Monday, October 15, 2018
Music News, Concert Reviews

Review: U2's 'Songs of Experience' a low point for a band capable of so much more

Songs of Innocence never got a fair shake.

U2’s last album caused an uproar before you could even buy it, as the band brazenly plunked it into every Apple user’s inbox for free, without warning. Some howled outrage, others were just confused. But lost in the noise was the fact that, once you gave it a spin, Songs of Innocence was actually a really good album, risky and ferocious and shockingly personal in all the ways a big rock experiment should be. That U2 followed it with two acclaimed tours — including this summer’s cinematic celebration of 30 years of The Joshua Tree — was proof they had more left in the tank than all the haters gave them credit for.

Three years later, we finally have Songs of Innocence’s long-awaited companion album, Songs of Experience, which dropped Friday.

You may now complain to your heart’s content.

Songs of Experience might be most unsatisfying chapter of U2’s four-decade career, an album that pushes no boundaries, plodding along in a stream of middling melodies and lyrical nothingness. The band has delivered letdowns before — Rattle and Hum, Pop, No Line on the Horizon — but at least those albums represented some chance the band wanted to take, and at times even stood for something grand. Not this one. This one treads water, congealing like filler between tours, the monolithic cash cows that still enable U2 to do anything they want.

The best thing you can say about Songs of Experience is that at least it’s not too heavy. Sonically, the Edge is in a real power-pop mood, judging from the choppy, snappy guitars of Red Flag Day and bright backbeat of The Showman. The bright guitars, buzzing bass and clattering tambourine of single You’re the Best Thing About Me feels a lot like R.E.M. or the Smithereens, before giving way to a traditionally soaring U2-like chorus.

There are hints of the old U2 urgency in The Little Things That Give You Away, but only hints — Edge’s churning infinity guitars are swathed for too long in downbeat atmospherics before surging to the forefront by the end. There is promise, too, in The Landlady, a song that begins with beautiful guitars and never really goes anywhere else.

Review: U2 lights up Raymond James Stadium with a brilliant, cinematic show

The song on this album that most sounds like classic U2 is Get Out of Your Own Way, which borrows a drumbeat from Beautiful Day and almost everything else from Coldplay (Coldplay, of course, having borrowed it all from U2 in the first place). It’s a hopeful, four-minute crescendo about self-empowerment that feels innocuous yet inspiring.

But then it ends, oddly, with Kendrick Lamar delivering a spoken-word twist on the Book of Matthew’s Beatitudes ("Blessed are the meek...") about "the arrogant ... the superstars ... the filthy rich" and segues into American Soul. It feels like a mic check for a fiery sermon on wealth and privilege, the widening gap between the haves and have-nots.

Instead, you know what Bono sings?

"You! Are! Rock and roll! You! And! I! Are! Rock and Roll!"

It’s not like Bono hasn’t written dumb lyrics before. But in 2017, rallying the troops by shouting "You are rock and roll!" just feels so myopically sanguine. Such lazy lines drip from Songs of Experience like fat — couplets about staying up all night, chasing the sunlight, making it all right; lines about love being all we have left (Love Is All We Have Left) and love being bigger than anything in its way (Love Is Bigger Than Anything In Its Way). On The Blackout — a song that occasionally bristles with a the faint industrial edge of Achtung Baby — Bono sings about meteors and dinosaurs and rhymes lines with "Fred" and "Ned" and "Jack" and "Zack," and it is not even close to clear why.

Bono does reference pilgrims and refugees, Aleppo and, um, "Lincoln’s ghost," but it’s all so broad and benign it’s just toothless. Now compare this to Songs of Innocence, throughout which the band dug deep for some of their most personal lyrics ever — touching odes to Bono’s mother and wife, snarling songs about IRA bombings and their adolescence as punk kids in Dublin.

The closing track, 13 (There Is a Light), swipes its chorus from Songs of Innocence’s Song For Someone, but trades its intimacy and warm, beating heart for a more guarded outlook on protecting life’s light before the darkness of the world settles in. The new song’s restrained mood is actually quite lovely — but what does it say about U2 that to get there, they had to borrow so heavily from their not-much-younger selves?

Songs of Experience would be a low point for U2 whenever it was released, but its legacy won’t be helped by its inevitable comparisons to Songs of Innocence. However you felt about in 2014, right about now’s a good time to dig it out of your iTunes purchased list. It’s a much better listening experience than the new one.

Contact Jay Cridlin at [email protected] or (727) 893-8336. Follow @JayCridlin.

Comments
Linkin Park’s Mike Shinoda talks about guiding fans through grief, singing Chester Bennington’s vocals and more

Linkin Park’s Mike Shinoda talks about guiding fans through grief, singing Chester Bennington’s vocals and more

There are songs Mike Shinoda can't sing. One More Light, for example.The ballad, from Linkin Park's 2017 album of the same name, was already deeply personal when Shinoda wrote it in tribute to a friend who died from cancer. But after last year's deat...
Updated: 2 hours ago
How Lady Gaga's real life mirrors - and doesn't mirror - her character in 'A Star Is Born'

How Lady Gaga's real life mirrors - and doesn't mirror - her character in 'A Star Is Born'

Maybe you watched the trailer for "A Star Is Born," and thought, huh, that's weird. We're supposed to believe that Lady Gaga lacks the confidence to sing her own songs, or that she is unattractive, and, therefore, she couldn't have a singing career? ...
Published: 10/13/18
Sun Dome no more: After years of struggle, can the new Yuengling Center find a soul?

Sun Dome no more: After years of struggle, can the new Yuengling Center find a soul?

TAMPA — Kelli Yeloushan slid the latest issue of VenuesNow magazine across her desk."We actually have a full-page ad that just came out today," she said.There on Page 55 of the concert industry trade mag was Yeloushan, director of events management a...
Published: 10/12/18
Updated: 10/13/18
Tampa comic Matt Fernandez releases stand-up special on Amazon Prime

Tampa comic Matt Fernandez releases stand-up special on Amazon Prime

The night Matt Fernandez filmed his first stand-up comedy special, things didn't get off to a calming start."The air conditioning was broken in the green room the night of the show," he said, "so I had to actually hang out at the bar and talk to peop...
Published: 10/12/18
Review: Mary Chapin Carpenter showcases 30 years of stellar songwriting at the Capitol Theatre in Clearwater

Review: Mary Chapin Carpenter showcases 30 years of stellar songwriting at the Capitol Theatre in Clearwater

Before Maren Morris, before Kacey Musgraves, before Kelsea Ballerini – literally, before any of today's country queens were even born – there was Mary Chapin Carpenter.For a while in the early '90s, she sat at the rarefied nexus of mass, ...
Published: 10/12/18
SoundBytes: Migos, Greta Van Fleet, Howie Day and more

SoundBytes: Migos, Greta Van Fleet, Howie Day and more

— Lots of people in Florida have been waiting for acclaimed young throwback rockers Greta Van Fleet to announce some tour dates here, and now we've finally got some. Unfortunately, the closest date is in Orlando. The budding Zeppelinites will p...
Published: 10/11/18
He was lost. A Chuck E. Cheese robot helped him find his way.

He was lost. A Chuck E. Cheese robot helped him find his way.

A Tampa man is living his dream, the dream of finding an obscure robot from Chuck E. Cheese's Pizza Time Theatre and making it sing again.
Published: 10/11/18
Linkin Park's Mike Shinoda, back on the road solo, reflects on grief, healing and Chester Bennington

Linkin Park's Mike Shinoda, back on the road solo, reflects on grief, healing and Chester Bennington

A year after the suicide of bandmate Chester Bennington, Linkin Park's Mike Shinoda talks about grief, healing and the future of the band before his first solo show in Tampa.
Published: 10/11/18
Weekend music picks: Kid Rock, Romeo Santos, Latin and country festivals

Weekend music picks: Kid Rock, Romeo Santos, Latin and country festivals

Across Tampa Bay, it's a big week for rock (Kid Rock, the Struts), country (Brantley Gilbert, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Scotty McCreery), Latin music (Romeo Santos, Gente de Zona) and more.
Published: 10/10/18
What’s on stage this week: 'The Play That Goes Wrong,' Florida Orchestra does Harry Potter

What’s on stage this week: 'The Play That Goes Wrong,' Florida Orchestra does Harry Potter

In one play, everything goes wrong on purpose. Plus, the Florida Orchestra tackles Harry Potter, and Edgar Allen Poe and Emily Dickinson meet, defying the odds.
Published: 10/10/18