Reviewed by John Cheek
They say that necessity is the mother of invention. That isn't quite the case here, but an enforced delay of a year in the release of this album, the companion to 2014's 'Songs Of Innocence', has probably led to an added dynamic to the second of this trilogy of albums. Lead singer Bono's reported "brush with mortality" has been enigmatically cited as the reason for the 12-month delay: numerous rumours have circulated, including a potential attempted suicide on the part of Paul Hewson. Whilst the reality is probably far less alarming, there's no doubt that the sight of children's bodies being washed ashore, as part of news items highlighting the plight of Syrian refugees - along with Donald Trump's election success in November 2016 - led to a brief crisis of religious faith in the singer, along with acute feelings of fear and fear of fear. It appears that the return of his Christian faith has led to a re-invigorated Bono; however, the experience has clearly fed into a re-writing of parts of 'Experience'. As with 'October' and 'Achtung, Baby', heartbreak and outside threats to the band have only contributed to the enhanced quality of the songwriting and playing. Certainly, these are four men who have spent more than four decades playing full-time and the 13 tracks (17 on the deluxe version) are characterised again by a rhythm section on top form. Adam Clayton's bass (particularly on "The Blackout") is somewhere between Bruce Foxton and Flea of Red Hot Chilli Peppers. Larry Mullen's drumming seems positively explosive at times. The Edge on guitar is reminiscent of Foo Fighters, circa "La Dee Da". But of course, this is a group which is more than the sum of their parts.
The assurance which the year's delay has afforded them has consequently meant that the album is not front-loaded with all the potential hits. Instead, "Love Is All We Have Left" starts things off slowly: undoubtedly a focus for Bono to reflect upon that which is most important in life. A collection of songs which, on the personal level go right to the very (dark) heart of human experience, 'Experience' still operates in the realms of the religious and the political. Not least in "Red Flag Day". Otherwise a symbol to not go into the water, "Red Flag" sounds quite 1980s in a latter-day Clash/Police kind of way. Here and elsewhere, U2 have contemporary horrors on their minds. Syrian and Rohingya victims of recent events see Bono employing the word "refuJesus" in a style evoking the smuggling of the Christ-child to Egypt and also Jesus' identifying of himself with the least in society, according to Matthew 25:31-46. The sampling of several of their own tracks from 'Innocence', especially on "American Soul" and "There Is A Light", suggests a band bullishly confident as well as a definite link between the albums. Other influences stem from Adele, The Killers and Coldplay and, with many songs acting as an imagined letter from the singer to different loved ones after his death, there is a fizzing, electronic sheen to most things here, as good as any track in the current singles chart. Hopefully, none of the band-members will have to go through as much anguish when the mooted 'Songs Of Ascent' is finally realised at some point in the future.
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