U2 Releases ‘Songs of Experience.’ Cynicism Not Included.
By JON PARELES
NOVEMBER 29, 2017
People who can’t stand U2’s earnest, heal-the-world side may want to turn elsewhere right now. The word “love,” unironic and high-minded, recurs all over “Songs of Experience,” the band’s long-gestating sequel to its 2014 album, “Songs of Innocence.”
Where “Songs of Innocence” was full of youthful biographical specifics, both euphoric and grim, from the group’s lead singer and main lyricist, Bono, “Songs of Experience” has an adult’s broader, more general perspective. It favors lessons and archetypes, not stories. Like “Songs of Innocence,” the new album employed multiple producers, and U2 has clearly pondered every nanosecond of sound, whether polishing its reverberations or administering calibrated amounts of distortion. It’s not an album that courts new fans by radically changing U2’s style; instead, it reaffirms the sound that has been filling arenas and stadiums for decades.
U2’s new album is “Songs of Experience.”
The album is also a return to the standard commercial market. Apple made “Songs of Innocence” a giveaway that suddenly appeared in the iTunes libraries of both fans and non-fans worldwide. Many greeted it as a corporate intrusion rather than a gift, generating a backlash that threatened to eclipse the album’s worthy songs. “Songs of Experience,” U2’s 14th studio album, is having a more conventional release.
Bono has described “Songs of Experience” as a collection of letters to family, fans and America: messages and advisories from a globally minded public figure. And for most of the album, U2 sets out to counter the anger, despair and cynicism of 2017 with insistent optimism.
That’s a temptation to preach, and some songs are unabashed homilies. Bookending the album (before a bonus track) are songs titled “Love Is All We Have Left” and “Love Is Bigger Than Anything in Its Way.” The opener is a celestial benediction over tremulous strings, declaring, “Nothing to stop this being the best day ever,” while the finale is a grand crescendo of a march, an arena anthem declaring, “When you think you’re done, you’ve just begun.”
But in between, there’s more ambivalence, humor, self-questioning and openly political intent. “You’re the Best Thing About Me,” with an exultant leap in its melody and the Edge’s quick-strummed guitar at its core, is a love song that shades into a warning: “The best things are easy to destroy.” The cheerful 1950s-style beat of “The Showman (Little More Better)” gives Bono a springboard to mock the artifice of his role as a pop singer: “Making a spectacle of falling apart is/Just the start of the show.”