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U2 – Songs of Surrender Review

“With this reimagining, we thought it would be fun to see intimacy as a new approach, that intimacy would be the new punk rock, as it were.” – U2’s Twitter account. 

It is hard to give in to songs that have surrendered to their own perceived self-worth. Songs of Surrender gives U2 the chance to revisit their greatest tracks and dumb them down, strip them back and leave out the juicy bits that made those first editions intense and striking. An earnest piece to wrap up the miserable Songs of… series should and could have been better than a run through the archives under the illusion of finding new meaning. Moments of inspiration from tracks gone by are nothing new, but for U2 it is and they fail to hit on anything that provides evidence of falling in and out of love with the meaning or even the versatility of their original works.  

Clocking in at nearly three hours and having only a couple of minutes of inspiring or provoking meaning is damnable. U2 have and always will be innovative creators, but their latest release is not a misstep but a pre-planned disaster. Wet, soppy and sloppy moments of forced reflection are clear as anything on the likes of Where the Streets Have No Name. Dullard, melancholic reflections on tracks that already had those pieces adaptable to the ears that could pick up on them. Every track, no matter the light flourishes of 11 O’Clock Tick Tock that showcase Bono’s continued quality, or the defunct and repulsive cover of Red Hill Mining Town, elicits the same feeling. “I wish I was listening to the original,” is a feeling Songs of Surrender never shakes. It barely tries to do so. Every Breaking Wave is likely the best of the bunch, and even then musters nothing more than perfectly acceptable instrumentals lined under Bono’s ever-powerful voice.  

Wasting that powerful voice is a great shame. Bono and friends fail to convince others of their reason for covering their works of old. Out of Control feels hilariously defunct considering how controlled and plastic these covers feel. What is out of control, though, is the tracklist. Completely meaningless and ineffective. Neither giving the desired scope U2 hopes to chart over covering tracks from their earliest days nor making sense as themes and concepts are spliced together into meaningless, wavering simplicity. For those that have never listened to these tracks before, there is a chance Songs of Surrender could act as an entry point, but why start here? Why finish here, either? Who’s Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses provides the same irony as Out of Control, a piece that refuses to look back, as a band rattle through and looks back on its legacy. 

“Have you come to raise the dead,” Bono muses on One, again. Songs of Surrender and the band behind it feel their formidable tracks are dead and forgotten, but nothing could be further from the truth. Attempting to gauge a sombre reflection on tracks that are still as listened to and important as they were when first released is a puzzling move that reflects poorly on U2 and their confidence in new material. Intimacy as the new punk rock fails to be championed by U2. It is happening better, elsewhere. U2 have both failed to articulate why they feel the need to head back to tracks of old and have managed to showcase how futile it is to try and rework some of their best tracks. Soulless visions that do almost as much damage to the cover genre than a Van Morrison skiffle album.  

Ewan Gleadow
Ewan Gleadow
Editor in Chief at Cult Following | News and culture journalist at Clapper, Daily Star, NewcastleWorld, Daily Mirror | Podcast host of (Don't) Listen to This | Disaster magnet

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