After almost fifty years together,Songs of Surrender charts U2’s remarkable journey from their humble beginnings on the north side of Dublin to becoming the biggest band in the world across 40 re-recorded and re-imagined tracks from the band’s considerable songbook.
True to form, rather than delivering a simple dose of nostalgia, U2 opted to reacquaint themselves with the material in a more earthy way by stripping the songs back to their bare bones and reconstructing them from new perspectives with no head to established tempos, keys, arrangements or lyrics.
“A great song, it turns out is kind of indestructible,” reflects The Edge, who curated and producedSongs of Surrender.
“The process of selecting which songs to revisit started with a series of demos. I looked at how a song would hang together if all but the bare essential elements were taken away.”
These new perspectives are collated into four separate LPs, namely, The Edge, Larry, Adam and Bono and may offer a never-before-seen glimpse beyond the collective into each individual member’s personality, experience and affinity with U2’s catalogue.
“Hearing the songs interact and finding the running orders for the four albums was really thrilling; finding the surprising segues, getting a chance to DJ. Once we had four distinct albums it was easy to see who would be the figurehead for each one,” notes The Edge.
Songs of Surrender touches on 12 of U2’s 14 studio albums with onlyOctober andNo Line On The Horizon remaining unrepresented. 22 of the 40 Tracks are taken from the last century from stand-alone single ‘11 O’clock Tick Tock’ through to Pop’s ‘If God Will Send His Angels’, while half of the remaining 18 songs stem from the recent Songs of Innocence + Experience period.
Songs of Surrender offers a glimpse into an intimate alternative reality where Mr. MacPhisto never existed and The White House switchboard was never troubled in the pursuit of stadium rock perfection.
Songs of Surrender doesn’t detract from the source material. If anything, it encourages reappraisal of U2’s back catalogue.
Often regarded as the song that saved U2, ‘One’ is the perfect place for Songs of Surrender to start and it’s no surprise to see it spearhead The Edge’s selection with ‘Where The Streets Have No Name’. However, the bulk of his LP is drawn from U2’s early ‘80s output.
U2 announced themselves to the world with the release ofBoy in 1980. The angular post punk riffs of ‘I Will Follow’ and ‘Out of Control’ became instant Irish classics and quickly established the blueprint upon which U2 would become the biggest band in the world: The Edge’s expansive guitarwork, Adam’s driving basslines, Larry’s no-nonsense Ringo-esque ‘song first’ approach to drumming and a burgeoning frontman who would go on to become the yardstick for Irish vocalists. It’s raw and unfiltered but there are glimpses of what was to come.
The Unforgettable Fire
U2’s 4th studio albumThe Unforgettable Fire saw them working with Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois for the first time and saw the group trying to step outside the confines of post punk.
The album was recorded in Slane Castle and Windmill Lane studios. Lead single ‘Pride (In The Name of Love)’ became the group’s biggest hit to date, while the album’s title-track successfully heralded in a more contemporary sound that indicated that U2 could elevate themselves to a much broader audience.
The themes of Larry Mullan’s LP revolve around hopeful pragmatism with the songs often seeking answers to questions of internal conflict.
Songs of Experience
The second volume from U2’s most recent studio recordings,Songs of Experience features contributions from Haim, Lady Gaga and Kendrick Lamar and is based around a series of letters Bono wrote to family and friends.
Songs of Experience is more expansive than its predecessor and contains some of U2’s best songs from this century. ‘Get Out of Your Own Way’ is a beautiful slice of fatherly advice reminiscent of the group’s work onAll That You Can’t Leave Behind.
‘Ordinary Love’, which originally featured on the Mandela OST, is a welcome addition to the deluxe version of the album. It is little wonder that the group opted to revisit this track for Songs of Surrender as it is simply too good to remain hidden as a rarity. The same applies for stand-alone single ‘Invisible’, which eventually found a home on the deluxe version of Songs of Innocence.
Adam Clayton meanwhile seems to be representing the underdogs in the U2 catalogue with the only sightings of material from Pop and Rattle and Hum.
Much like Bowie’s Lodger, U2’sPop is the type of album that unfurls across repeated listens. In amongst the unexpected bombast of the electro leaning ‘Discotheque’ and ‘Mofo’ there are classic U2 songs such as ‘Staring at The Sun’ and ‘Gone’, while it’s easy to see why ‘If God Will Send His Angels’ was the perfect candidate for a project such as Songs of Surrender.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Bono LP is built upon three tenets: politics, religion and love. Tracks such as ‘With Or Without You’, ‘I Will Follow’ and ‘Cedarwood Road’ are obvious tracks for Bono to sponsor but perhaps most surprisingly is that there are more tracks from War under his wing than from any other U2 album.
U2’s third albumWar (1983) opens with the epic protest song ‘Sunday Bloody Sunday’, featuring the violin wizardry of Steve Wickham (The Waterboys, Sinead O’Connor). Never one to shy away from Irish political history, Bono tackles one of the darkest moments of the troubles with aplomb.
Meanwhile, the hypnotic bass driven din of ‘New Year’s Day’ - which is surely responsible for selling a million Fender basses – remains one of U2’s most prominent calling cards.
Written on their honeymoon, it’s little surprise that ‘Two Hearts Beat As One’ holds a special place in Bono’s heart. It was only natural that out of all the songs contained within War, this one would be re-imagined for Songs of Surrender like a renewed wedding vow.
It was only natural too that ‘40’ would complete the new collection as it did War thanks to its marriage of themes of politics, conflict and religion and the awful things humans will do for all three. The refrain of “How long will we sing this song….” Is the perfect summation of the human condition.
As long as we breathe, we will seek forgiveness, redemption and love and as long as that transpires, humans will always need to express that through art.