Album Review: U2’s Song of Experience

U2 is back in fine form with Songs of Experience, the group’s FOURTEENTH studio album. Impressive.

Bono decided to portray the project as a collection of letters: each song is a heartfelt note penned to friends, loved ones, and even places close to his heart.

Initially planned for release in 2016, Songs of Experience was delayed because of  huge political events like UK’s Brexit vote and the US presidential election. This inspired the group to go back to the drawing board, where the album took on a more political tone.

We’ve got the album on repeat for release day and have gone ahead and done a track-by-track review of it.


“Love Is All We Have Left”

 

Bono’s whisper vocals under blankets of reverb and shimmering synths has never sounded better. This introduction drives home the central theme of optimism in the face of adversity. Its sunny landscape is the serene backdrop this song deserves, and sets the stage for what’s to come.


“Lights of Home”

 

The comfort of “Love Is All We Have Left” is instantly abandoned with a jarring guitar and brash cymbal crashes. The outro mirrors U2’s “Iris” on companion album Songs of Innocence, so we’re placing bets this song is about Bono’s late mother Iris.

The song discusses Jesus’ plans and lights ahead, as Bono grasps, and comes to terms with, death. It’s a harrowing song, with the chorus lyric “Hey now, do you know my name?” serving as one of the most heartbreaking moments on the album.


“You’re the Best Thing About Me”

The lead single off of Songs of Experience is still as much of an earworm as it was when we first heard it back in September. A song clearly penned for his wife Ali, Bono admits his own quirks (“I’m the kind of trouble that you enjoy”) while praising her for being “The best thing that ever happened a boy.” Adorable.


“Get Out of Your Own Way”

 

Bright pianos and warm pads usher in a cheery landscape for the fourth track on Songs of Experience, but everything is not sunny: this politically charged anthem makes references to liberty, Abraham Lincoln, and a certain “she” facing adversity. We’re sensing a lot of allusion to the 2016 Presidential election.

Rapper Kendrick Lamar adds an effervescent dynamic in his outro to drive home the adversity. It’s a collaboration we’d never expect, but the pairing works perfectly.


“American Soul”

U2’s ode to America, Bono resurrects lyrics to from Songs of Innocence‘s “Volcano” for the chorus of this blazing track. With another feature from Lamar, crowd cheers and and guitars dripping with feedback, the song is begging to rattle your subwoofer.


“Summer of Love”

 

“Summer of Love” deals with a thought planted that continues to fester, and being pushed out from your current situation over a groovy, slow-burning backdrop. It hints at the refugee crisis, and discovering a new home. “I’ve been thinking about the West Coast / Not the one that everyone knows” might refer to the west of the Mediterranean, the heart of the crisis.

“We’re leaving / Believing / That all we need is to head over somewhere” seems to reference the thousands of refugees that flocked to other countries in hopes for a better life. With how outspoken and affected Bono has been around the human rights issue, it makes sense he poured his heart into writing songs about the emergency.


“Red Flag Day”

 

This song is another that touches on the Syrian refugee crisis, imagining a beautiful beach before remembering the dead bodies that have washed up on its shores. You can hope to see your loved ones on the other side of the journey, hoping the waves lead you back to one another and to a better life.

It’s a gut-wrenching song that reminds us the fight is not over.


“The Showman (Little More Better)”

 

One of the more upbeat tracks off the album, “The Showman” is autobiographical and talks about Bono’s conflict in the spotlight and the relationship with his fans.

The song closes on the lyrics “I lie for a living, I love to let on / But you make it true when you sing along.” It’s a soul-bearing insight into a frontman who has played some of the biggest arenas around the globe, and the inward reflection is a refreshing change of pace.


“The Little Things That Give You Away”

 

Bono alludes to an accident on this song (potentially his bike accident?), and realizing the importance of family and pouring his heart into his music. “You walked out in the world / Like you belong there” touches on living on Auto-Pilot, and later lyrics describe how traumatic events can snap you back into reality.


“Landlady”

With guitar plucks harkening to “Where The Streets Have No Name”, this song reads as an ode to Dublin. Regardless of where the road takes the band, they can always find comfort when returning to their front door. It’s a place to reset, to reconnect, and to realize your purpose.


“The Blackout”

Bono has confirmed that this song is an ode to women. Referencing the August eclipse, the song discusses how feminity pulls us out of the darkness. As Bono says: “Great leaps forward of consciousness have a feminine spirit.”


“Love Is Bigger Than Anything in Its Way”

 

One of U2’s most stadium-ready tracks from this album, this song is a classic ‘keep-your-head-up’ song. The chorus is massive, the chants are instantly singable, and the buzzing synths tie everything together nicely.


“13 (There Is a Light)”

 

The song reads like a coming-of-age track, holding onto a certain innocence and not falling prey to the darkness. It might be about one of Bono’s kids, or all of them: “‘Cause this is a song / A song for someone / Someone like me.”


What’s your favourite song off of Songs of Experience? Let us know in the comments below or over on @umusic!


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