U2’s new album is an optimistic plea to a new generation
The famed Irish band’s new album tackles big themes with an urgent and energetic sound
Ask any college student what they think of U2, and if they even know who you’re talking about, you’re likely to hear all about their 2014 release debacle for “Songs of Innocence.” Released for free to hundreds of millions of ITunes users, the band was scathed on social media for an invasion of privacy due to the automatic placement of the album in people’s libraries. Since then, the band has attempted to claw its way back to popular relevance, but it has not been a simple path. Despite having successful supporting tours for the 2014 release and for the 30-year anniversary of “The Joshua Tree,” the band hasn’t released new music since and Bono has faced several health scares.
But on Dec. 1, that all changed with the band’s release of "Songs of Experience.” The album is a return to form for the Irish rockers, not only in terms of its traditional release strategy, but also in the musical heights the album takes its audience. “Songs of Experience” is a magical album that captivates with an energy, passion and a swagger not seen from U2 in some time.
Songs of Experience opens into a dark and brooding “Love is All We Have Left.” With its mixture of synths, a slower and deep vocal performance from Bono, and a perfectly used auto tune, the song immediately sets the mood for the rest of album. Haim, a band of LA pop rock sisters, join the band for “Lights of Home,” and the band grooves confidently with a traditional rock sound. This continues through the next several titles (“You’re the Best Thing About Me,” “Get Out Of Your Own Way” and “American Soul”). The latter two feature a captivating intermission led by a preaching Kendrick Lamar, while the former chimes along but fails to impress significantly.
Beginning with “Summer of Love,” however, the band really begins to hit their stride. Summer is carried by an addicting guitar from Edge, and a sublime bass from Adam Clayton, with Bono painting a picture of the Syrian refugee crisis. “Red Flag Day”, has all the workings of a west-coast punk classic, something I never imagined I’d hear from a 41-year-old band. “The Showman (Little More Better)” has similar energy and punch, but the real standout of the middle portion of the album is “The Little Things That Give You Away.” In the song, Bono is seemingly speaking to a younger version of himself, and in the middle of a full blown crisis over identity and relevance. This is the work of a front man, and a band, that knows its end may soon be here.
While many of the songs on this album have political and social undertones, few wear them on their sleeve as much as the dark and apocalyptic “The Blackout.” The song sounds like a cross between disco and metal. The energy of the album after a few slow tracks.once again grounds the work of the band in a current-day political climate, focusing the theme of the album yet again on the state of democracy.
This fosters the perfect foundation for the grand finale of the album, including the next song, “Love Is Bigger Than Anything In Its Way.” The clear standout of the album, the song was written as a letter to Bono’s children. The song is easily one of the band's best anthems since “City of Blinding Lights” and “Beautiful Day,” and is nearly perfectly “feel good” without coming across as cheesy. “13 (There is a Light)” brings the album full circle, ending in a moody and earnest ballad. Like its predecessor, 13 is a song written to younger audience, not so much in terms of its melody, but in its message. The ballad is an aching tale for its listener to believe in the light of hope, in spite of the darkness that all too often gathers around it.
Ultimately, this album is so much more than a collection of individual letters and songs. Instead, the album is a letter to all of us, and more specifically, our generation, encouraging us to keep believing. Considering these past two years, it’s not surprising that so many have relinquished their optimism. In fact, in our world today, it seems that all we may have are love and an ever decreasing reserve of hope. But U2 makes it clear: love and hope are greater than anything that could ever wish to extinguish them. The world may be dark and hopeless sometimes, but we don’t have to be.