From the time I was a wee lad growing up during MTV’s heyday, U2 has long been one of my favorite bands. From the rawness of War, the haunting and cold feel of The Unforgettable Fire, to the brilliance of masterpieces The Joshua Tree and Achtung Baby, I was enthralled with this group. Admittedly not all of their post-2000 output has resonated with me (2009’s No Line On the Horizon is simply awful), but at the same time they managed to deliver a pair of winners with All That You Can’t Leave Behind and How to Dismantle An Atomic Bomb back to back. So I will ALWAYS give a U2 release a fair shot before I say anything, good or bad. Which brings us to brand new disc Songs of Experience (out now, Interscope).
My initial impression was that this is a tale of two halves, with the second half truly shining. And that’s not to say the earlier songs are bad, because they’re not. It just seemed like the band, singer Bono in particular, were opening up more and showing vulnerability in the late stages of the record. But after taking a step back then returning for another few listens I can say without hesitation that this is the most complete U2 record I’ve heard in over a decade. I kind of knew we were in for a good one when first single “You’re the Best Thing About Me” hit the airwaves back in September. Hell, I must have played that one 15 times that day alone. Plus, it’s easily one of my Top 10 songs of 2017. Yeah, it’s THAT good.
Along the way there are times we revisit days of yore, and others where the band is unafraid to forge into new territory, something I’ve always loved about them. For example, “Red Flag Day” is my runaway favorite on the record besides “Best Thing”, reason being that the chorus is something I can picture Bono singing then as well as now. Plus, with The Edge’s guitars, the deep bass lines of Adam Clayton, and rock solid drums of Larry Mullen Jr., it sounds like a band, four guys in a room, making magic. On “The Little Things That Give You Away” we hear The Edge’s favorite weapon in his arsenal, the digital delay pedal, and it’s like a trip in time back to 1987 or 1991 while also sounding fresh and new. It’s gorgeous and lush, and it’s U2 in 2017.
“Get Out of Your Own Way” is a very upbeat track, while “Landlady” embodies a wistfulness and yearning to “get back home to you” that I just love. “The Blackout” is another home run track spearheaded by Clayton’s bass and a get-up-and-go groove that will surely go over great live should they choose to do it on the upcoming tour (please do so, guys). You’ve also got a bit of bluesy guitar happening on “Lights of Home.” Initially I wasn’t thrilled with this one, but it grew on me. The same can be said with “Summer of Love.” Wasn’t feeling it at first, but that quickly changed. On the other hand “The Showman (Little Bit Better)” and “Love Is Bigger Than Anything In Its Way” are instant classics from the very first listen.
Closing the album is “13 (There is a Light)”, a slower tune, but still powerful in its own right. As I said before this feels like a very complete U2 album. It took me a couple of spins, but now there is no doubt in my mind that once again the boys from Ireland have achieved greatness with Songs of Experience. And I’ll definitely be giving this one some wear and tear over the next few months for sure. If any of you out there were wondering when or if U2 would get their mojo back, then this record will surely leave all doubt squarely in the rearview. Pick up your copy now and spend some time with it. You’ll thank me later.
STANDOUT TRACKS: “Red Flag Day”, “You’re the Best Thing About Me”, The Blackout”, “Landlady”, “The Showman (Little Bit Better)”, “Love Is Bigger Than Anything In Its Way”