NOW PLAYING: 'SONGS OF SURRENDER' BY U2...
Updated: Mar 30
Apologies in advance for the length of this review but it does cover four discs and over 3 hours of music! Although it says U2 on the box, this is essentially a project from The Edge. During lockdown, the guitarist decided to go through the band's vast back catalogue and re-record 40 songs.
Bono was invited to sing on the records but the involvement of drummer Larry Mullen Jr. and bassist Adam Clayton is barely more than credits on the liner notes and a picture on the cover. Some baselines were provided for the project and drums came via some old tapes but that was pretty much it.
This is a collection of 40 stripped-down, re-imagined songs covering almost 50 years of releases if you are unaware. The problem for me is that most of the reimagining isn’t very, erm, imaginative to be honest. A lot of the songs sound like demos or b-sides which they possibly should have been and to release them as a box set costing over £100 feels incredibly cynical.
This cynicism continues when you see that the collection has been released in many formats and colour combinations including two tape colours, three different CD variants, and a whopping 11 vinyl editions. With so many options available, it is no surprise the LP was selling more copies than the rest of the Top Five in the charts combined and led to the band's 11th UK number-one album.
Back to the music, you know the songs, you either love them or hate them. Me, I love them, and have done since The Joshua Tree in 1987 and what this collection does well is proving just how good they really are. ‘One’ is a great song and still stands up in this pared-down version, for example, Bono’s voice has more texture these days which adds a new depth to the song.
In the liner notes The Edge points out that many of their songs were written when they were “a bunch of very young men” and over time the meaning of their songs may have changed which has prompted the band to alter lyrics here and there to reflect better how they feel today. Mostly, these changes are interesting but don’t necessarily improve the original.
‘Walk On’ is a good example, upon release, it was dedicated to Aung San Suu Kyi, the Burmese politician who fought for democracy in Myanmar in the 2010s, on Sounds Of Surrender it has been renamed 'Walk On (Ukraine)' and rewritten with references to Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy. Is the song any better for the changes? No, not really. Is this version interesting, yeah I think so? Is it any good? Absolutely.
What I did enjoy was rehearing songs that I don’t give as much attention to as I should. Tracks like ’Stories For Boys’ from the album Boy feature The Edge on vocals and make me want to revisit the band's earlier work, as does the next track on the record, ’11 O’clock Tick Tock’ and the final song on Side A, ‘Out Of Control’ which was the bands first single in 1979.
Also, it is nice hearing some of my favourite songs get a bit more attention, tracks like Aching Baby’s ‘Who’s Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses’, the massively underrated ‘Dirty Day’ from Zooropa, The Joshua Tree's ‘Red Hill Mining Town’, ‘If God Will Send His Angels’ from Pop and War's ‘Two Hearts Beat As One’.
It is great to have a copy of rare songs too like ‘Ordinary Love’ a track written for the biography film ‘Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom’ and only released on limited 10” vinyl and tacked onto the deluxe edition of Songs Of Experience. Similarly, I’m glad ‘Electrical Storm’ is included, which was only available via The Best Of 1990-2000 record.
So is it worth buying? Maybe. In my opinion, it is an interesting project for the die-hard fan, the variations will appeal to the completists but for the casual listener, I doubt this collection will be high on their to-buy list. That’s not to say it is bad, far from it, it is just that there are better U2 albums out there that should be picked up first in my humble opinion.
What I will say is that I’ve listened to this collection a couple of times right the way through and each time I enjoy it more, especially the third disc, the Adam record. I suspect it is because I’ve acclimatised to the project and, after getting my head around it, can appreciate the work that has been done.
Fancy a copy? It is available all over everywhere at varying prices. You can get it on blue/gold, purple, crystal clear, sea green, orange, white, blue, green, red, green/white and even black vinyl, fill your boots!
Tracks To Try: ’11 O’clock Tick Tock’, ‘Bad’, ‘Walk On’, ‘Who’s Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses’, ‘Red Hill Mining Town’, ‘Ordinary Love’, ‘Dirty Day’, ‘Electrical Storm’, ‘The Fly’, ‘If God Will Send His Angels’, ‘Desire’, ‘Until The End Of The World’, ‘All I Want is You’, ‘Stay (Faraway, So Close)’, ‘Cedarwood Road’, ‘I Will Follow’, ‘Two Hearts Beat As One’.