The Lowdown: After the rollout of 2014’s Songs of Innocence overshadowed the quality of the actual album, inoffensive yet non-essential, U2’s approach towards its follow up feels conciliatory. Originally planned as a companion album, the new release morphed as sessions were scrapped, songs were re-written, apologies were made, and the band buckled down to renew good faith.
The Good: U2 does try to switch up a formula that was starting to grow stale, and even if certain experiments fail, like an auto-tuned verse on opener “Love Is All We Have Left”, it finds the band at least trying something different. One of the key decisions U2 makes to set this album apart from their discography is to let loose on low-stakes punchy tracks like “You’re The Best Thing About Me”.
The Bad: All too often, Songs of Experience finds the band retreading well-worn material. “Love Is Bigger Than Anything In It’s Way” jumps back to 2000, taking the aggressive optimism of “Walk On” without the underlying struggle and catharsis that made it such a modern staple in their setlists. While “American Soul” recreates “Vertigo” and loses any passion in the process.
The Verdict: Songs of Experience is an album where the band’s best and worst songs of this century can exist next to each other, where vast rewrites make it apparent that multiple rounds of sessions went into the finished product. It’s a messier albeit more visceral affair than Songs of Innocence, one not afraid to take risks and fall flat on its face, but the triumphs are few and far between. And for a band that was once such a vital institution, that disparity is a tough place to be in.
Essential Tracks: “The Little Things That Give You Away”, “You’re The Best Thing About Me”, and “The Showman”