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U2's 'Songs Of Experience' Is The Reboot The Band Needed

U2's latest album, <em>Songs of Experience</em>, is out now.
Anton Corbijn
Courtesy of the artist
U2's latest album, Songs of Experience, is out now.

Irish rock band U2 has been plagued with artistic missteps for the past few years. Its 2009 album, No Line On The Horizon,misfired. The next year, lead singer Bonoand guitarist The Edge signed up to write a bunch of U2-style tunes for Broadway's Spiderman: Turn On The Dark.Critics called the music "dreadful."

Songs Of Innocence, the band's last album, was its first attempt at a reboot. The 2014 album landed free in every iTunes library on the day it was released — and the move made U2 the target of ridicule.Songs Of Experience, the band's latest and 14th studio album, is its second.

U2 is at its most convincing when it has a mountain to climb. This time, the mountain is of the band's own making and involves erasing a decade of unfavorable impressions.

The band's early hits were marked by fierce idealism — these were true believers on a quest to shatter every status quo. The passion in Bono's lyrics was magnified exponentially by the roar of the rhythm section — particularly a guitar attack that transformed ordinary chords into massive weather systems. The new album returns those elements to the forefront: It's got a lusty, snarly, "band playing live in the garage" energy going.

In interviews, band members acknowledge that the last album was a bit too manicured and preened over. This time, U2 recorded the basic tracks in several different studios, trying to capture a live feeling. The album was ready for release last fall, but then the Brexitvote and the U.S. presidential election happened. Bono has said he wasn't interested in making political screeds. But he didrewrite some lyrics to reflect the changed landscape, which can be heard in the track "The Blackout."

The band has been together for 40 years now and it's been using pretty much the same musical toolkit and slinging the same self-help slogans about devotion and grace the whole time. A few new tracks could have been slapped together by robots in U2's rock-anthem factory. But for the most part, the reboot works: What came across as pompous and contrived last time now registers as earnest, genuine — and even a little bit scrappy.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Corrected: December 1, 2017 at 12:00 AM EST
A previous headline misidentified the album Songs of Experience as Song of Experience.
Tom Moon has been writing about pop, rock, jazz, blues, hip-hop and the music of the world since 1983.