Ruminations on TV Shows, Comics, And Music
The tracks U2 released ahead of Songs Of Surrender had me absolutely dreading this release. Bono has tweaked lyrics and none of the tweaked lyrics are an improvement. Most of the songs appeared to just be slowtempo versions of classic bangers with all the life strangled out of them.
I gave the forty-track album a full listen through, and then looked online to see what songs the band had selected for the sixteen and twenty track releases, and realized that my goal from putting together this reimagined album was much different from their idea of what their best material was.
For me, I chose the songs that were different from any previous versions. Ones that were rearranged for Bono's current range, and didn't pervert the original lyrics too much. Songs that I could see myself listening to on their own merit, not just because they were familiar songs.
Still, it's best not to listen to this as a studio album, but as a live soundboard recording where they've managed to completely erase the sound of the audience. Maybe a Zoom concert? Something more akin to the Remixes For Propaganda bootlegs than something that needed a mainstream release.
The songs range all the way from Boy to Songs Of Experience. There are a few albums not represented, as there weren't any songs from October or No Line On The Horizon on the forty track album. On the flip side, there were plenty of songs from Achtung Baby and Songs Of Innocence, they just all sucked.
Below is the track listing for the fourteen tracks out of forty that I enjoyed. Below that is a review of each of the forty songs from the Deluxe Release that came out today. I would neither waste my money on the forty track version, nor would I bother either of the sixteen or twenty track versions, as I believe the band completely whiffed on this concept. They should have been trying to please fans by putting out alternate takes to less well-known tracks, which may have also drawn in new fans, or won over some of the many justified U2 haters. Instead, they decided to release an album that could be called What If Our Greatest Hits Sucked?
1. Red Hill Mining Town (from The Joshua Tree)
2. Miracle Drug (from How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb)
3. Dirty Day (from Zooropa)
4. Stories For Boys (from Boy, featuring The Edge on vocals)
5. Two Hearts Beat As One (from War)
6. Lights Of Home (from Songs Of Experience)
7. If God Would Send His Angels (from Pop)
8. 11 O'Clock Tick Tick (unreleased track)
9. The Little Things That Give You Away (
10. Sunday Bloody Sunday
11. Out Of Control
13. Peace On Earth
14. All I Want Is You
My review of the forty track Songs Of Surrender, after listening through it a couple of times:
While I vastly prefer almost every other version of this song I've heard, be it a live version, the Mary J Blige collaboration, the original, Damien Rice's mournful crooning cover, Johnny Cash's raspy interpretation, Melissa Etheridge's one woman loop band cover during the pandemic, the music in this version isn't really the problem. Yes, Edge's background vocals of love is a temple, love is a higher law are a hokey distraction near the end of the song. The real problem, though, is Bono's vocals. People age. When they age, their range changes. I remember a friend went and saw U2 twenty years ago, and even then he mentioned that they had to do a medley of some of The Unforgettable Fire songs because Bono couldn't hit those notes anymore. That's going to happen to singers. So you change keys, you write new music or find appropriate covers that fit your range. But why would you rerecord one of your best songs with noticeably poorer vocals. Cracks in the foundation of your larynx. Warbling around the key, like you're not sure what fits the melody's lock. This is a dooming intro to an album of reimagined hits. It's at least a better version than the one REM and U2 did for MTV in 1993.
2. Where The Streets Have No Name
The original version of this song has such an iconic opening, that, honestly you have to swing for the fences when you reinterperet it. I think Edge did a solid job of arranging this song to fit the vibe of New Age Soft Rock For Boomers. It's not an improvement over the original by any stretch, but it's a solid alternative. Bono's vocals even work for this track. Unfortunately, Bono has decided to rewrite the lyrics to this song so it's specifically about a desert, like he really really wants you to know it's about a desert so he says desert repeatedly. And he's even changed other lyrics for no valid reason. And while Bono in 2023 isn't quite the singer he was in 1987, he's a much worse songwriter. If these were the lyrics to the song in 1987, even if it was matched up with the tempo and arrangement of the original track, this would not be anyone's favorite U2 song. Not even The Joshua Tree National Park Desert Preservation Society. I will say that Bono's croony oooooooos near the end were a wise choice, given his current vocal limitations.
3. Stories For Boys
The Edge is the spotlight on this arrangement of one of U2's earliest tracks. He provides vocals, and plays piano. This is the first track that I actually like on this album. Is it better than the original? Maybe. It's certainly a valid reinterpretation. It's definitely an Old Man Looks Back On His Youth song, as opposed to the I Just Graduated From High School And I'm All Grown Up/Too Early For Nostalgia song that was the original. It works really well.
4. 11 O'Clock Tick Tock
Another interesting alternative to the original/live tracks I've heard. The updated lyrics don't bother me much. I thought I was annoyed that he changed the ethereal bridge lyrics to sad song, sad song but it turns out those are the original lyrics, they were just so mumbly in the original, I didn't realize they were actual words. I will go on the record as saying this version, with Edge's Latin American inspired guitar near the end, is actually a vast improvement over the original.
5. Out Of Control
When I wrote the reimagined version of Boy and October (my version os Boytober), I mentioned that the lyrics to this song about turning eighteen were some of U2's worst. The arrangement wasn't much better. But, again, it was very early U2. They were still teenagers. This version is the second song in a row that I would say is an actual improvement over the original. It sounds like a B-Side from How To Assemble An Atomic Bomb. If that sounds like feint praise, it is. I like this updated version more than the original, but it's never been one of their best songs. And Bono using his aged Picard whispy voice to sing about how he's out of control is just silly and doesn't really work.
6. Beautiful Day
Did we need this piano-forward reinterpretation of the lead single from All That You Can't Leave Behind? Sigh. Yes. While I prefer the original, I'm not sure if that would be true if I heard this version first. I think it's a case of enjoying what I'm already used to. That said, there is an unnecessary lyrical change in the second verse where Bono seems to be updating, not "Beautiful Day" but the Passenger's Soundtrack cut "Your Blue Room", which is an interesting choice. But not a better choice. The original lyrics were better. Still, this isn't as bad or unnecessary as I feared.
If this were a live album by latter-day U2, this would be the breakout hit. It's set in Bono's current range. It's pretty much just an acoustic version of the original except. Except. Except the lyrics are updated. And, again, Bono is not a better songwriter in 2023 than he was in 1984. But, even though this one of my favorite early U2 tracks, I don't Hate the changes. They're just okay. Against all my expectations, this is a perfectly fine alternative version to the original. I would voluntarily listen to this. It's still a banger.
8. Every Breaking Wave
When I did my reimagined version of Songs Of Innocence and Songs Of Experience, this song didn't make the cut. This one won't make the cut, either. Like the previous track, it just feels like an acoustic, live version of the original. In this case, it's Bono singing while Edge plays piano, and there are no other instruments. But they've made it sound like it was recorded in a space with vaulted ceilings so we get a nice echoey vibe for both the vocals and the piano. It would be a fine closer to a later-day U2 album. It's just never going to be my favorite track.
9. Walk On
Nope. This was never U2's strongest song. It got extra attention paid to it because it was an uplifting song that was released during 2001, and was therefore wrongly co-opted as a response to 9-11. Woof. Now, however, Bono has rewritten it. Not because of the 9-11 issue, but because the original was banned in Burma, as it was about an ousted democratic leader there. The new version is about The Ukraine, and the lyrics are terrible. This is a real Elton John rerecords "Candle In The Wind" moment. Only worse because the original wasn't very good to begin with. Changing home/that's where the heart is to home/that's where the hurt is is a strong contender for valid reasons to use the barf emoji.
10. Pride (In The Name Of Love)
This was the first song I heard from the new album, and one of the reasons I was convinced this whole project was going to be terrible. If you drain all the passion and power out of the original version of this song, the tepid elevator music version of this song would be better than this soulless, poorly produced lullaby. They should have either left this song alone, or come up with a better idea for rerecording it.
11. Who's Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses
I've heard that U2 actually hates the original version of this song from Achtung Baby. I've always quite liked it. Both the original, and the Temple Bar Remix from the single's B-Side. This updated recording is unnecessary but inoffensive. It's barely discernable from the Temple Bar Remix, apart from worse background vocals and the feeling that most of this album has, that it's just a watered down, live acoustic version from an aging band.
12. Get Out Of Your Own Way
Another song from either Songs Of Experience or Songs Of Innocence that I didn't think was good enough to make my reimagined album, Sometimes. And, again, this version wouldn't make an album, either. While it is nice to hear drums for what feels like the first time on this album, the lyrics are not just badly written, they're flatly delivered. If Bono doesn't care about this song, why should I? Get out of your own way, Bono, and let this song be forgotten.
13. Stuck In A Moment You Can't Get Out Of
Another All That You Can't Leave Behind song that got wrapped up in the post 9-11 fervor. This was on heavy repeat on MTV during the weeks after the tragedy. I like it more than "Walk On". And this version, like "Bad", falls into the Perfectly Acceptable Acoustic Live Version category. The bongos might be a bit much, but *shrug emoji*.
14. Red Hill Mining Town
The original version of this song had a really unique sound that worked with The Joshua Tree, and yet felt jarring, with Edge's guitar squeak. This version serves as a tribute to that, as it's much meatier than an other song on this album. It's more marching band than acoustic show. I like it. Bono's voice even sounds stronger here than on the earlier tracks.
15. Ordinary Love
When the original track, dedicated to Nelson Mandela came out, and Google had it categorized as Reggae I laughed someone else's ass off (I need mine, and am protective of it). It's never been reggae. This has never been an interesting song, either, and I actually fell asleep listening to it this morning. I legitimately dreamed I was texting someone about how boring this song was, and woke up and started searching for the text.
16. Sometimes You Can't Make It On Your Own
This was my surprise favorite song from How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb. Sure, I like "Vertigo" and "City Of Blinding Lights" just fine, but there was a real raw honesty to the original version of this song that's often absent from twenty-first century U2. This piano ballad version just sucks all of the intensity out of the original, and leaves a treacly melodramatic breathathon in its place. The new version of Can you hear me when I sing / You're the reason I sing / You're the reason why the opera is in me makes me viscerally angry. It's such an affront to the original take. It's between this and "One" for What's My Least Favorite Song On This Album.
Like "An Ordinary Love", I didn't immediately recognize what song this was, as I just never really listened to the original very often. It's like the song was so focused on the theme of "Invisible" that I can't even remember it unless I'm actually listening to it.
18. Dirty Day
This Zooropa song was a low-key bop on the original album, but when U2 released the Junk Day mix on the B-Side of "Please", I fell instantly in love. This version seems truer to the Junk Day Mix than the original, with bass accompimamet, then adds in percussion and strings. It's Very Sleep Inducing but, unlike, "Ordinary Love", it's not bad. It's just deliberately slow.
19. The Miracle (Of Joey Ramone)
ZzzzzzzZZZZZZzzzzzZZZZZZZZzzzzz. Huh? I woke up and this song was on. Another song from Songs Of Innocence or Songs Of Experience that I didn't like originally when I was combining them into Sometimes. I dont t'hink this version is an improvement, but I'm not inspired to go back and check out the original, either.
20. City Of Blinding Lights
Another unnecessary track. This is just a pared-down version of the How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb track but with weaker vocals. It would be an acceptable track for a live, acoustic show, but it's nothing special and certainly several steps down from the original cut.
The intro to this song hints at a wildly different version of the song before the guitar kicks in, and it's just another stripped down song with Bono toning down the power behind his vocals. There are verious interesting instrumentals popped in to the sections without vocals, but then the band seems to agree that Bono's vocals couldn't shine through them.
22. I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For
There are already two popular and well-loved versions of this song. The original The Joshua Tree version, and the incredible, gospel choir backed version from Rattle & Hum. If there is a third, defining version of this song, it's not the one on this album, which boasts a mediocre, low-pitched karaoke level performance with hints of the classic instrumentation buried under soft rock production.
23. Electrical Storm
Similarly, there are already two versions of this song floating around, neither of them as well-loved as the previous track. One of the two new songs on Best Of 1990-2000, there's a lush ballad feel to the William Orbital mix. The producer of Madonna's Ray Of Light making a B-side level song into an interesting bop. The regular version just felt boring, and poorly arranged in comparison. This feels like a slight, and only slight, reworking of that inferior version. It takes longer than either previous version to amp up the emotion. It gets slightly interesting just as it begins to fade out, again when Bono doesn't have any lyrics.
24. The Fly
There's a "Lounge Mix" version of this Achtung Baby track on the single. Yea, "The Fly" was the lead single for Achtung Baby. While I love the song, it's hardly the best song on the album. I like combining the original and the "Lounge Mix" into a sonically interesting mix. This new version had me for a bit at the beginning, but once Edge's background vocals kick in, it's downhill for a bit. It picks back up near the end, making this track ok but not a viable alternative to the previous versions.
25. If God Would Send His Angels
One of my favorite tracks off of Pop, boasts a fun, over-produced stomping "Big Yam Mix" as a B-side alternate take of the song. That's the version I put on my reimagined album, Popmart, as the real problem with U2's Pop is that it only sort of embraced dance music. The B-side mixes went All In, and in most cases, are the superior versions. This new version is, quel surprise, a stripped down piano ballad. It works better for this track than most of the others on this album. Even Bono's weaksauce falsetto about halfway through work in this song's favor. I don't think this is nearly as strong as The Big Yam Mix, but it might be better than the original version from Pop. Pushing the Where do we go lyric even deeper into the mix than it is in either previous version makes sense. And while I don't love The Edge's background arrangement on this version, they're hardly terrible.
Bono is not, and never will be, Prince. He certainly loves what he sometimes calls his falsetto soul voice. It's on full force on this reimagining of "Desire", and it's a terrible choice. This is a screamer of a song, not a cartoon internet meme from the late 90s. The vocals are incredibly incongruous with the heavy instrumentation. It just doesn't work. I applaud the big swing they took here, but they should have listened to the track and redone the vocals with Bono's gravelly old man voice.
27. Until The End Of The World
I used to love this Achtung Baby cut, but then I heard Patti Smith'e version on Ahk-Toong-Bay-Bi and it was such a better, more powerful version that I found the original rather silly. And this new version is pretty much just the acoustic version of the original, which wasn't heavily electronic. And, again, Bono does a verse in his falsetto, which is difficult to parse and not particularly fun to listen to.
28. Song For Someone
No, thank you. There are two versions of this song between Songs Of Experience and Songs Of Innocence. One is called "Song For Someone", the other is called "There Is A Light". Neither are bad songs but the world didn't need both. My reimagined album, Sometimes has pieces of these songs as a medley about lightness and darkness, which permeates Experience and Innocence. It's overly long, and threatened to put me back to sleep.
29. All I Want Is You
A seemingly music-box-inspired of this Rattle & Hum classic is another sucessful lullibyification. It almost begs for sing-along vocals (though I'm glad The Edge doesn't provide them). The sweeping build halfway through is undercut a little by Bono's completely unnecessary Yea! Yea! Yea!s but the song quickly recovers.
30. Peace On Earth
I'm not much of a fan of the original, which appears on All That You Can't Leave Behind. This version, which seems to be just The Edge, singing and playing guitar like some sort of hippie summer camp counselor, before some synths flow in like haunted background vocals, is a vast improvement and sounds like nothing else on this album, which is a good thing.
31. With Or Without You
Another hard pass for me. Bono tweaks the lyrics to one of his best written songs for no valuable reason. Otherwise, this is just a flat rerecording of the original with weaker vocals that warble around the key, and spare instrumentation.
32. Stay (Far Away, So Close!)
I made a face more appropriate for having eaten a "Lemon" when this song began. This is far and away the best song from Zooropa. The vocals were pitch perfect. Here, they're just low and forgettable until they're supposed to soar. In the original, Bono goes right up to the edge of his falsetto for a bit before finally breaking into it, and it's pure rock bombast. Here, he gently nudges his falsetto, and he just sounds tired, which doesn't work with the lyrics.
33. Sunday Bloody Sunday
On one of the Pop B-sides, The Edge takes over vocal duties for a slowed-down version of "Sunday, Bloody Sunday", and it's such a stark contrast to the original that it's haunting and really feels like the band doing something new. They reproduce that here, twenty-five years later, but with Bono on vocals. It's fine, I guess. Why Bono decided wipe your tears away needed to be changed to wipe your tears from your eyes baffles me. Did he think the U2 fans willing to buy this album wouldn't know where tears come from? He then pushes into a new final verse. I would like to reiterate that Bono hasn't become a better songwriter recently, and should maybe let his songs stand as they are.
34. Lights Of Home
Without going back and listening to the original Songs Of Experience track, I couldn't tell you what the difference between that version and this one is. I can only tell you that I think I like this one better.
35. Cedarwood Road
I almost just typed "ibid" but the original version for this song came from Songs Of Innocence. The only difference is that, while I like this version better, I still don't like it enough that I have any desire to listen to it again. It just doesn't inspire me in any way, nor does it have a memorable hook.
36. I Will Follow
The further away U2 is from the original material, the more interesting their reimaginings are. The new lyrics don't grab me, but I like the production here.
37. Two Hearts Beat As One
It's Disco U2! I thought they disappeared after Pop, but here, on this track from War, they go full 1970s dance pop. It's a damned delight. How was this song left off the standard issues of Songs Of Surrender while absolute slogs like "One" and "Pride (In The Name Of Love)" remained?
38. Miracle Drug
There are songs on How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb that I enjoy but don't often listen to because I rarely have the urge to listen to that era of U2. This is definitely one of them, and it does sound better with its drum-forward opening. I'm not sure if I'll listen to the reimagined Surrendered any more than I do to the reimagined No Line On The Horizon, which is where this track landed in my discography. But I do enjoy being exposed to this alternate take.
39. The Little Things That Give You Away
I included a heavily edited version of this song as part of the long light/dark medley on my reimagined Sometimes. I just think it's a one verse song until the end, where the song flips to the "Sometimes" portion, which I love. I think the second verse of this track is still unnecessary. But this is a beautiful version of the song. I appreciate that Bono enunciates the closing of the song better in this version.
The live version of this song on Under A Blood Red Sky, where the audience sings the band off the stage will always be the best version of this song. This version is an improvement over the original track on War. It makes sense as the closing song of this experiment but on an album that's pretty much forty ballads, it doesn't really stand out.