U2 has dropped their first single from the upcoming ‘Songs Of Experience’ this week. U2 are notorious for taking their time in the studio so this was a little bit of a surprise. Since they usually wait up to five years between albums, this new song is somewhat unexpected. I’d heard they’d recently gone back into the studio, inspired by the world’s current political situation, to flesh out some new ideas. They’re currently in the middle of a tour celebrating the thirtieth anniversary of ‘The Joshua Tree,’ that I am proud to say I’ll be attending at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City. So naturally, I wasn’t expecting anything new right now. Coincidentally, Beck just dropped a couple of songs this week and he’s the opening act (Beck: Two New Songs, “Dear Life,” “Up All Night,” And Finally, New LP ‘Colors’ Slated For Oct ). I’m hoping to hear how all of this new music translates to the stage. It’s just a great time to be alive. Well, at least musically it is…
First singles can be a tricky business for any band. U2 of late seem to have trouble picking first singles. If we look backwards perhaps we can discern how good ‘Songs of Experience’ will be. For their first single from the last album, ‘Songs of Innocence’ U2 chose the up-beat “The Miracle (of Joey Ramone).” While I’d like to give them credit for citing what appears to be an influence, I’m more of a Stooges guy than a Ramones guy. And like the Ramones, I felt “The Miracle (Of Joey Ramone)” was ok. It wasn’t awful but it certainly didn’t rank up there with some of the anthemic lead singles like say, “Pride (In The Name of Love)” or “Beautiful Day.” Maybe I was lukewarm on this tune because they had just released the extraordinary song “Ordinary Love” from a Nelson Mandela bio-pic and it is one of their best songs, ever. It’s hard to compete with “Ordinary Love.” They also had just released a song for the Bono’s RED project, “Invisible” and I liked it better than “Joey Ramone.” Listening to it again, it’s not a bad tune, but the expectations they’d set with those other two songs, released just prior to ‘Songs of Innocence” had set the bar pretty high. I thought ‘Innocence’ was pretty “meh” as a record…It wasn’t horrible but I’d hoped for more. The release strategy of putting it on everyone’s Apple device was… ill-advised.
For the album prior to that, ‘No Line On the Horizon’ they chose to release the ridiculous “Get On Your Boots” as the lead-off single. ‘No Line’ was another in what I like to call U2’s “experimental” phases. They brought in legendary producer Eno whose goal it seems is to make U2 sound inscrutable. That album was more of a mess than ‘Innocence’ ever dreamed of being. “Boots” was one of three weird songs right in the middle of the album that attempted to be “ironic.” U2 isn’t great at being ironic despite that whole Zoo Station period where they actually pulled it off. Why they didn’t choose the much superior “Magnificent” for the first single remains a mystery to everybody except U2 and maybe Eno… that sneaky fucker.
Finally, if we go back to “How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb” (the answer, “with love,” per Bono), you get a big, anthemic, kick ass rock tune as your first single with “Vertigo.” I’m guessing that’s a track they’re still playing live… at least I hope so or Tuesday will be a little disappointing for the Rock Chick. There was a time when I thought she was going to get “Vertigo” tattooed across her shoulder blades. She played the shit out of that album… “Crumbs From Your Table” was another tune she was fond of, but I digress… “Uno, Dos, Tres, Catorce…” what an opening. That whole album U2 finally revived the sound of the Edge’s guitar. He rocks all over that thing. “Vertigo” was the first salvo from a classic record.
Which all leads me to “You’re The Best Thing About Me,” the current lead off single from ‘Songs of Experience.’ My friend, Arkansas Joel, who is a bigger U2 fan than even I am, accuses me of being soft on U2 when it comes to criticism, but he’s still angry at them for ‘Pop.’ Move on Joel, anyone can make a mistake and ‘Pop’ was better than we give it credit for. Anyway, I really like this song. It’s just a rocky, straight-ahead love song. Like Randy Newman’s recent song, “She Chose Me,” I wish I’d written this song for the Rock Chick because, well, she is the best thing about me… and I’m luckily “the kind of trouble that (she) enjoys.” It feels like forever since I’ve heard this spidery guitar sound from Edge. The track opens with Bono’s voice and a great guitar riff under him. It’s a great start. Bono’s singing is passionate and longing, which is the perfect tone for this track. Larry Mullen, Jr never gets the credit he deserves as a drummer. Adam Clayton plays an insistent bass line… I love everything about this song. It’s tight, rocking and sincere, all the things that made me love U2 in the first place.
What this portends for the new album is anybody’s guess. If the rest of the album is up to the quality of “Best Thing” then this is going to be a really special album from U2. At this point all we have is this song and I recommend buying it immediately and playing it extremely loud to someone you love… “when you look so good and baby you don’t even know…” man, I love that feeling.