I may come back to this one in the New Year, but I wanted to give my first impressions today. After all, a new U2 album is an event. The last one, Songs of Innocence, they gave away free and in the process managed to annoy millions of people who suddenly discovered it on their phones or wherever else they had their iTunes.
Now we have Songs of Experience (with Songs of Ascent still to come. I hope that one is the worship album I have been waiting for since 1981), an uneasy look at 2017 from a band that has shown much prophetic insight in the almost 40 years they have been recording.
Time reveals a depth to the message of this band; albums I didn’t like at first grow on me with time. It seems almost as if I have to catch up, musically, lyrically, spiritually with where Bono, Edge Adam and Larry want to take the audience. I wrote off their 1990s output, Achtung Baby, Zooropa and Pop when the albums came out. Now I see their brilliance. At the time I wasn’t ready to hear the subtleties of the message. I yearned for the brash young evangelists I had seen on stage at Greenbelt.
I’m older now. So are U2. Perhaps we both have mellowed. What is obvious to me was that from the outset I loved this album. That surprised me, because the three songs I had heard before the disc was released underwhelmed me. But in context of the album, they suddenly had new power.
This is definitely an album to take as a whole, and the whole is indeed greater than the sum of its parts. I’m still absorbing it (it was released last Friday). Extensive liner notes from Bono give a glimpse into the heart of a band and the songs, which are themselves a series of letters from the band.
For me the lyrics outshine the music in any collection of songs. If they don’t, I’m probably not going to like it. On Songs of Experience Bono (as the band’s lyricist) has delivered some compelling words to accompany a soundtrack that I found to be perhaps fresher than the past couple of U2 albums. I’m getting a more acoustic feel from the record, even from the songs that are obviously intended to be arena rockers. I doubt there will be an “unplugged” version, but I’d buy one if there were.
Those who are waiting for a return to the Christian fervour of early 1980s U2 will probably be disappointed with this offering. That isn’t to say there isn’t a strong Christian message, just that in their fifties the members of U2 express their faith differently than they did in their twenties. They have grown up, and the words and music reflect that.
Songs of Experience is a welcome addition to the U2 catalogue. This is a band that still has something to say. Take the time to listen. You won’t regret it.