U2 hit the world last night at midnight with “Songs of Experience,” their best album since 2000’s “All That You Can’t Leave Behind.” Remember that album? “Beautiful Day” and all that?
Of course, saying this isn’t saying much. After “All,” U2 gave us “How to Dismantle a Bomb” in 2004 with “Vertigo” — good album with “City of Blinding Lights” and “Original of the Species.”
But then came “No Line on the Horizon” which had no hits and was kind of bomb that wasn’t dismantled, back in 2009.
Five years later, in 2014, “Songs of Innocence” came next, a big mess because it was forced onto Apple devices, which caused a backlash. The only song I ever remember from it is “Sleep Like a Baby Tonight.”
“Songs of Experience” was announced then, and was ready to go. But Bono and Edge pulled it back at the last minute saying the political climate had changed with Trump. They wanted to reconsider. That may have been true. Also, the album may just not have been right.
Well, it’s all right now. “Experience” clicks on every cylinder, and it’s a beautiful day. It’s absolutely terrific. Every track is listenable, catchy, in the sweet spot.
I read some review last night that sloughed it off. You know? It’s really, really hard to make an album like this, where you get hit after hit of substantial tracks. It proves you can still make great music in 2017. I thought after listening to this years’ worth of junk that it wasn’t possible.
Where an album like “No Line” sounded dreary, and like work, “Experience” brims with Cliff Notes. U2 always verges on the ponderous. Avoiding that is their toughest challenge after 40 years in business. (Yes, forty years!) The trick to hit music is to keep it upbeat even when serving bad news, and that’s what the group has done here. Two songs have “love” in the title. One of them– “You’re the Best Thing About Me”– is an all out love song. And some, like “The Showman (Little More Better),” are out and out fun.
All of the songs are made for touring, and for singing along. That’s important because U2 is about touring at this point. (Everything is about touring for everyone.) In a stadium or arena, “The Blackout” is going to be HUGE. Even a political song like “Red Flag Day,” will be popular, and a companion to “New Year’s Day” and “In the Name of Love.”
The old formula in albums was make the first four songs dynamite, and then you could do anything. “Experience” follows that formula to the letter. The album opens with the short, plaintive, optimistic “Love is All We Have Left,” a knowing suggestion that even though things look bad now, it’s going to be ok. The production is spare, and Bono’s voice ethereally mixed forward signals we’re safe from a lecture. You know he’s going to open shows with this one. “A baby cries on a doorstep/ Love is all we have left.” Whew!
Then: The Edge, Larry, and Adam come crashing in with “Lights of Home.” “I believe my best days are ahead of me.” Really? We thought everything sucked. Bono says no. Again, it’s going to be okay. Whew! “I can see the lights in front of me.”
“You’re the Best Thing” is number 3, key spot on any album. Everyone on your feet. We’re in love and we’re dancing! Whew! Trump is not going to kill us. Poverty and homelessness are things we care about but not right now! Everyone clap! If there was still radio, this would be number 1.
And then the clean up batter– “Get Out of Your Own Way.” “You’ve got to fight back! The promised land is there for those who need it most/Lincoln’s ghost says get out of your own way.” Lincoln’s ghost. You can’t make this up. It’s brilliant, not corny. Imagine 50,000 people singing that together. And it works!
So, four songs, four hits, and we’re not yet at “The Showman.” Everything else is gravy.
I say, waive “Experience” into the January Grammys. We need it badly. And thank you, U2.