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“The history of this band is precious and we realise we mustn’t break up, mustn’t die and that the legacy of what we do should continue.” In Bono’s notes, he talks of being dared by his friend, the poet Brendan Kennelly “to write as if you’re dead.” Mortality is on his mind when he says of the new songs: “A lot of them I approached with the sense that I might not be around to hear them on the radio or in the stream of things. I’d thought a lot about not being around so I made these songs love letters.” There are affectionate “letters” to Bono’s wife and love of his life Ali called You’re The Best Thing About Me and Landlady. like your pain.” The Little Things That Give You Away, pointed and self-deprecating, speaks of “the words you cannot say, your big mouth in the way” and is the singer’s letter to himself.
“I’d lost a lot of my heroes, Leonard Cohen, David Bowie, Prince . The term Landlady, a slightly odd song title you may think, is used because Ali paid their rent while four skint hopefuls were knocking around in a beaten-up van trying to make a go of U2. “Blessed are the filthy rich for you can only own what you give away. And Love Is Bigger Than Anything In Its Way gives touching advice to Bono’s sons Eli and John which Clayton says has that “classic Cat Stevens’ Father and Son vibe.” The Showman (Little More Better) addresses U2’s legions of loyal fans and is, says Bono, “a love letter to anyone who falls for the bluster of a performer with too much/too little confidence.
Clayton suggests the overall takeaway from Songs Of Experience is “affirming and positive. “There are a lot of ageists out there who believe you can’t do rock and roll after the age of 35 but it’s just not true. “The teenager was an invention of the Fifties and the focus was on teenage expression.
We forgot that everyone else had valuable experiences as well.” Songs Of Experience is U2’s attempt “to own our age,” Clayton continues.
In the past week, I’ve spoken to two of Bono’s brothers in arms, guitarist The Edge, on the phone from LA, and bassist Adam Clayton, in a quiet corner of a pub in London’s Maida Vale.
They’re thrilled with the new album, which I believe is U2’s best since the turn of the millennium, but acknowledge the recent stress on their frontman.
If so, are we linked to plants in very early stages of evolution?
Two songs have the word “light” in the title, Lights Of Home, a co-write with girlband Haim, and 13 (There Is A Light), which draws this explanation from Clayton.In 2014, when I met all four members on an idyllic, sun-dappled autumn afternoon in the south of France, they talked of a quick-fire companion album to that year’s Songs Of Innocence. “Brexit and the American elections threw a completely different light on everything and Bono was going through issues to do with his health that were quite profound.But huge interest in The Joshua Tree’s 30th anniversary with its extended run of celebratory shows was just one factor behind a longer gestation period. “He wasn’t physically well and was in a place where he wanted to reconsider lyrics.It’s not all bleak though, as Bono explains in his notes: “‘If, however, you want to look at the stars,’ said Annie Dillard (American author), ‘You will find that darkness is necessary.’” American Soul, one of two songs with a guest appearance from mercurial rapper Kendrick Lamar, picks up on a familiar Bono notion . Of the driving refugee-inspired Red Flag Day, The Edge says: “It was originally in the pile of songs that didn’t make the record but, at beginning of this year, we made it a priority because there was something very powerful in it.” The album cover image, shot by U2’s go-to photographer Anton Corbijn, sums up what’s inside with Bono’s son Eli holding hands with The Edge’s daughter Sian.
Youthful innocence is represented by their bare feet but the troubled world they have to face up to is symbolised by the US M1 military helmet perched on Sian’s head. It could be any partner, any child, any fear, any danger, any hope.