A Greatest Hits But Not
A recent release of U2’s new material didn’t go well. ‘Songs Of Innocence’ came to everyone’s iPhone in 2014 as a gift; free! Some said it was rather arrogant to think everyone would want a U2 album as a gift, self-deprecatingly, Bono told The Independent;
‘On 9th September 2014, we didn’t just put our bottle of milk at the door but in every fridge in every house in town. In some cases we poured it on to the good people’s cornflakes. And some people like to pour their own milk. And others are lactose intolerant.’
But it’s estimated that it had 81 million listens, so perhaps the trade-off was worth it.
I’m a Samsung boy so didn’t receive the U2 gift, but listened to, and felt I had to keep listening to, the companion follow-up album, 2017 ‘Songs Of Experience’, to review it for my podcast.
It lacked many redeeming features. I know it was 5 years ago, but I’m struggling to remember any redeeming features. The songs seemed to be mining one seam, warmed over, tentative even.
For those who think that this ‘greatest hits’ hugeness won’t change their view. Greatest Hits or Remembrances Of Songs We’ve Done can be either to mark the end of a particular cycle of the band, to celebrate a well-selling album, or maybe as a stop-gap between albums.
6 years needs a big stop-gap
And so U2’s Songs Of Surrender is not one of those, oh no; this is different. This is acoustic.
The Acoustic Dilemma
Which Acoustic do you use?
The vocal and one other instrument type?
The reimagined different instruments sort?
The same instruments just played softer offer?
U2 have combined the first 2, using the piano as their dominant instrument of choice. Of course, that creates challenges of its own.
The Songs Of Surrender Challenges
There can be a feeling that songs are crammed into a conforming configuration which doesn’t suit them.
The U2 songs which have big choruses to hang everything else on don’t necessarily work well with piano and vocal – they would though if they were rethought and had their ethos, their evocation, changed.
On Songs Of Surrender, tracks like ‘Beautiful Day’and ‘Vertigo’ labour in the chorus, they need something to help them lift off or they need to be undercut and something added to make us forget about the big brouhaha of the original – here those choruses are downbeat and tender, what’s missing is not filled and so the tendency is to remember the things which seem lost.
For instance, just adding voices to the chorus of ‘Pride (In The Name Of Love)’ doesn’t add to the righteous anger and belief of the chorus and ‘Desire’ has none of the urgency the title denotes – it sounds like they’re playing about with it in a sound check, Bono’s falsetto and the half speed doing no service to the original rush.
As The Guardian has said in their review;
‘For the most part, the biggest songs here don’t work rendered in soft-focus miniature.’
‘Stuck In A Moment You Can’t Get Out Of’ uses quietude and calmness to explain why you’re stuck – it’s both kind and disconcerting. And then the almost Outlaw Country narration and desert baked guitar of ‘I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For’ and expectant noise which never quite happens of ‘With Or Without You’ fill in the empty posturing of the originals with real longing.
Making ‘The Fly’ a funky laidback feel and guitar spark replaced by thick piano is a good idea, it sounds like an outtake from U2’s ‘Pop’ and is very welcome whilst ‘All I Want Is You’ becomes a quiet, sweet and very private conversation. And check out early ‘I Will Follow’, which halves the energy but adds real implication in its thicker riffing.
Also ‘Walk On (Ukraine)’ has a gentle acoustic and sweetness in the melody which is entirely appropriate and quite lovely.
But this is a small part of the 40 songs here and trying to do ‘Sunday Bloody Sunday’ without the righteous indignation is a complete non starter.
Bono’s voice is quiet and confessional, but in a close-to-the-mic way, not particularly in a connecting to emotion way, the rest of the band find their light where they may and the whole thing sounds like an exercise rather than a belief.
Songs Of Surrender? It is a U2 Surrender, this white flag has holes all over it.
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