In reimagining 40 of their best-known songs, U2 recognized that many fans would experience them through earphones connected to a device in their pockets — rather than being belted out onstage.
That was one thought behind “Songs of Surrender,”coming out this week. The four men of U2, now either 61 or 62 years old, revisit material written in some cases when they were little more than kids out of Dublin.
Particularly in those days, U2 songs were written primarily with concerts in mind. The Edge told The Associated Press in an interview that U2 wanted to catch the attention of people seeing the band for the first time, perhaps in a festival or as an opening act.
“There's a sort of gladiatorial aspect to live performances when you're in that situation,” he said. “The material has got to be pretty bold and even strident at times. With this reimagining, we thought it would be fun to see intimacy as a new approach, that intimacy would be the new punk rock, as it were.”
The Edge was the driving force behind “Songs of Surrender,” using pandemic down time to record much of the music at home.
Given that his electric guitar and Bono's voice are the musical signature of U2, there's a certain irony in the absence of that guitar being the most immediately noticeable feature of the new versions. He sticks primarily to keyboards, acoustic guitar and dulcimer.
The process began without a roadmap or commitment to see it through if it wasn't working.
“As we got into it and got into a groove, we really started to enjoy what was happening,” he said. “There was a lot of freedom in the process, it was joyful and fun to take these songs and sort of reimagine them and I think that comes across. It doesn't sound like there was a lot of hard work involved because it wasn't.”
Much of the intimacy comes through Bono's voice. There's no need to shout, so he sometimes uses lower registers or slips into falsetto.
Lyrics are often rewritten, sometimes extensively in even a recent song like “The Miracle of Joey Ramone.” Some changes are more subtle but still noticeable: replacing the line “one man betrayed with a kiss” with “one boy never will be kissed” takes Jesus out of “Pride (In the Name of Love).”
At the same time, “Sunday Bloody Sunday” is rearranged to end with a question: “where is the victory Jesus won?”
Cellos replace the driving guitar of “Vertigo.” Keyboards give “Where the Streets Have No Name” an ambient sound. "Two Hearts Beat as One," the original a high-octane rock dance song, now has a slinkier, sexy vibe and is one of four songs where The Edge takes lead vocal.
The band is fairly democratic in taking songs from throughout its catalog, although 1981's “October” album and 2009's “No Line on the Horizon” are not represented. “New Year's Day,” “Angel of Harlem” and “Even Better Than the Real Thing” are among the songs left alone.
“We’re one of the only acts that has this body of work where a project like this would be possible, with the distance of time and experience where it would be interesting to revisit early songs,” The Edge said.
Throughout music history, bands have occasionally re-recorded material for contractual reasons. Taylor Swift is the most famous example, putting out new versions of her older songs in order to control their use. Squeeze's “Spot the Difference” makes sport of how they tried to make new recordings indistinguishable from the originals.
Live recordings and archive-cleaning projects like Bob Dylan's “bootleg” series gives fans the chance to hear familiar songs differently.
Many older artists don't see the point of making new music, since there's little opportunity to be heard and fans are partial to the familiar stuff, anyway, said Anthony DeCurtis, Rolling Stone contributing editor.
“Revisiting your body of work in a creative way is a means of sustaining interest in your career,” DeCurtis said. “Older fans might not be interested in another collection of your hits, but reworking them in a meaningful way could prove enticing. Younger fans don't have the same investment in your classics, so these new versions offer a route into your catalog.”
The Edge encourages fans to give the new versions a try, suggesting they may even grow to prefer some of them.
“I don't think there's a competition between these and the original versions,” he said. "It's more of an additive thing than a substitution. If you like the new arrangements, great. If you prefer the originals, keep listening.
“It's no problem either way,” he said. “They're both valid.”
The Edge said he's working on new music for U2, “and we've got some great stuff in the pipeline.”
The quartet that met in drummer Larry Mullen Jr.'s kitchen when they answered an ad placed on a high school bulletin board is a remarkable story in longevity. A passage toward the end of Bono's book “Surrender,” where he talked about looking around onstage at the end of their most recent tour in 2019 and wondering if it was the end, raised natural questions about how long U2 would continue.
“There are many reasons why U2 has stayed together for so long, but one of the main reasons is that it works so well for us as individuals,” The Edge said. “I think we all shine the brightest as part of this collective. I certainly would not like to hang up the guitar.”
This year will provide a test for a band that can count on one hand the number of times it has performed without all four members. U2 has committed to a run of shows in Las Vegas without Mullen, who is recuperating from surgery.
Would U2 continue if one of the original quartet decides it's time to hang it up?
“I wouldn't rule out the possibility that we could go forward with different members,” The Edge said. “But also, equally, I could imagine us deciding not to. It would be a big challenge. But I think at the time we would know what felt right.”© Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.
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Why? Oh right, money grab.
Spot on @tokyo_joe! Seems like inflation is hitting these multi-millionaires hard, too. Now they're "reinventing" their music to pay for upgrades to their mansions and private jets. Oh the horror of it all.
It's unlikely to be about money. These are not poor people.
Fans often dislike remixes and may consider them cash grabs, but musicians often want to explore and rework their own music. They are creative folk. They can feel trapped within the confines of the hits that define them in the public imagination. The ones the punters want to hear at every single gig.
It's about viewing the creative process from two sides. Musicians want to experiment. An audience that grew up on specific tracks may want to stick with the originals - especially if it is the soundtrack of their youth.
'They're both valid' is a good quote.
This happens in other arts as well, but not so often. Wordsworth rewrote 'The Prelude' later in life. The original was the work of a young rebel poet. The later version isn't. Many people (including me) prefer the original, but they are both valid as works of literature.
Not really. Music doesn't just freeze when it is recorded, a recording is only a single snapshot of the song at a given time. Songs evolve over time, and a band like U2 who has been playing for decades have probably seen ways to evolve their music in new ways they'd like to explore. This is part of their repertoire, not their history.
Don't like it? Don't buy it. But it's silly to whine about it.
In other words, he is saying it is all about the money for them. Any musician who still cares about music is going to create regardless of whether anyone wants to hear it or not. Otherwise they become cover bands for their own music.
Guys like Robert Plant or Jeff Beck have never rested and continued to explore music without seeking commercial gain. Plant especially has refused to regroup Led Zeppelin. A wealthy musician especially shouldn't care about whether the fans will like it. Money should give them the freedom to pursue their art.
This seems like a halfway step for U2. Maybe it will be interesting. But I would think new music would be more interesting. If they want younger fans they should do something new to draw them in, like Sparks has done.
Basically cover versions of their own songs. As with all cover versions, if they can bring something new and good to the song, then that's good.
Golden era U2 is all about the big Lanois/Eno production and the Edge playing through that rack-mounted digital delay, which credit to him was his own sound, so I don't know how much will be left if you strip that away. The Edge is a pretty good singer, so that's one thing they could utilize more.
Sounds like a tree falling in the forest with no one around to hear it.
The Greatest Irish Rock-n-Roll Export has been doing remixes of their hit singles even when they were initially released. They've been issuing remix EPs like 'U2-7' (seven tracks from their 2000 album remixed) and more all along. This really isn't anything new, not for these guys.
And that's the BEST attitude about it. Paul McCartney keeps making new music, he recently put out a 'techno' version of his 'rockdown' CD 'McCartney III'. Of course other acts like Taylor Swift, Pink Floyd and even Blue Oyster Cult have released rerecorded and/or remixed CDs. Pink Floyd especially has done that for 2 albums already.
Besides, U2 has been dabbing with techno since 1988's 'Rattle and Hum'. And I just LOVE that 'Zooropa' CD from 1993 - thirty years ago.
I love U2 and look forward to these remixes ! The Unforgettable Fire and Achtung Baby were outstanding albums.
As for those cynics suggesting U2 are doing this for a cash grab, get real. They are all equally worth hundreds of millions.
Absolutely! Brian Eno production magic.
The last time I checked, no-one is being forced to buy their music. People do have a choice, if you don't like what they are doing, don't buy it or listen to the music on any streaming service. I for one, will be following my own advice and not giving a damn about these remixes.
What in the name of blue hell are they wearing???
I don't know if they are" the greatest" Irish rock band, but they were very good at one point, I think there were better Irish bands, but they are the most recognizable for sure, as for the music, I can't really so so much about their remixes, I think when a band does a remix of anything, you really need to know what you are doing and what style you want to work with, remixes don't always work for every genre and for the most part U2's music doesn't seem to fit within that remix mold, of course, music is always subjective, but I don't see it happening.
I will say that I do have a fundamental problem with McCartney going off on a music tangent, it hasn't always worked so well for him in the past, it's always a hit or misses with him, but he did write some very intricate basslines that are technically and rhythmically a challenge as a Beatle and later with Wings, defintely some of his songs from that era were underrated.
Swift, I am not at all surprised, the woman is a great marketer without a doubt.
With all due respect I think IMHO Zooropa was the bands worst album it just sucked and a lot of the critics excoriated that album. Personally, I think that after Rattle and Hum, the bands best days were over, but up until that point they produced some of the most memorable music in the late 70's and early 80's.
Theyve become what they once despised, but that happened quite some time ago.