Bono extracted a great deal of surprise on last year's Surrender memoir. It would have been rude if he'd skipped the stories about Bowie, Sinatra and the Pope, and cheers, he obliged with wide-angled accounts and bonus context. But the really compelling stuff was about family, faith and political horse trading.
Next up, Bono took liberties with the format of the audio book, accenting the life events with song fragments. Later, he sang stripped-down tunes on his reading tour. Now there's a 40-track album of U2 songs that mostly relate to the book, but not exactly so.
When it all connects, there's a new understanding of the song or the author. A story that deeply resonated in Surrender was the death of Michael Hutchence and collateral hurt with Paula Yates, Bob Geldof and Helena Christensen.
In the lyric of Stuck in A Moment You Can't Get Out Of, Bono tries to make a plea deal with Hutchence. And in this new, skeletal version, he's singing to a ghost and there is zero chance of a re-run.
The ache is severe. It seems that Edge has led with the making of this new album, a job of "reimagining". Many of the songs were written in decades of hurtling success, intended to rumble the foundations of every stadium.
So, when you extract the martial snare, the digital delay pedal and the bellowing refrain, what will be left? In this sense, Songs of Surrender is a precarious work of discovery.
Walk On is most actively revised song here, away from thoughts of Aung San Suu Kyi, the now-discredited leader of Myamar and repositioned in Ukraine. Sure enough, the band did play in the Kyiv subway station in 2022 and that's your busking rationale. Imperfections on the recording seem to fit with the recent event.
Likewise, there's a late-night vulnerability on Stay that fits with the story. Bono has often referenced Lou Reed and his partied-out whisper and it serves him well across the record. It's useful to hear the heroin lows of Bad without the usual tumult. And bless the ever accommodating One, which regards life from a rear-view mirror and offers a few consoling prayers.
It makes sense with the book on your lap, but otherwise, the album may not convince. The acoustics are peculiar on tracks like Pride and the vocal mic seems compressed, rather than expansive. Something to do with surrender, perhaps. What remains of it, when you give yourself away.