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Rock band U2 released its latest album this week.Facebook

I miss the old U2, the rock ‘n’ roll U2, chop up the soul U2, set on their goals U2.

My thoughts turned to Kanye West’s “I Love Kanye” as Bono switched into autotune halfway through “Love Is All We Have Left,” the opening track on the band’s newest album. But, for­tu­nately, this was one of the few self-indulgent moments on the 13-track menagerie.

U2’s “Songs of Expe­rience,” their follow-up to 2014’s iTunes-invading “Songs of Inno­cence,” is the adult com­panion to the pre­vious album’s reflec­tions on childhood. Inspired by poet William Blake’s poem col­lection  “Songs of Inno­cence and Expe­rience” pub­lished in 1794, U2’s 14th album reflects on love and mor­tality. 

While the band fiddles with modern sounds, fea­turing artists like Haim and Kendrick Lamar, it only tweaks old for­mulas. Lis­tening to a new album should not make the lis­tener crave its pre­de­cessors. But that’s exactly what happens with “Songs of Expe­rience.”

Before embarking on such a con­fusing journey, lis­teners should know U2’s newest work is one of their better efforts since 2000’s “All That You Can’t Leave Behind.” The direct com­panion to this album, “Songs of Inno­cence,” sounded almost too modern for the band, and its pop­u­larity came in part from a pub­licity stunt after iTunes cus­tomers crit­i­cized it for down­loading auto­mat­i­cally to their libraries. On the con­trary, “Songs of Expe­rience” made a quiet Dec. 4 entrance on Spotify, bringing with it several fine addi­tions to the band’s catalog.

Singles “You’re The Best Thing About Me” and “The Blackout” pro­moted the album, which fea­tures a range of sounds that echo the band’s pre­vious work. Deepcut “Red Flag Day” has backing vocals rem­i­niscent of 1983’s “War,” while the synths first made famous on their 1987 “Joshua Tree” album’s “Where the Streets Have No Name” appears on new tracks like “Get Out Of Your Own Way.” This song also has the pounding bass of 1997’s “Pop,” recalling the tail end of the band’s most exper­i­mental phase.

The problem here is that the list goes on. Fans can almost see the lines drawn from the tracklist to the band’s dozen albums prior to the “Inno­cence + Expe­rience” tour. Is this creeping sense of nos­talgia appro­priate or a buz­zkill? As a col­lection of U2 songs, perhaps an EP, this album is a good listen. Taken as an official release, it feels like a tour of the sounds that once made the band popular. 

For fans, this is gen­erally enter­taining, but for lis­teners who, like the band, are ques­tioning its rel­e­vance today, it only gives them more ques­tions.

The tracks on the album sound like a playlist of dif­ferent eras rather than a single U2 album. Some of the touches of pre­vious albums are chilling, others merely dis­tract the lis­tener from the album itself. A few songs have unnec­essary instru­mental changes as con­clu­sions, and the Kendrick Lamar appearance that con­nects “Get Out of Your Own Way” with “American Soul” ruins the former while adding to the aggressive sound of the latter. Despite col­lab­o­rating with the rapper, Bono’s lyricism suffers, espe­cially on “The Blackout” where he lazily rhymes Ned with Fred and Zach with Jack. 

Yet there are several truly enjoyable tracks on the album. Critics will relent­lessly compare this project to its 21st century pre­de­cessors, but it pro­duces songs that stand out even in the band’s 40-year catalog. 

The vocalist brought renewed energy to the project after a door on his jet fell off mid-flight, almost killing him. “I shouldn’t be here ‘cause I should be dead,” Bono sings on “Lights of Home,” which earned the fourth spot on The Rolling Stone’s 50 Best Songs of 2017. He also returned to music amidst spec­u­lation that he couldn’t play the guitar after a 2015 bike accident. The album, despite its flaws, is a sort of home­coming for U2.

Although this project barely pushes the band’s sound any further than its pre­vious efforts, if U2 intended to touch on all their pre­vious sounds and set a cap­stone on a long career, it suc­ceeds. Nev­er­theless, if the band isn’t calling it quits yet, this is their first album to offer almost no indi­cators of where it might progress next.

“Songs of Expe­rience” feels more familiar with each listen, as most albums do, but it plays like a col­lection of songs rather than a con­certed effort. The songs are good, but the sum of their parts is a con­fusing menagerie.

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Joe Pappalardo
He is from Loveland, Ohio. After getting hands-on reporting experience at a naval battle, he now works as the assistant Web Editor for the Collegian. One of the last members of Hillsdale’s computer science program, Joe is pursuing a marketing major and journalism minor. Email: jpappalardo@hillsdale.edu | @joepappalardo95