“Love is All We Have Left,” the opening track from U2’s 14th studio album, Songs of Experience, is sonically different from almost everything the band has recorded. Over a wash of synths, Bono sings, “Nothing to stop this being the best day ever.” But if this sunny sentiment, similar to what we heard in “Beautiful Day” some 18 years ago, seems less exuberant than it did then, it is because the band is different than they were then.
As they were preparing this album, Bono experienced a “brush with mortality,” a health scare that had a profound effect on him. “I shouldn’t be here ‘cause I should be dead” is the way they start out the second song on the album, “Lights of Home.” The songs became letters from Bono to his wife, to his children, to the rest of the band, and to those of us who listen.
Through all of it U2 continues to write and perform songs that can often be heard both as a purely personal note to someone close to them and a declaration of God’s place in the world and in our lives.
Just as they did 35 years ago, when they ended their album War with a psalm, U2 ends this new album with “13 (There is a light).” It is a meditation on Psalm 13, a psalm of lament that ends, like most lament psalms, expressing trust in the unfailing love of God.
Songs of Experience, a companion album to 2014’s Songs of Innocence, is U2’s most compelling album in over a decade. (Interscope)