Review | “The sound of rust finally taking over” U2 – Songs of Experience

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The Last Mixed Tape reviews Songs of Experience, the much-anticipated new studio album from U2. 

The signs of U2’s studio output fading further into obscurity has been coming for some time now. With each new release taking them further from the creatively electric shores of Achtung Baby, the bands latest record, Songs of Experience, is the sound of rust finally taking over.

Songs of Experience gets off to a promising start. The slow-motion textures and Bono’s deep woven crooning vocal found in ‘Love Is All We Have Left’ are truly captivating. A flicker of U2 at their best, creating atmosphere and a sense of place. However, it’s a high-point the album never equals.

Frankly, most of Songs of Experience sounds unfinished. Given the record’s troubled production, which included rewrites to suit the current political climate, this is no surprise. Lyrically, sonically and thematically the album feels like it’s pulling in two different directions. ‘You’re The Best Thing About Me’ is the sound of U2 searching for a radio hit, while ‘American Soul’ edges towards the aforementioned political themes in a clumsy fashion. The lyric “For refugees like you and me, a country to receive us, you will be our sanctuary, refu-jesus” (…”refu-jesus”…) is all you need to know in terms of just how fumbling this attempt is.

This patchwork rushed feeling is also mirrored in how Songs of Experience actually sounds. Say what you will about U2’s more recent output, the production has always added a widescreen feel to their music. One that has saved some of the bands’ slightly lacklustre offerings in the past (see: No Line On The Horizon). Here this is not the case. With the exception of ‘Love Is All We Have Left’, tracks like ‘Summer of Love’ and ‘The Blackout’ (another song to be avoided lyrically) come off like demos, ideas to be further developed, not released. ‘Love Is Bigger Than Anything In Its Way’ aims for the usual U2 bombast but ultimately ends up sounding like U2-by-numbers.

There are flickers here and there of a more interesting album to be found buried within Songs of Experience (see ‘Red Flag Day’). But they’re exactly that, flickers. To be clear, Songs of Experience isn’t a cynical album in what it attempts to do, neither is it a colossal failure, it’s just that it aims to do too much and ends up doing nothing instead. Reworking a previously written and recorded album to fit the present was a plan doomed to fail, add to this U2’s own creative spark as a studio band fading and what you are left is a toothless affair that highlights the band’s ambition no longer matches their ability.

Rating: 5/10

Songs of Experience by U2 is out now.