So how does the new album stack up against SOI? The short answer is that is a great bookend to it. There are echoes of lyrics in songs like 13 (There is A Light) and Song for Someone, which is a wonderful element that I don’t think has been employed before.
I believe the band is doing what they have always done in exploring and experimenting with new sounds and ideas. They continue to push themselves creatively and when they get it right, it’s magic. When they don’t, the albums are still good, but they receive less attention on tour. It’s no surprise that songs from Zooropa, Pop and NLOTH make the set-list far less often than all the others. Even the band admitted that NLOTH took too long to make and didn’t have radio-friendly songs—though some did at its release.
For me, there is a sound that I love and I can only describe it this way: if another band were playing it, you’d still recognize it as a U2 song. These are the songs of UF, JT, AB, ATYCLYB and HTDAAB. I want to put their first three albums on the list, too. But, it still feels like they were discovering their sound. However in the albums I mentioned, the sound is so distinctive and it is the sound that I love.
Is that sound on SOE? My first response would be no. It feels like something is missing, but I can’t quite put my finger on it. I think producers Ryan Tedder, Danger Mouse, Paul Eppworth and Jacknife Lee have done well in finding new frontiers for exploration. The result was a different U2 than what we’ve known before, and that too is good. However, I find I am having a harder time connecting with this album.
I remember hearing HTDAAB for the very first time—and on a U2 iPod—and being blown away at how good each and every song was. The songs were confident and celebratory, while others were tragic and lonely. It was a powerful reminder that—to paraphrase Robert Frost—the band had miles to go before they sleep.
I did not feel that way with SOI, although I wanted to very much.
Better live and up close?
Will the new songs play well on this year’s tour? I have no doubt that some will. The band previewed a couple of songs during JTT ’17. They played The Little Things That Give You Away at Levis’ Stadium and it was fantastic. The true test will be how many songs stay on their set-list. I read something that although the 360° Tour was extremely successful; songs from NLOTH began to be replaced by others as the tour wore on.
Do I believe the songs are strong enough to stay on the set-list? Yes, most of them will sound great live. I think American Soul, The Blackout, You’re The Best Thing About Me and Love Is Bigger Than Anything In Its Way all have that big-sound rock tunes that play well in arenas and stadiums. These songs sound more like the U2 that I recognize.
The good news is that I won’t have to wait too long to hear them live. Oh, yeah.