U2 has a new album out.
Years ago that sentence was an experience in itself.
But times marches on and “Songs of Experience”, U2’s 14th studio album, lands in a much more cynical climate. The band is not only much older but so is its audience.
Their last album “Songs of Innocence” from 2014 is a companion piece to this new set of recordings. The release of that album with it’s publicity stunt of being given free to any iTunes user whether they wanted it or not took some of the bloom away from U2’s aura as a band committed to issues and smelled of a bit too much commerce.
Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed that album as well but I do tend to think that U2, especially Bono, worry a bit to much about their relevancy and how the arc of their career is affected by each new release.
Not that those are bad things to think about but they take care of themselves and are mostly out of ones control in my opinion. Music to me is a snapshot of the artist at any particular time.
Some snapshots make you look fat and old and some make you look young and graceful and agile – that’s life. I enjoy seeing the full picture and sometimes it’s pretty and sometimes it’s not.
The theme of this new U2 album and the last one deal with life issues and the changes they bring about so I’m glad to see the group exploring new approaches in their music. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t – that’s also life.
Having said all that, I must say I enjoy this album.
I have read a lot of criticism of the new album and a lot of it has some valid points. The songs are not quite as strong as U2’s best work and don’t have the same level of urgency as say their work from 1984. To me that’s okay.
Sometimes I tend to think there is a certain kind of vitriol held out just for Bono as sort of a backlash to his humanitarian work and his somewhat precieved pompous tendencies.
However, U2’s music still resonates with me for the most part.
There is a slight weirdness listening to Bono sing about aging and carefree relationship topics. My mind automatically goes to songs like “Bad” or “New Year’s Day” when I hear his voice so it’s sometimes unsettling but why not take on carefree issues?
No, this is not the U2 of “The Unforgettable Fire” or “War” and that’s okay with me.
It’s time for U2 to explore this setting, these melodies and these lyrics.
Do they work? Not always, sometimes the new songs come across a bit bland. I’ve only listened to the album a couple of times so that may possibly change as time goes on.
Does the album suck? No, I think it’s quite enjoyable. I like the musical textures U2 conjures up even on some of the weaker tracks, the album as a whole is very enjoyable.
Is it as relevant to the times as say “The Unforgettable Fire” was in 1984? Probably not but so what? Snapshots are what they are – music is good or bad and I think U2’s music is good.
Highlights of the album for me are mainly the songs with a reflective and atmospheric feel such as “Love is All We Have Left”, “Lights of Home (St. Peter’s String Version)”, “Summer of Love” and “13 (There is a Light)”.
The rockier songs tend to have a generic feel on first listen but for me “American Soul” and “The Blackout” are standing out as good performances though maybe Bono is trying a bit too hard with the lyrics.
And maybe that’s the problem for me with some of the songs especially the pop oriented songs like “You’re the Best Thing about Me” and “Get Out of Your Own Way” – the lyrics.
I actually enjoy these songs but for me Bono tends to be overthinking at times or exploring issues that tend to feel awkward.
That’s the weight of their past creeping so maybe in time that will change. Taken on their own and removed from the past these new songs are quite good.
As of now I feel this is a very enjoyable album with a few great songs. Not bad for any artist really. I know Bono wants U2 to be seen, as do many fans, as the most artistically relevant group out there but to me who cares?
They are a great group. this is a good album. End of story. Let history say what the group’s impact is. Like it or don’t like it. But please spare me the angst of oh how the once great have fallen. It’s still good music.
I do hope though in the future Bono and U2 and can let go of the weight of expectation and just let the music be its own snapshot. Don’t worry so much, you’ve done good!
Until then, I want to play this album again. And that is the only criteria I tend to value.
Btw, did you hear U2 has a new album out?