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"Craft is what enables you to be successful
when you're not inspired." - Brian Eno
Q FEBRUARY 2016 - by Dorian Lynskey
U2 DELIVERS SONGS OF EXPERIENCE
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Whenever Bono has talked about U2's forthcoming album Songs Of Experience, he's added a caveat. As he told Q last year, "I'm not the best at predicting things." Indeed, 2014's Songs Of Innocence took far longer than expected, while Songs Of Ascent, originally mooted as a companion album to No Line On The Horizon back in 2009, still hasn't materialised. "We're really optimistic that we're on top of our game and we can finish this one quickly," Adam Clayton tells Q, "but you never know until you get under the bonnet and get the screwdriver out."
As soon as Bono latched on to the idea of William Blake's 1789 poetry collection Songs Of Innocence And Of Experience, he committed the band to delivering two albums. In fact, the Innocence + Experience tour, currently on hold, was scheduled on that basis. "The intention was always that we started on the Songs Of Innocence album and go through to the Experience album," says Clayton. "We'll start the show up with additional material towards the end of the year. We like the idea that there's a rounding of the circle." The second half of the tour demands the album be ready by the autumn.
If there's a precedent, then it's 1993's Zooropa, the Achtung Baby sequel that U2 finished during the Zoo TV tour. "I know [producer, Brian] Eno would love to see us making albums a bit more like that," says The Edge. "Where we go, 'You know what? We're not going to second-guess any of this. Let's just go for it.' I think there's a quality you get when there's a certain momentum to the process." He added that U2 could probably finish recording the existing songs in "four to six weeks" but needed to write some more.
Last year, Bono played Q four new songs in various states of completion. Instrument Flying had a sleek, motorik quality; The Little Things That Give You Away was vibrantly anthemic; Much More Better was a deeply personal acoustic demo about Bono's recovery from his bike accident; and the tense, heavy Civilisation sounded like a surefire album opener. Bono described Larry Mullen's colossal drum roll in the middle of the song as "my favourite bit on a U2 album in years." He also previewed an untitled, riff-heavy song related to Songs Of Innocence's Volcano, mentioned the titles Landlady and Where The Shadows Fall, and said that the producers so far included Slaves' producer Jolyon Thomas and Andy Barlow of electronic duo Lamb. Elsewhere, he has talked about songs called Red Flag Day and Get Out Of Your Own Way.
Bono said the album benefited from his accident, because recuperation meant that the only work he could do was songwriting. "The gift of it was that I had time to write while in the mentality that you get to at the end of an album," he said. "There is a reason why all the great groups made their best albums while in and around touring, because the ideas have to come out of your head."
Last October, Bono told Entertainment Weekly that U2 had finished around eighteen songs from which they would choose a dozen. He described the new material's mood as "very epic. It's very up. And, you know, that's probably what the experience has taught us: to be fully in the moment and that fun is respected, and joy is not to be let go of." But the album is also likely to have its soul-searching moments. During interviews for Songs Of Innocence, Bono enjoyed reciting the lyrics to a key song called The Morning After Innocence: "Lead me in the way I should go / I'm running out of chances to blow." He explained, "The older protagonist is asking the younger one for help."
In U2 world, deadlines are malleable and songs change all the time but after the epic slog of Songs Of Innocence the band seem determined to work faster. "We're all culpable for taking a while," Bono told Q. "But that can't go on." He's even talked about finally finishing Songs Of Ascent, making it the third album in a "Songs" trilogy, but that might be one prediction too far.