U2 spoil themselves with a quadruple album of covers of their own songs and show in passing that if they had been an acoustic quartet rather than an incandescent rock machine, they would not be one of the most popular bands in the world. history.
One of the characteristics of popular music is that it is an art of repetition. We can be seduced by a song the first time we listen to it, but we only become deeply attached to it by listening to it again to end up associating it, often without realizing it, with important moments in our life.
A large part of the pleasure we get from a song we like is therefore due to the fact that we already know it. Sometimes, even in the silences between the notes. It’s never more obvious than in concert: the songs that work best are always the most universally (recognized) by the crowd.
With Songs Of Surrender, U2 is taking a risk: that of undermining this precious bond. This project by Bono and The Edge aimed to strip 40 songs of the band of the rock trappings we know them to see if they could hold together. Here, the arrangements are mostly acoustic: guitar, piano, sometimes strings, a bit of bass and percussion and – occasionally – studio tones. The remodeling is sometimes even more complete, since the lyrics of some songs have been changed.
And then does it work?
After the first three songs (One, Where the Streets Have No Name and Stories For Boys), we think it’s going to be long… Bono’s singing, which has never been so raw, scratches the ear. The pieces are struggling to rise. We give glory to the magic of the studio and the electric guitars, thinking that U2 would have made a very poor folk group…
Things improve over the course of the disc and, without ever reaching the state of grace, several tracks turn out to be pleasant surprises. Two Hearts Beat As One (taken from War) is carried by a surprising groove. Until the End of the World and Stay (Faraway So Close) keep their power side, even without the twirling guitar and the aerial arrangements. Beautiful Day has an almost soothing charm.
Already calmer songs like Stuck in a Moment You Can’t Get Out of or All I Want Is You also live up to this musical stripping very well. Where the Streets Have No Name and I Will Follow, on the other hand, never quite recover from being cut off from the electrifying riffs that blast through the arena ceiling when U2 play them on stage.
The remodeling of texts is less easy to assess globally, because it is not always fundamental and it would be necessary to review each line to validate the modifications. In I Will Follow, it is above all a question of marking the passage of time: Bono no longer sings it from the point of view of a young 20-year-old, but from that of a mature man. Sunday Bloody Sunday proposes a more profound change, which updates thinking on the Irish question and organized religions.
Bono claims in the Bono documentary
U2 deploys a beautiful imagination on Songs of Surrender. The fact remains that we come out of this long journey with one main conviction: in the case of the Irish group, the arrangement and studio work was never just a simple coating step, but an instrument in its own right. . The fifth member of the group. And we can’t help but miss it here.