The 14th album from U2, Songs of Experience, is less poetic than its title suggests.
The William Blake-derived moniker doesn’t reflect the uncomplicated sounds and overall levity that is Songs of Experience. Despite having a team of producers, U2 keeps their team spirit intact, opting for song content over cut and paste flash.
The texture of the recording follows a tougher guitar sound – the reverb and echo take a back seat to straight up cranked tones. That approach carries over to Bono’s vox and the always solid and dependable bass/drum duo of Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen Jr.
Much of U2’s output has the stamp of ambition all over it and a lot of songs are heavy on drama. This trait has driven the hits, giving many of them an undeniable anthemic character.
There hasn’t been much of that lately and Songs of Experience is a record that doesn’t break any new ground for U2 except that they sound happier. It’s an album with a joyous spirit and songs that sound playful, even mischievous. The quartet sounds like they’re having fun.
A three-song stretch that happens in the middle of the album (Summer of Love, Red Flag Day, and The Showman [Little More Better]) is a breakthrough. U2 sounds almost ordinary, like a regular band without all the trappings of technology. That’s a traditional style but because it’s U2, it sounds unique. Go figure. Keyboards are featured more towards the end of the album.
The muted drama of Songs of Experience allows the group to forgo big statements and grand sonic soundscapes. The recording is solid – the rhythmic thump and tasteful guitar work shine out. This album is Bono’s, though. His delivery is focussed and clear throughout and is stellar on The Little Things That Give You Away, Landlady and Ordinary Love (Extraordinary Mix).
The last track mixes the band’s trademark shimmer with the album’s punchy vibe.
–Dean Gordon-Smith is a Vernon-based musician who reviews the latest music releases in his column, Street Sounds, every Friday.