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Album Review

Can you be angry without being cynical? Discouraged without being depressed? Optimistic without being unrealistic? If you're U2, the answer to all of these paradoxical questions is an unabashed yes.

The Irish rock icons' 14th studio album, Songs of Experience, boils and churns with rage at points. Yet—again, paradoxically—it also brims with light and hope throughout 13 tracks that sound exactly like … U2.

Positive Elements

Spiritual Content

Sexual Content

Violent Content

Crude or Profane Language

Drug and Alcohol Content

Other Negative Elements

Conclusion

Pro-social Content

Album opener "Love Is All We Have Left" repeatedly voices that titular message. We also hear, "Nothing to stop this being the best day ever." Near album's end, another song voices a similar sentiment: "Love Is Bigger Than Anything in Its Way." "Landlady" pays poetic tribute to a man's faithful wife: "Every wave that broke me/Every song that wrote me/Every dawn that woke me/Was to get me home to you, see."

One repeated motif contrasts light and dark. On "Lights of Home," Bono tells us, "I can see the lights in front of me/I believe my best days are ahead." He also says that the home that he's really singing about here is, it would seem, his wife: "In your eyes alone/I see the lights of home." "The Blackout" and "13 (There Is a Light)" likewise deal with finding light in the darkness.

"You're the Best Thing About Me" ponders why we sometimes flee from those who love us most. Bono also recognizes that our most important relationships can sometimes be the most fragile ones, too ("The best things are easy to destroy"). Similarly, the melancholy "The Little Things that Give You Away" ponders the quiet grief of a relationship that's ending: "When the painted glass shatters/And you're the only thing that matters/But I can't see you through the tears."

"Get Out of Your Own Way" (one of two tracks featuring rapper Kendrick Lamar) counsels independence and determination: "Nothing's stopping you except what's inside/I can help you, but it's your fight." That song also layers images of slavery, freedom, Lincoln and the Old Testament when the band sings, "The slaves are lookin' for someone to lead them/The master's lookin' for someone to need him/The Promised Land is there for those who need it most/And Lincoln's ghost said/Get out of your own way." Speaking of Scripture, the end of that song offers a satirical take on the beatitudes, with Lamar skewering the rich, famous and influential, "Blessed are the arrogant/For there is the kingdom of their own company/Blessed are the superstars/For the magnificence in their light/We understand better our own insignificance."

"American Soul" delivers more such "beatitudes": "Blessed are the bullies/For one day they will have to stand up to themselves." This philosophically dense song compares America to a dream—"a dream the whole world owns." Bono says he's looking for "American soul." And even though he believes these days are grim, "we still gotta try." Later, we hear that this dream is "a call to action, not a fantasy," in which unity and compassion rule: "Let it be unity, let it be community/For refugees like you and me/A country to receive us." Bono then asks, "Will you be my sanctuary?" and somewhat cryptically adds, "Refu-Jesus"—perhaps prompting us (albeit in a way some might disagree with) to consider how Jesus would treat refugees. Elsewhere, this track also critique the human cost of war: "Too many mothers weeping."

"Summer of Love," while seemingly referencing that season of American cultural upheaval in 1967, is actually about Syrian refugees fleeing their home in search of a safe place. There's mention of "the rubble of Aleppo," and suffering refugees fleeing their homeland ("We're freezing/We're leaving/Believing/That all we need is to head over somewhere/ … So we run"). "Red Flag Day" also addresses that difficult subject matter, this time talking about refugees getting in boats in search of freedom, even though not everyone will make it out alive ("So many lost in the sea last night").

In classic U2 style, "The Showman (Little More Better)" playfully mocks narcissistic artists: "The showman gives you a front row to his heart/The showman prays his heartache will chart." Bono also hints how the paradoxical gap between art and real life is closed when we sing together: "I lie for a living/But you make it true when you sing along."

Objectionable Content

"Lights of Home" puts a reference to Jesus in proximity with a profanity in the next line: "Oh, Jesus, if I'm still your friend," Bono asks, "What the h---/What the h--- you got for me?"

Some could hear a curious reference to being "born again" as suggesting that a metaphorical (and perhaps spiritual) rebirth is a matter of own effort: "One more push, and I'll be born again." And lines in "Get Out of Your Own Way" could be heard as inciting violence amid our current cultural struggles: "Fight back/Don't take it lyin' down, you got to bite back/The face of liberty's starting to crack."

Finally, a stray lyric on "The Showman (Little More Better") could be a reference to being drunk or high: "When I am all lit up, I can't make a mistake."

Summary Advisory

In the Introduction, I talked about how U2 manages the tough task of holding opposites in tension. Bono—like so many entertainers these days—delivers some sharp, political criticisms of America.

Unlike so many other celebrities who feel compelled to critique the current state of things, however, U2 clings to a bigger perspective. The proceedings rarely devolve into a cynical, sarcastic, mean-spirited screed. Yes, in some ways the band looks out across America and finds reason for deep concern, for anger, for grievance. But Bono mostly calls us to a bigger vision of what we can be, to be better versions of ourselves. Hope is all over this album, despite its more pointed moments.

Sonically, Songs of Experience is unmistakably U2: Bono's raspy, tired, riveting voice is as instantly recognizable as Edge's jangling, echoing guitars. Personally, I didn't find the songs here as engaging, musically speaking, as some of the band's previous efforts. That said, the lyrics on offer here are as incisive, poetic and beautiful as ever as U2 insistently calls us to be people of light amid encroaching darkness.

Plot Summary

Christian Beliefs

Other Belief Systems

Authority Roles

Profanity/Violence

Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality

Discussion Topics

Additional Comments/Notes

Episode Reviews

Credits

Rating

Readability Age Range

Genre

Rock

Author

Cast

Director

Distributor

Network

Performance

On track for a top five debut.

Record Label

Interscope

Platform

Publisher

Released

December 1, 2017

On Video

Year Published

Awards

Reviewer

Adam R. Holz

We hope this review was both interesting and useful. Please share it with family and friends who would benefit from it as well.

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