U2’s 14th LP Songs of Experience may be no classic, but is wipes away the stain of their disastrous iTunes freebie, and comes with a set of creative & punchy tunes. Where Songs of Innocence plodded, Experience bounds – with a few mis-steps along the way.
Despite all the marketing bluff this is not a high-stakes record. U2 are a legacy act now, a fact that most of us are comfortable with. Not U2 though. This album, like many of their albums, is a plea to be the biggest band on the planet. However, realistically there was little clamouring for new material from anyone outside the hardcore fan base.
Perhaps it is because of this free reign that Experience flows so well. In stark contrast to 2009’s stilted No Line On The Horizon and 2014’s watery & tedious Songs of Innocence – this is a smooth listen. However there are few moments of inspiration, nor the sort of genuine awe that tracks like ‘Stay (Faraway So Close)’, ‘Bad’ or ‘Where The Streets Have No Name’ brought to their respective albums.
The first twenty minutes contain the wealth of the album, as is often the case with U2 (anyone else remember Side 2 of The Joshua Tree? Me neither…). Single ‘You’re The Best Thing About Me’ fares far better here, and flows into the genuinely great ‘Get Out Of Your Own Way’ – which serves as a callback to ‘City of Blinding Lights’ (which in turn called back to ‘Where The Streets Have No Name’).
U2 strive to be unexpected – but the only surprising moment on the album is ‘The Blackout’. While the chorus is a little bland, the wandering pace and ram-shackle structure allows for some adventurous instrumentals. It may sound familiar to those who remember the dirty disco of 1997’s Pop, but the fuzzed out bassline and playful tone make for a track that is a late-career highlight.
Songs of Experience is a good album. It isn’t going to ignite a love of U2 for new fans, nor set Bono, now aged 57, as rock’s new taste-maker. However, taken on it’s own merits this is an enjoyable listen, and the best album U2 have released in ten years. Their appeal to current pop trends fails to convince, but when sticking with their bread and butter – shimmering riffs and vocal soul – they’ve still got the knack.