Confession time: I still like U2. It feels strange to have to ‘confess’ to liking a band responsible for some of the best and most influential rock albums of the 80s and 90s, but U2 occupy a weird space in our culture. Their newer work is scoffed at and written off, and their (admittedly somewhat misguided) efforts to remain relevant have been met with derision that other long-running acts escape. If a brand new Rolling Stones album had shown up for free in every iTunes member’s library, would the backlash have been anywhere near as severe as it was for U2’s stunt release for Songs of Innocence? We’ll obviously never know but I doubt it would.
It’s true that U2’s latter-day work often leaves a lot to be desired. With it’s obnoxiously dumb BA DER DER BA DER DER BA DER guitar riff and Spanish numeric exclamations, “Vertigo” is still perhaps the lamest lamest dad-rock song to be released this century. But does the stupidity of that track rob great songs like “With or Without You” or “Sunday Bloody Sunday” of their power? I really don’t think it does. Bands that have been around as long as U2 have are seldom able to recreate the magic of the music they produced at the height of their popularity, but it seems to me that U2 are unfairly singled out for falling short of their old work. It almost feels a little personal, like there’s something about these guys in particular that invites this reaction. Is Bono a tax-dodging megalomaniac who fails to practice what he incessantly preaches? Sure. But he and the other members of U2 have consistently demonstrated a dedication to their craft, slavishly reworking songs for years until they feel they’re ready to go out into the world. U2 truly seem to believe that they’re yet to record their best album, and while they’re probably wrong in that regard, they’re not going to stop trying to create it anyway.
And so it is that we get songs like “Love Is Bigger Than Anything In Its Way”, from their new albums Songs of Experience. It bears all the hallmarks of a modern U2 song: it’s big and anthemic, it’s a little overproduced, its lyrics are simplistic and its title wouldn’t look out of place on a motivational poster, but none of that necessarily makes it a bad song. In fact, I think it’s quite good! I evidently like it enough to make it my Weekly Jam. It’s incredibly sweet and touching, with Bono demonstrating a great vocal range and a great distorted guitar riff from the Edge driving the song forwards. No, it’s probably not going to appear on a Best Of U2 compilation any time soon, but it’s hard to deny the honesty that songs like this are infused with. Is it overly sentimental? Quite possibly, but I think U2 mean every single word and note. It feels almost impossible to get worked up over a band producing work so earnest and heartfelt.
Of course, in recent years, a new U2 release hasn’t been complete without an accompanying episode of U Talkin’ U2 To Me?, a podcast that has been the main cause for my reassessment of U2’s last few albums. The enthusiasm of hosts Scott Aukerman and Adam Scott for the band’s music, whether celebrating or critiquing it, is infectious In my teenage years and early twenties, I was quick to write people off based on nothing more than their taste in music and films. I was that guy. But now that I’m a little older I realise that it doesn’t really matter what you like or dislike, as long as you can explain your reasons for doing so. I now recognise just how unattractive a quality elitism is in a person, and have been doing my best not to exhibit it myself. I’m not always successful but my intentions are good, and in that regard I feel like I can relate to U2 a lot.