Songs of Experience
The moment it clicked in my brain that the titles of U2’s last two albums were a William Blake reference, I shuddered, thinking back to the traumatic days of Year 11 Literature. Furthermore, I had hardly listened to 2014’s Songs of Innocence as a result of the infamous iTunes drama. As someone raised on their 80s classics, it’s safe to say I was fearful upon approaching Songs of Experience. It saddens me to say those fears were justified.
I took issue mainly with U2’s attempts to modernise their sound. Rather than pushing boundaries and taking risks, it seems as though Songs of Experience is an attempt to crowd-please. Too many tracks on this record are generic-sounding and forgettable, such as Lights of Home and American Soul. That notable reverb-y guitar from Edge that all fans know and love is largely absent; in its place are Muse-esque riffs that did nothing for me (no offence, Muse fans). Hints of it appear here and there, like in the chorus of You’re The Best Thing About Me, but it never fully emerges. I believe I speak for many when I say it left us yearning for something that never came.
Lyrically, despite many tracks being letters from Bono to his loved ones, there is an obvious political slant also. I respect the thoughtful use of his platform to shed light on injustices, but from a musical perspective it is pulled off rather uncreatively. I wasn’t struck by any of the words; it simply felt as though I was hearing statements I’d heard a million times before. With songs like 13 (There Is A Light), the titular phrase followed by “don’t let it go out” almost made me physically yawn. Seriously Bono, you’re meant to be one of the best songwriters of the past 50 years.
If I were to pick a favourite amongst my disappointment, it would be Love Is All We Have Left. I enjoyed its emotion and simple yet cinematic strings, but could give or take the autotune. Despite it being my personal highlight, the album fails to compare thereafter and as a singularity, the track is rather uninspiring.
I did also think Landlady was rather sweet. An apparent ode to his wife Ali, Bono sings of her unwavering loyalty and ability to bring him back to earth (“When I’m losing ground, you know she gives it back to me”) when he feels he is losing his head. Despite its loving words, it’s still not that rousing.
U2 are clearly trying to keep up with radio trends and in turn, are losing the essence that made them them great in the first place. This music is coming from a heartfelt place and I feel bad trashing it so heavily, but disappointment of this calibre is hard to deny.