Albums Of The Week: Singing of love and travails

U2 show how bittersweet, stadium-sized rock anthems are done in their new album.
U2 show how bittersweet, stadium-sized rock anthems are done in their new album.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

U2 frontman Bono focuses on his nearest and dearest in Songs Of Experience after his 2014 bicycle crash

At the end of 2014, U2 frontman Bono went through what was described as "a brush with mortality" after a bicycle accident in New York.

While recuperating, he spent time writing songs for the companion piece and follow-up to the band's 13th album, Songs of Innocence (2014).

The accident must have had him thinking a lot about loved ones because the result is Songs Of Experience, a collection of tunes in which the Irishman takes a clear-eyed view of those nearest and dearest to him.

The titles - such as Love Is All We Have Left, Love Is Bigger Than Anything In Its Way and Lights Of Home - are a giveaway.

Landlady is an emotive tribute to his wife of 35 years and a throwback to the early years, when she supported him while he was still a struggling artist.

Touching vignettes aside, there is nothing outstandingly original about the arrangements, many of which hark back to the Irish rock icon's discography.

If early single You're The Best Thing About Me sounds familiar, that is because it has similar melodies and lines to Even Better Than The Real Thing from 1991's seminal Achtung Baby.

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Still, the album has plenty of moments in which the band show latter-day upstarts - I'm looking at you, Coldplay - how bittersweet, stadium-sized rock anthems are done.

The Little Things That Give You Away, for example, is a minor chord opus that builds up intensity as it progresses, anchored by The Edge's much-copied, shimmery delayed guitar effects.

Get Out Of Your Own Way is almost guaranteed to have fans singing along to the soaring chorus, while the creeping verse of Lights Of Home morphs into a giant, choir-led outro towards its end.

But what is a U2 album without an eye on the travails of the world, especially in a world where Europe is dealing with Brexit and the United States has a divisive figure, President Donald Trump, in office?

When Bono sings about the "west coast" in Summer Of Love, it is not a nostalgic throwback to late 1960s, hippy-era San Francisco - he is referring to Syrian refugees trying to make it to the Mediterranean Sea.

One song later, Red Flag Day continues to put a spotlight on their plight as he sings about asylum seekers risking their lives on precarious sea journeys.

The band end the album with a message of hope though.

"If there is a dark/Now we shouldn't doubt/And there is a light/Don't let it go out," he offers in stark ballad 13 (There Is a Light).

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 06, 2017, with the headline 'Singing of love and travails'. Print Edition | Subscribe