Saturday 17 March 2018

'Songs of Experience' album is U2's bright new dawn of dazzling light

BEAUTIFUL NIGHT: U2’s Bono takes to the stage in Trafalgar Square draped in a tricolour at an MTV gig in London last night. Picture: AFP
BEAUTIFUL NIGHT: U2’s Bono takes to the stage in Trafalgar Square draped in a tricolour at an MTV gig in London last night. Picture: AFP
Barry Egan

Barry Egan

The obsession with beating down Bono is as Irish as a Tayto sandwich. For some, the inclusion of U2's lead singer in the Paradise Papers has turned him into some sort of antichrist of Killiney Hill.

More important for music fans though is that U2 have emerged from the creative eclipse of the last few years into a dazzling new light.

Out on December 1, Songs of Experience, the follow-up to 2014's Songs of Innocence, is like a bright flash of hope amid the darkening horror across the planet.

This is not an album review but I can tell you that Songs of Experience starts with Love is All We Have Left and ends 12 songs later, via Get Out of Your Own Way and Love is Bigger Than Anything in its Way, with There is a Light with Bono singing:

"If there is a light

You can't always see

And there is a world

We can't always be

If there is a dark

Now we shouldn't doubt

And there is a light

Don't let it go out."

In my view, Songs of Experience is Bono's personal psalm to the power of love, to the strength of reaching within you for the spiritual - for the good. It is like a private Ted Talk for the future of humanity. He sings on Get Out of Your Own Way: "Nothing is stopping you but what is inside, I can help you but it is your fight. Your fight!"

I've been listening to the album for a week: its unspoken message appears to be that if a terrorist would listen to his heart then he might take off his suicide belt and embrace another way.

Bono, however, wasn't able to meet the Irish media before U2's live performance - the band were getting a Global Icon gong - at the MTV European Music Awards last night in London. He was minding his voice for the gig - so his no-show was nothing to do with his unwillingness to face thorny questions about tax.

Instead The Edge and Adam Clayton took all the questions - even the awkward one about the Paradise Papers. Do they feel Bono has been treated harshly on this matter?

"It's a complicated thing," The Edge answered. "We're wealthy people. You could say it comes with the territory. We are high profile, sometimes you can feel a little put upon. Sometimes you feel like we don't get nearly enough stick. We do understand why people are angry with the system as it is. It definitely needs an overhaul.

"But unfortunately there were a lot of inaccuracies reported initially and at this point there are lawyers involved so we will see how that works out."

On the music, he added: "It is a complicated album. Thematically, it is both extremely personal and quite political. It is quite internal."

"The Songs of Experience being pushed out gave us the licence to do the Joshua Tree shows," said Adam. "We are performing some of the new songs with an orchestra on the BBC next week."

The track American Soul is particularly anti-Trump. The Edge said that "to ignore what was happening with Trump would be weird".

He added: "Obviously democracy sometimes throws up surprise results and you have got to respect the result when it goes for you as well as when it goes against you. But I think in terms of values and ideals we differ so fundamentally from what President Trump is putting forward and the sentiments that he is putting out there and from whom he is looking to get support. It is fear politics of the most cynical type.

"We don't necessarily want to get so wrapped up in the resistance to his presidency at all. What we want to do is to just keep moving forward with the issues that we care about. Keep the agenda that we believe in, and that we will be getting back to, hopefully.

"I was very, very inspired by what some of the governors and mayors in America said in response to taking America out of the Paris Accord: 'We're sticking to the Paris Agreement anyway. We just don't care what the President says.' That's the spirit that we will be moving forward with.

"We feel it is okay to take Trump on at certain levels but we will just keep ploughing forward."

With the talking over, it was time for U2 to take to the stage in Trafalgar Square.

"I am so proud to introduce this band because they come from my home town. And they are the best band in the world," Laura Whitmore told the crowd.

Bono walked out with an Irish flag under his coat before U2 launched into Sunday Bloody Sunday and then, dedicated to the military because it was Armistice Day, In the Name of Love.

With Admiral Horatio Nelson in his marble coat 52 metres above them lit up by sky-scraping blue beams, the band then performed the post-modern anthem Get Out of Your Own Way and You're the Best Thing About Me, both from Songs of Experience.

Those mesmerising blue eyes had not lost their mischief as Bono told the 10,000-strong crowd: "London, you're beautiful."

Then the band from the north side of Dublin lit up the English capital once more with Beautiful Day. "When women of the world reunite to rewrite history that's a beautiful day," Bono told the crowd.

Announcing that "we have much more in common than divides us", U2 then finished a powerful show with One.

A beautiful night in London.

Sunday Independent

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