Anton Corbijn / U2
On their fourteenth album “Songs of Experience,” legendary post-punk band U2 reinvent themselves by going all political on us and by blending in elements of modern rock into their sound.
The sequel to their 2014 album “Songs of Innocence” picks up right where the message from that album left off and improves it greatly to an extant. With the world falling into a bit of uneasiness due to the results of the 2016 U.S. presidential election and Brexit, vocalist Bono, guitarist David “The Edge” Evans, drummer Larry Mullen Jr., and bassist Adam Clayton, decided to channel in those emotions on the 13 songs on this album.
“Love is All We Have Left” kicks off the album on a note similar to Kanye West’s “Ultralight Beam.” The song is chilling and helps “Experience” start off on the right foot. But then the album gets a bit wonky from there on out. All of a sudden, U2 decides to try and sound like many of the big names of alt-rock right now like Coldplay (“Lights of Home,”) and The Black Keys (“American Soul.”) Yet the band does retain some of their older material with tracks sounding like b-sides to “How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb” (“Get Out of Your Own Way”) and “No Line on the Horizon” (“The Blackout.”)
While “Experience” does show U2 reinventing themselves for a younger generation, it just feels a tad bit queer. Longtime fans of the band won’t be thrown off by this sudden experimentation, but younger fans will feel like U2 is just pandering to them because they’re buying music from acts like Cage the Elephant and The Killers. Also, having a spoken word segment by rapper Kendrick Lamar in between “Get Out of Your Own Way” and “American Soul” won’t help with the fact that U2 is just pandering to the millennials. Lamar has collaborated with U2 in the past, but this time it just feels weak.
“Songs of Experience” does have a lot of hits and misses on it. Songs like “You’re the Best Thing About Me,” “Red Flag Day,” and “The Showman (Little More Better),” shine the brightest while tracks like “Summer of Love,” “The Little Things That Give You Away,” and “Landlady” are just filler that would’ve been better on their past albums.
The main issue that I have with “Experience” is that U2 is desperately trying to blend in the elements of many modern acts in order to be relevant to a younger audience. But why should they? The group has a dedicated fanbase that dates back to the 1980s and they pull off big arena tours that sell out quickly. Is this some gimmick that Bono and crew are testing out? The world doesn’t need a new Bastille or Muse.
Now look, this doesn’t mean that “Experience” is a bad album, it just has a few flaws and shows that U2 should just stick to being themselves. It still has that old U2 style that we’ve known since the 80s, but maybe they should take a few steps back.