SOE: a sort of review

I’ve been listening to the new album for a few months now and wanted to write a review. This is my first review of any album and I’ll admit that I don’t know what I’m doing.

Over the past thirty years I must read hundreds of reviews of the band’s albums. Most were well written and convincing. Some were bad. And a few were just plain annoying.

Let me first admit that I am not a very sophisticated listener. I do not have a background in it. The most that I can say is that I like music and have for a long time. When I read a reviewer’s appraisal or listen to someone critique a song, I usually am impressed by his or her ability to explicate each and every verse. It usually sounds so smart.

With that being mentioned, here I go.

Another thing I will state is that I always felt the band’s latest album was a reaction or response to their previous album. Beginning with Achtung Baby, the band responded to many that they were too serious, too self-righteous or too arrogant. By the end of The Joshua Tree Tour, Bono admitted that they had become a “show band”. I believe he meant that the tour had evolved into some kind of Las Vegas act, and not the good kind.

When Bono said to the crowd the last night of the tour that they were going to go away for a while and dream it all up again. It was a very honest and somewhat sad moment. These guys were going out on top and none of them felt good about it. And they did go away.

The time was not wasted because Achtung Baby is regarded as their finest album. Yes, there are those who will disagree, this is just my opinion.

AB saw the band and most important, its front-man, turn 180 degrees and sound absolutely nothing like The Joshua Tree. And with each succeeding album, the band seemed to both react and respond to what critics, fans and the world at large thought about them.

So here is where I’d like to start. Songs of Experience sounds like a U2 album and it doesn’t sound like one. I read the Rolling Stone interview Bono gave and I found it helpful in understanding the album. It usually takes me a while to figure out what the band is doing. Interviews with the band are helpful and they usually do a few at launch. But sometimes I still find myself wondering what the hell is coming out of my speakers. It’s not a bad thing; it’s me not getting it.

In SOE, Bono shared a little about his health scare. It was something that he probably had to reveal in order to explain how approached the album. It was also something that made him change the album to fit his altered view.

I’ve listened to it about fifty to sixty times now, and I like it. Two songs stand out for me American Soul and The Blackout. I love the muscularity and confidence of these songs. From what I read, if Songs of Innocence was looking back to their beginnings and time of naiveté and wonder, then SOI was looking ahead with all of the wisdom gained from living a life unexpected. I was hoping to hear a little more from the rhythm section from these songs than what was there. From everything that I read before the album’s release, there was going to be a more self-assured and undiluted tone. The essence (for me) of album was what was gained and what was given after a lifetime of music.

I would say that is true for about half on the songs, but some feel more plaintive and resigned. I know that Bono reworked many of the songs after the 2016 Presidential Election. And, he has made it clear about how he feels about it. He also gives us a glimpse of how the world—and our country in particular—is viewed through his eyes.

In listening and reading interviews of the band, I try to see what they were going for when creating a new album and then try and apply that knowledge in listening to the new album. Sometime is it helpful and others, I still find myself in the weeds.

There are U2 albums that I liked immediately (Unforgettable Fire, Joshua Tree, Rattle & Hum, Achtung Baby, All That You Can’t Leave Behind, How To Dismantle an Atomic Bomb). And there are albums that I learned to like after a while (Zooropa, Pop, No Line on the Horizon, Songs of Innocence). I am still figuring out SOE, but it is growing on me. As of now, I will put SOE in the same camp as SOI.

As they have always said, the band writes and records their songs with the purpose of playing them in front of an audience. And because of that, I’ve liked Pop and NLOTH more.

I realize that I will draw objections here, but I always felt that Zooropa, Pop and NLOTH were not very strong albums. All of them sold well at launch and did receive airplay on the radio, but they didn’t have that “it” sound like “Beautiful Day” or “Vertigo”, to use songs from 2000 on.

I believe that the band really began to re-think their approach after Zooropa and Pop and the result was ATYCLB. HTDAAB was built upon that response. NLOTH was them feeling confident enough to move further away from the “U2 sound” and reacting to reviewers’ and fans’ criticism that they were playing it too safe.

I respect the band always willing to try new ideas and experiment with different sounds even if it sounds like nothing I am used to. It’s what true artists’ do.

In my next post, I plan to dive a bit deeper into SOE and try to guess what is in store for this year’s tour.

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