U2: Songs of Experience Review

Update 12/02/2017

Ok, so after writing my initial review I did a couple of things. I poked around the Internet a bit and read up a little bit on what “Songs of Experience” is supposed to be according to U2, and I found a pretty nifty “Liner Notes” short film (an Apple exclusive) on Apple Music. I’ll admit, what I learned changed my perspective a little.

Some that I learned about individual songs I’ve added below.

The most eye opening bits I learned is that over the past few year, Bono has experienced some seriously scary shit that has made him aware of his own mortality. A serious biking accident, the door ripping off of his private jet during flight, and more recently, a mysterious, and apparently pretty serious brush with death between Christmas and New Years 201617. These experiences changed Bono’s perspective, and the album’s direction.

Bono describes “Songs of Experience” as a series of love letters. Love letters to his wife, his fans, America, and the world. And that can definitely be felt. The album has a nostalgic quality to it because of this. Bono is looking back at his life and reflecting on his place in it.

A little out of the clouds and a little humbled, perhaps?

Another important note about this album as a whole: Bono wrote it under the assumption that he might not be around to see its completion, or his friends, family, or fans reactions to it. So if you detect a bit of a “goodbye” quality to the message of the songs, that’s why.

First a disclaimer. I am not a music critic. I am not a musician. I’m just a dude that likes listening to music. I have been a rock solid U2 fan since 1984, and while there are some albums I have liked more than others, there are none that I can really say I disliked. There’s always a few gems on every album. So this “review”, is just a collection of thoughts on the songs of the “Songs of Experience” album, as a fan. This is just my opinion. I highly encourage you to form your own.

I am also writing this before going out and reading other reviews, or interviews with the band, so some of what I have to say may be completely obvious, or confirmed by the band, or discredited completely. Sorry about that. Deal.

The album starts out VERY slow with “Love is All We Have Left”. A beautiful, moving song to be sure, but it feels like something to be listened to while meditating or taking a bath. If you’re looking for something to dance to, this song is not it. Then immediately following this super mellow song, you are immediately thrown into a very upbeat song. To be honest, it’s a bit jarring.

That next song is “Lights of Home”. As I mentioned, it’s very upbeat. It has a bit of an “anthem” quality to it. I’m sure others will claim that it reminds them of something Coldplay would do. I’d point out that Coldplay was heavily influenced by Coldplay, not the other way around. Edge’s guitar licks and Adam’s bass on this song are very catchy. Like most of this album, “Lights of Home” seems to be a nostalgic look back at U2’s career. This song has some of my favorite lyrics on the album, especially “Free yourself to be yourself. If only you could see yourself”. (The “St. Peter’s String Version” of this song on the Deluxe edition of the album is pretty awesome too.)

The first single from this album, “You’re the Best Thing About Me” really didn’t do much for me. Just kind of there. I guess it’s sweet, as it sounds a bit like a love song to Ali (Bono’s wife), but mostly just meh. “Get Out of Your Own Way”, the next track on the album, left me equally nonplussed.

Then we start kicking into gear again with “American Soul”. This song rocks. A little weird, though, because it borrows some lyrics directly from “Volcano” from “Songs of Innocence” (another song I really dug). I imagine this is an intentional way of tying the two albums together, but the only other place we have heard shared lyrics like these is in B-sides and outtakes. Which, well, this album sort of feels full of.

American Soul Update

So, yeah. This song is pretty much a reflection of what is going on in America today. Not only Trump, but the absurdity of white supremacists marching proudly instead of hiding behind their masks and pointy hats. I am also now hearing this song as a reminder of how great America was, and could be again. That America is not a place as much as an ideal. It would be kind of nice to get that back.

The next few tracks “Summer of Love”, “Red Flag Day”, and “The Showman (Little More Better)” all feel like efforts to recapture the early days of U2. “Red Flag Day” sounds like it’s trying to be something from “Boy” or “October”, while “The Showman (Little More Better)” feels to me a lot like demo tracks pre-Boy. “Summer of Love” sounds like something trying, but not succeeding, at being a throwback to the 60’s or 70. Because the band has evolved, these tracks sound, well, silly.

Summer of Love Update

This song is a lot deeper, and political than I originally noticed. U2 spends many of their holidays at the beaches in the south of France. In recent years it had felt different, as the war in Syria continued. This song is a reflection of that experience.

Then we hop into the very slow, melodic, “The Little Things Give You Away”. This is a song worth listening to closely and reading along with the lyrics. It’s really quite beautiful. But again, nothing real special.

Next up is “Landlady”, which is another nostalgic look back. Ok, it’s about Bono’s relationship with his Landlady. The nature of that relationship is unclear. Of course at first it sounds sexual, but not necessarily. It is clearly about a relationship with a very special person in his life that encouraged him and effected how he thought of himself. But, again, real sweet and all, but nothing special here. This song won’t be making my “Best of U2” playlist.

“The Blackout”, on the other hand, checks all of the boxes for me. Killer base, beat, and guitar licks, and damned good lyrics. It also happens to be very up-beat and catchy. It would feel right at home alongside “Vertigo” or “Elevation”.

The Blackout

This song is a general reflection on the state of the world today, and especially the changing political climate. Still jams.

Next up is “Love is Bigger Than Anything In Its Way”. Another mellow, beautiful song that is worth a listen, but right up against such an upbeat song, the transition is again pretty jarring.

“13 (There is a Light)” is another super mellow song. Read the lyrics and yeah, I’ve said it before, pretty beautiful. About a minute into the song, you’ll start hearing familiar lyrics again. Lines lifted directly from “Song for Someone” from “Songs of Innocence”. This time it doesn’t feel so much like a B-side or outtake of “Song for Someone” but more like an extension of that song. A pretty decent song in its own right, but don’t listen to it driving, as you may fall asleep and drive off the road. Yeah, it’s that mellow.

“Ordinary Love (Extraordinary Mix)” is a remix of a song that was released nearly 5 years ago on the “Mandela - Long Walk to Freedom” soundtrack. I liked the original better. Nothing extraordinary about this mix. That said, I loved the original song, so I’m a bit biased here I admit.

“Book of Your Heart” frankly hurt my ears. The way it starts bounces organ music back and forth between my ears at a tone that vibrates my whole skull. Once I got past that, the rest of the song was just OK. Too mellow for my taste.

You know, they say you can’t judge a book by its cover, but in the case of “Songs of Experience”, I think the album cover is actually a pretty good representation of the album overall. It has its interesting parts, but overall it’s a little boring. I think on a scale of 1 to 5, I’d give this album a solid 3 stars. Which, for what it’s worth, is the lowest rating I’ve ever given a U2 album.