should also stick to as few producers as possible in order to keep everything a little more consistent. All the “experimentation” is seeing U2 become more and more comfortable to the point where, there’s a risk of the conversation about whether U2 should keep on going or not overtaking the conversation about the merits of the record.
To the credit of the band, Songs of Experience is an enjoyable record, uplifting record, but it lacks consistency and strangely sounds underdeveloped in parts.
U2 are better than this, but at this stage in their career, remembering that is increasing in difficulty. Hopefully it doesn’t become “U2 were better than this”.