U2 are a band that have always traded in grand gestures, yet at their finest and self-defining moments they’ve always tempered the pretension with mystery, mood or atmosphere. The spacious textures of the Daniel Lanois-indebted The Joshua Tree, the emotive post-punk chime and sparkle of those early singles and the dark grooves of Achtung Baby all showed a creative and experimental group who, on Songs of Experience, prove once again that their best days are still 20 years in the rear view mirror.
Over three years in the making, this companion album to Songs Of Innocence inhabits similar sonic territory with it’s radio-friendly production and a blend of tender ballads and big, rhythm-heavy rock songs. The former is where they still excel with opener Love Is All We Have Left finding the sweet spot between modern production and raw and tender emotion. Likewise the optimistic and dreamy closer 13 (There Is A Light). Between those points most of Bono’s lyrics fall into bad high school poetry territory with clumsy rhymes and the cloying tendency to resort to wordless chants of woo hoo’s and la la’s.
The Showman (Little More Better) has a chorus like 80s Rick Springfield, the Kendrick Lamar-featuring American Soul is a brash and trashy attempt at a Black Keys-styled blues rock stomp that fails while Red Flag Day is a tangle of cliched guitar chords, a tired and bland rock song, badly dressed up in pop production. It all amounts to a grasp for relevance, an overworked reliance on studio sheen and the unimaginative box they’ve painted themselves into.