Live Reaction to My First Listen-Through of Songs of Experience

I thought it would be fun, and perhaps interesting, to write down my thoughts in real time as I gave U2’s latest album, Songs of Experience a first listen (side note: spellcheck is insisting that the album should be titled Songs of Experiences). I’ve already heard a few of these songs, specifically the four (or five, if you count the Kygo remix of You’re The Best Thing About Me) tracks U2 put out prior to the album’s official release. And no, I didn’t listen to the leaks, although I often contemplated it. But I’m proud to say that I persevered and waited until the new album was officially available.

At 8:12pm I was notified that my preorder was available, so I went and downloaded it from iTunes to my computer and got ready to listen for the first time. As the album downloaded loaded I poured myself a glass of red wine and sat in front of my speakers, ready to listen.

And so we begin, track one, “Love Is All We Have Left”. Bono with long song titles again. Stings- Swan Lake? Wait, this sounds like Simon and Garfunkel’s “El Candor Pasa”. There’s almost a Leonard Cohen vibe going. Also very Opera-esque. The melody of the line “love, love is all we have left” is so familiar sounding- where have I heard that melody?

Alright, on to “The Lights of Home”. The riff has a Jimmy Page/Led Zeppelin thing going on. Reminds me of some of the music from the film It Might Get Loud (Jimmy Page, Jack White, and The Edge. Great film). Great solo from Mr. Edge. Very Edge sounding slide guitar, delay, everything that Edge does so well, he does in this solo. Hold on a minute- the bridge from “Iris”? But a chanted church version? Now that’s very cool. The “free yourself to be yourself” section (I guess it’s an outro) reminds me a lot of John Lennon. And Bono’s been wearing round sunglasses lately…

I’ve been hearing this one a lot, “You’re The Best Thing About Me”. I personally prefer the Sci-Fi mix, but this version has it’s merits, it’s very post 2000 U2, and that’s not a bad thing. Of the songs I’ve heard so far, this is the most pop and has the least depth, but it’s still fun. It’s like hanging in a club. I love that The Edge sings the verse to Bono. One thing I’ve been noticing is that the drums are mixed pretty loudly in these tracks, louder than they have been on the past few albums. Thumping kick drum!

Is that the intro to “Streets”? Or “City of Blinding Lights?” No! It’s “Get Our of Your Own Way”. I’ll admit, I really disliked this song when I first heard it, but it’s grown on me. What is with U2 and that specific drum machine loop? It’s the same kick-kick-snare looped they used on “Beautiful Day” and “Invisible’ (remember “invisible? I forget about it a lot). I would far prefer it if Larry just drummed that beat on some real drums instead of using a looped drum machine in the verses. And now we’ve got some rap.

Did the song just change? Awesome transition, I love it when songs seamlessly transition into one another. What’s with the crowd noise though? Now we’re on “American Soul”. The guitar tone sounds like Edge was listening to a lot of Jack White, Black Keys, and Arctic Monkeys. Neat. The production on this one is really interesting- lots of little things go on behind the guitar bass and drums. And then now it’s “Volcano”? I guess it is a sequel/companion album. At least that’s my excuse for it. Maybe they ran out of rock and roll chorus ideas. Cool bridge. So far, Songs of Experience has had some really neat production, and cool bridges. I can totally picture Bono doing this bridge live. I’m sorry to say it, but “American Soul” loses a bit of it’s energy post-bridge. Oh listen! And fade out.

“Summer of Love”. This sounds cool, hip, modern and current. Bono sounding great. I love the bass line. Awesome percussion, echos and shakers and cool box slapping. Sounds almost Latin, like a cha-cha or something. It just sounds so cool. That’s it. This is a cool song. I’ll definitely have to relisten to all these songs with attention on the lyrics. The production thus far has been outstanding. Those strings (or synths)- awesome. This album is so well produced (at least the first six tracks are). Another fadeout.

“Red Flag Day”. Oh I like this bass-guitar-drum groove.  it could totally fit on War. They’re locked tight in that groove. I see what the reviews have meant when they say that this album sounds like a mansion on the Mediterranean. Those backing vocals remind of young U2. That’s just awesome. Another really really cool song. I really wasn’t expecting this sort of vibe from Songs of Experience, but I like it.

Now I’m listening to “The Showman”. The production on this album blows Songs of Innocence out of the water. It’s so well produced. This one’s so fun! It’s like the brother of “Party Girl”. Is Larry playing a 1950s drum beat? I really need to focus on lyrics. Has Edge been listening to Buddy Holly and the Crickets? I love chorus, it’s so fun and catchy. Head bopping big time over here.

Another drum machine. Another very long song title, “The Little Things That Give You Away”. They were playing this on tour recently, but it sounds like they slowed it down for the album. This one’s not a happy song. Sad lyrics. I hope Bono’s doing ok. Of all the songs so far, this one has the least interesting production, but that makes me focus on the lyrics. Maybe that’s the point of having such simple production for this one. I really hope Bono’s alright. I can understand why some reviewers were saying his album seems obsessed with death.

Is that the intro to “Raised By Wolves”? It’s very similar. Listening to “Landlady” now. I’m not exactly sure why, maybe it’s the melody, but I’m getting a bit of a Beatles vibe. Bono’s voice sounds fantastic (no wait, magnificent, get it?) on this album. “Landlady” has just a hint of Coldplay in it. It’s over? I feel like that song could go on a lot longer. I read somewhere that it’s about Ali, but it really seems to be about God (I guess that’s true of a ton of U2 songs).

“Zoo Station”? No wait, “All Because of You”. Nope. “The Fly” meets “Love and Peace or Else”? I guess it’s a bit of all those songs. I liked this one when they first put it out, and I still do. The pre chorus (“easy on me, easy on me brother”) is such a marvelous transition to the chorus. I cant wait to see this one live. Was Trump on Bono’s mind at all when he recorded this? Desperate, dark, epic- familiar yet new. I’m not sure why they put “The Blackout” after “Landlady”. It seems like it would flow better after “American Soul”. After that bridge, I can see this one live in my head. Dramatic. Just U2 doing what they do so well. Great production, again.

Am I really almost through the album? I want ten more songs, not two!

“Love Is Bigger Than Anything in It’s Way”. Why does Bono like these long song titles? Weird guitar tone, almost like there’s a voice mixed with it. Edge always finds the strangest guitar effects. This is the most Coldplay sounding song on the album (maybe it’s just the piano, but I can totally picture this song on Coldplay’s album X&Y).

Last song, “13 (There Is a Light)”. Inspired by “MLK”? They seem pretty similar so far. This is from “Song for Someone”! I always like that line (“if there is a light…”). This one is very folk-songy, or like a prayer. That’s what it is, this song sounds like a prayer. I really wonder what happened to Bono. Is this song called “13” because it’s the thirteenth track?

And it’s over. I’ll be relistening many times.

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