From innocence comes experience. Such a simple statement, and as a lifelong U2 fan I have to admit I was a little worried about what the boys from Dublin had been brewing for the past three years for the “sequel” to Songs of Innocence. Well, after a few listens, and even some tears shed, I’m willing to put this musical journey up there with my favorite albums of all time.
Welcome to Listening Party, a new feature here on Dare2Love where I break down my thoughts and feelings on some of my favorite albums, track by track. So let’s dive right in!
Love Is All We Have Left
Going into Songs of Experience, Bono did quite a few interviews stating that the album would be a letter of sorts… to his children, his wife, and the fans. Cryptically, the band had hinted about a health scare and how both it and the new political landscape of America (and the world) was going to have strong influences on how this album would play out. Initially, I felt Love Is All We Have Left fit into the “letters” category of the album, but now I almost feel like it was meant as a bridge between innocence and experience.
Love is all we have left is such a powerful statement in that it can be taken in two directions. Sometimes in life it feels like love is all we have left, and on the best days that’s something to celebrate. The line “Nothing to stop this being the best day ever” resonates this. On the other hand, Bono’s included letter with the album shares the fact that most of the songs came from a challenge of writing from what many consider a dark place… Death.
The most inspired of us want to leave a legacy on this planet, but really, the most important thing is love IS the only thing that should and will resonate when it’s your time to leave this life. What a beautiful state of mind to live in, and it’s now a piece of advice I plan on keeping at the forefront of my mind and heart.
Sound wise, this is one of my favorite tracks. I love soundscapes, and Love Is All We Have Left paints a picture of heaven in my mind. The auto tune that kicks in around the middle part of the song shows U2 is not afraid to experiment with a new sound. Spacey, new, but familiar… what a way to kick off an album!
Lights Of Home
As the spacey sounds of the first track fades, a powerful, yet playful, guitar rift ushers in Lights Of Home. Another track dealing with Bono’s death scare, this song has a bit of swagger. Instead of fearing the end, facing it with a smirk and open arms is the best way to go.
I shouldn’t be here because I should be dead.
I can see the lights in front of me.
This also is the first song to tie directly to the band’s last album, Songs of Innocence. “Free yourself to be yourself, if only you could see yourself” comes from Bono’s song about his mother, Iris, and for me it sounds like right before he’s ready to arrive at his final destination of the lights of home, his mom pushes back with another gem of advice… to just be yourself.
You’re The Best Thing About Me
When I first heard You’re The Best Thing About Me, I thought it was too safe for a “new” U2 song. Obviously a love letter to his wife, Ali, Bono carries himself in typical Bono fashion: cocky but humble. Seeing the song played live (during the band’s Joshua Tree tour to a full stadium) warmed me up to the track, but hearing it tied into the rest of SoE really made me appreciate its brilliance. It’s such a celebration of love that it’s infectious and really makes me think that the people I have chosen to surround myself with are the best thing about me.
Again, it’s a bit safe. U2 knows how to make “stadium” tracks. Lyrically, it’s among the simplest on the album, but really when it comes to professing your love, uncomplicated statements are all that are needed when it’s from the heart.
Get Out Of Your Own Way
Just like You’re The Best Thing About Me, my first reaction to Get Out Of Your Own Way was all kinds of “Noooooo!” The opening riff sounds so much like Beautiful Day that U2 should worry about suing itself for copyright infringement. After a few listens in context with the record, and a very personal message I received from a loved one with a heart of stone about the song, I can’t help but have warmed up to the simple advice of when life has conflicts, just get out of your own way, live, and love with an open heart.
The second half of the song shifts to the political, with talk of Lady Liberty’s face cracking under the duress of the current rise of the alt-right and really the world just looking after itself and not others. Kendrick Lamar finishes the track with a string of powerful quips that lead right into…
With the crowd sounds in the background and the buzzing guitar riff, American Soul definitely proves U2 can still create a new sound that sounds both edge-y (pun intended) and has a bite to it. Bringing back the line from Volcano on Songs of Innocence seems like a weird fit (“You are, rock and roll”) but it has so much more aggression tied to the surrounding audio that it becomes a chant meant to get the crowd going.
This is a letter to America. A letter to inspire, to stand up, to not crawl into bed and pout about where our country is going, but to remember where it came from. The fact that racists can march on the streets without their goofy pointed hoods to hide under is both alarming and terrifying, but the message that it’s not too late to turn this ship around reminds us not to give up and to fight for love and equality — the true vision of what America should be.
Summer of Love
Summer of Love seems like such a simple love poem during the first few listens, but when I dig into it, I see a letter to the world to open our eyes to everything that’s happening around us.
Bono writes about the summers that he and the band spends in France with friends and family, but at the same time, while enjoying the spoils of a rock star, he can’t help but think about “The west coast, not the one everyone knows”… Syria.
Freezing, we’re leaving, believing
That all we need ahead of us somewhere
In a summer to come, so we run
The sound of Summer of Love has a bass and drum line that are the perfect parallel to the dark, yet beautiful, lyrics. It paints a landscape of serenity for some, but chaos for others.
Red Flag Day
Another love song, but for me this song is the true essence of the coupling of innocence and experience. When I listen to Red Flag Day all I hear is the sequel to one of my favorite tracks off the last album, Every Breaking Wave. If Every Breaking Wave was the story of two lovers afraid to take the leap because of the fears of the challenges of what might come, Red Flag Day is the voice of experience saying that life is too short to live in fear.
Baby it’s a red flag day, but baby let’s get in the water.
Taken out by a wave, where we’ve never been before.
Life will never be safe or easy. Love isn’t meant to be, either. Sometimes, instead of waiting on the shore to find the right time or tide to take your swim, you just have to face the crashing waves; experience the thrills of the ups and the perseverance of the downs. And that is a love I want.
The sound of Red Flag Day has an early U2 sound. The bouncy bass and guitar combo mirrors the sounds of the post-punk Boy more than anything else. I can’t wait to hear this one live and jump around while holding on to dear life on the rails.
This one is a letter to the fans. It’s Bono at his best, thanking the fans for giving him the life of a rockstar while still clinging to the idea of being humble.
The showman gives you front row to his heart,
He prays his heartache will chart.
It’s fun and, again, has a bouncy sound that matches the words strung together by and about a self reflective front man. One of the things that I love about U2 is that they have always been in on the joke. The ridiculousness of being a rock band, having fun with it, and appreciating the fans have been the reasons why they are still the biggest band in the world.
The Little Things That Give You Away
The first time I heard The Little Things That Give You Away was during the Joshua Tree tour, and it didn’t stick with me like most U2 songs do. The album version made me do a complete 180, as it’s one of my favorite tracks, thanks to the words that dance around the always brilliant studio sound that the band seems to pull off effortlessly. One particular lyric hits so close to home, it makes me tear up on almost every listen:
Sometimes the air is so anxious, all my thoughts are so reckless, and all my innocence has died.
Sometimes I wake at 4 in the morning, where all the darkness is swirling, and it covers me in fear.
A close friend always jokes with me that “it always comes back to U2,” and yeah, it does. It’s the one thing about the band that has had me coming back for more; Bono’s way of expressing love and the struggles of being true to yourself have helped me express my own feelings. I have Just a Song Away etched onto my arm to remind me that I’m never alone, even when the darkness swirls.
The Landlady is a letter specifically addressed to Bono’s wife, Ali. To have an almost 40-year marriage while being one of the biggest rock stars on the planet must being incredibly trying for a spouse, and Bono wears his heart on his sleeve, professing his love in a truly awe-inspiring way. This line sticks out to me:
Space, her place is where I found my parking place
And when I’m losing ground, you know she gives it back to me
She whispers “Don’t do, just be”
All the feels, man. All the feels.
The Blackout opens the final trilogy of songs on Songs of Experience. The final trio of songs on all U2 albums seems to always fit together perfectly, and this group is no exception. These are obviously letters to Bono’s children, and as a father of two amazing kids coming into adulthood, I can’t help but connect.
For me, the message of The Blackout is the parting wisdom that there’s two way to deal with the darkness life can deal you: let yourself be consumed by it or open your eyes and never surrender. The idea of youth being wasted on the young is nothing new, but like American Soul before it, The Blackout is a plea from experience to wake up and to live a life of light.
Love Is Bigger Than Anything In It’s Way
My eyes well up as soon as this track comes on almost every time. Where The Blackout is the message of darkness and standing up for yourself, Love Is Bigger Than Anything In It’s Way is the ultimate solution on how to live life. Bono’s own self doubt and humble line leads to the main lyric, but is equally important…
If I could hear myself when I say
As a dad, I’ve given plenty of advice that I don’t always follow. The humility and humanity of admitting that is such a powerful moment. We all just want the best for our children, and the message of love being the ultimate solution to all of life’s problems seems almost too good to be true. This song is his legacy, and I hope to someday be remembered for the same message. A open heart and love are bigger than ANYTHING in its way.
13 (There Is A Light)
Oh boy, 13.
Before I go into the ramblings of a broken-heart father that just wants his own spawn to not make the same mistakes he’s struggled with, let me share a little theory I have about 13.
Bono has always publicly stated his love of the Book of Psalms. The band’s first real mainstream album ends with 40, a tune that recites the first 3 verses of David’s open letter to God. This is where my U2 illuminati conspiracy theory takes root… 13 is U2’s only other song to be titled a simple number, and its message is another letter to Bono’s children. Sure the lyrics might actually be “A Song for Someone” but I can’t shake the idea that it’s actually a Psalm of wisdom, a “Psalm for Someone” if you will. And to deepen my theory, Psalm 13 almost directly ties to Psalm 40… coincidence? I think not!
Ok, conspiracy theories aside, 13 is my favorite song on Songs of Experience for the way it ties to Innocence and gives one final message of finding peace and faith in even the lowest of times. The slight tweak of lyrics from Song for Someone fits the haunting sound:
If there is a light you can’t always see
If there is a world we can’t always be
If there is a dark that we shouldn’t doubt
And there is a light, don’t let it go out.
That message — the one of hope and faith — resonates completely with me. True love doesn’t need to be expressed in words; true love is always there, even when the dark seems to be swallowing you whole.
And the final verse… damn! It’s so bitter sweet, but might be some of the most meaningful prose I’ve ever heard.
I know the world is done, but you don’t have to be
I’ve got a question for the child in you before it leaves
Are you tough enough to be kind?
Do you know your heart has it’s own mind?
Darkness gathers around the light
These are parting words of wisdom to keep faith and to live in love. Sometimes it takes a lifetime of experience to appreciate the innocence. The soundscape of 13 directly reflects the one presented at the beginning of the album. You start at the end because ultimately everything and everyone has to face just that: the end.
Track by track, U2’s Songs of Experience is an awe-inspiring concept album that delivers. Bono and the boys set out to create a collection of songs that could be appreciated for years to come. Achtung Baby might still be my number one, but SoE approaches that album’s greatness thanks to its open-heart theme and fresh, yet familiar, sound.
At one point Bono spoke of these last two albums aspart of a trilogy. First Innocence, then Experience, and ultimately Ascent. I can’t wait to hear what the future brings, but Experience is by far one of the most satisfying listens I’ve had in a long time.