For years, the guys in U2 have been stuck in a moment that they can’t seem to get out of. Bono and Co. have tried to be everything to everyone for so long that they’ve forgotten how to exist solely as a rock band capable of transcendence when the lights are brightest. They allowed the youthful urgency of “Boy,” “October,” and “War” to give way to the save-the-world screeds of “No Line on the Horizon” and “Songs of Innocence” without anyone ever stopping to say when, which is frustrating given how indispensable those first six studio albums are to my ongoing evolution as a person.
Defending the band against the non-believers has even become exhausting, because their musical output since the Obama Administration has been tepid to say the least and no amount of humanitarian work Bono engages in will ever take the place of an album conceived out of collective inspiration.
Their latest project, “Songs of Surrender,” is a stripped-down reimagining of 40 songs that each correspond with a chapter in Bono’s 2022 memoir and the tracks that resonate the most are those that already had a solid foundation. “Bad,” “One,” and “With or Without You” are achingly beautiful in any context, but rockers such as “The Fly,” “Where the Streets Have No Name,” and “Beautiful Day” need that Eno/Lanois bombast behind them to soar.
That’s the thing about U2, though. The bigger they became, the more elaborate and electronic the productions became in an effort to match their leader’s blossoming messiah complex, so it makes sense that the songs from the earlier part of the catalog would hold up better in an acoustic setting. Bono’s conviction on “40” and “Red Hill Mining Town” is moving, but there are other tracks in which he toggles between singing and a form of spoken word poetry that doesn’t quite deliver as much as he hoped it would.
For The Edge’s part in all of this, I will say that it’s refreshing to hear him play without so many loops and modulated delays, because he’s always flown under the radar as a guitarist. He’s not flashy and tends to tailor his parts around whatever a particular song calls for rather than your typical classic rock shredding. His passion for the material really shines through here, so, regardless of what his critics say, he has spent the last 40+ years cultivating a unique sound that works well within the confines of what U2 does.
Adding yet another layer to the mythology is the Disney+ documentary, “Bono & The Edge: A Sort of Homecoming with Dave Letterman,” an attempt to remind both the public and themselves of their humble beginnings in Dublin. One could argue that they needed Letterman more than he needed them in this scenario, because his questions are intended to ground them in a way that we haven’t seen for some time now. While the interview doesn’t end up providing anything revelatory, we come away with the sense that they’re fully aware of how their dynamic has been impacted by Bono’s extracurricular activities.
If you like U2, you’ll probably find this release worth adding to your collection, and, if you don’t, well, you won’t.
For me, U2’s incessant grappling with the America they envisioned as children and the America that greeted them once they arrived never gets old despite the blunders they’ve made along the way, so I’ll likely be dissecting this one and the book itself well into the summer months.