“Songs of Experience”
BOTTOM LINE Not a return to form, but the creation of an entirely new one for U2.
U2’s 14th album “Songs of Experience” (Interscope) was billed as the companion to 2014’s “Songs of Innocence,” but it is so much more than that.
“Songs of Innocence” wasn’t doomed by its jaded rollout, where it was sent to every iTunes customer without asking them if they wanted it. It was sunk by the weight of the production and a general lack of joy, something that also plagued 2009’s “No Line on the Horizon.”
“Songs of Experience,” on the other hand, feels joyous and energetic, even as Bono frets an awful lot about death in his lyrics. It’s built on The Edge’s new guitar approaches and the ever-impressive rhythm section of bassist Adam Clayton and drummer Larry Mullen Jr., who give the songs some swagger.
Maybe the best of these is the showbiz tale “The Showman (Little More Better)” because it’s so unusual for U2 to be, well, funny. “The showman gives you front row to his heart,” Bono sings over a jangly guitar riff. “The showman prays that his heartache will chart, making a spectacle of falling apart is just the start of the show.”
It’s one of several experiments that turn out amazingly well. On the raucous “Red Flag Day,” Bono and The Edge bring back the call-and-response of their “War” days and weld it to a jumpier rhythm. On “American Soul,” which opens with a spoken word piece from Kendrick Lamar, takes the intensity of “Get On Your Boots” and ties it to a unifying anthem that should get people screaming, “You are rock and roll! You and I are rock and roll!”
Sure, it’s easy to get swept up in the stately “Love Is All We Have Left” or the “Beautiful Day”-like sweetness of “Get Out of Your Own Way.” But let’s not forget how well U2 has righted its ship with “Experience.”