The gulf between U2’s perennially amazing live shows and their almost obstinately pedestrian albums gets wider every year. A belated and much-reworked companion piece to 2014’s Songs Of Innocence, Songs Of Experience was recorded with no less than nine producers plus cameos by Kendrick Lamar and Haim. And yet it is composed largely of dreary sub-Coldplay trundlers like Summer Of Love and Bryan Adams-style soft-rockers like You’re The Best Thing About Me. A handful of tracks shoot for the anthemic uplift of vintage U2, but fall short. The only real left-field beauty here is Love Is All We Have Left, a token reminder of the Dublin quartet’s shimmering ambient avant-rock period.
The global army of Bono-bashers will doubtless relish U2’s ongoing creative and commercial decline, but for casual fans it is baffling how a band who were once so experimental, outspoken and musically ambitious have ended up so joylessly conservative. Love or loathe them, U2 have always had planet-sized ambitions, market savvy pop instincts and A-list collaborators. They clearly still want a seat at rock’s top table, it’s just that they’ve forgotten how to write memorable tunes, or at least how to find suitably demanding studio partners to stop them churning out mediocre makeweight albums like this one.