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U2 - Songs of Experience album review

The disappointment continues

Cover art for U2 - Songs of Experience album

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.

Stephen Dalton has been writing about all things rock for more than 30 years, starting in the late Eighties at the New Musical Express (RIP) when it was still an annoyingly pompous analogue weekly paper printed on dead trees and sold in actual physical shops. For the last decade or so he has been a regular contributor to Classic Rock magazine. He has also written about music and film for Uncut, Vox, Prog, The Quietus, Electronic Sound, Rolling Stone, The Times, The London Evening Standard, Wallpaper, The Film Verdict, Sight and Sound, The Hollywood Reporter and others, including some even more disreputable publications.