ALBUM REVIEW: U2 – Songs of Surrender

3.5 rating
U2 - Songs of Surrender

U2 has a long storied history of releasing interesting live recordings and album compilations between their official studio releases. Their latest compilation Songs of Surrender is released on March 17th following up their 2017 album Songs of Experience.

Unlike their other between-album offerings, this one is characterized as a re-imagination of songs that span throughout the band’s existence. There are forty songs in total, ten under each band member’s heading. Band guitarist The Edge oversaw the production to re-approaching the songs from a different angle.

As a disclaimer, I have to confess I am a dyed-in-the-wool fan of U2 so I am extremely familiar with their music. One of the major mistakes in Songs of Surrender is the re-configuring of U2’s epic blockbusters. When these huge, easily recognizable songs are compared to the re-imagined tracks the originals win the battle. Tracks like Beautiful Day, Pride (In the Name of Love) and Sometimes You Can’t Make It On Your Own are already perfect so the re-arranging of the songs causes the listener to wonder why anyone would want to pull them around in the first place.

The go-to treatment of a majority of the songs is acoustic guitar and pianos with very little percussion or bass, which takes away from the power of what U2 does best which is providing inspired anthemic sonic magic. There are numerous examples of unnecessary re-imagining, but some of the worst offenders are Where The Streets Have No Name, Vertigo, Until the End of The World and Sunday Bloody Sunday. These songs come across as very flat without the magnificent drums, bass lines and electric guitar codas that make these songs classics. If these songs have to be included then maybe more recent live versions of these songs would have been a better choice.

More upsetting is how songs from the albums Boy and October were re-imagined. Confining the accompaniment to acoustic guitars and pianos completely undermines the Post Punk vibe that was rife in those early albums. For example Stories for Boys and 11 O’Clock Tick Tock were alluring “flat-out” post-punk songs that put U2 on the map. Now they are slowed down and in the case of I Will Follow it is turned into an ersatz folk song. A mandolin is used instead of the incendiary electric guitar that produced a bouncy classic that once sent listeners pogoing around the room.

However the release is not all bad, the deeper tracks, b-sides and newer songs do deliver more satisfaction. There is a phenomenon that carries throughout the release, where songs that are less ingrained in the listener’s memory like Every Breaking Wave, Invisible, Electrical Storm and Lights of Home respond better to the re-imagining when compared to the originals. Deep tracks like Dirty Day and Who’s Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses are more compelling in their new versions. Another positive is that Bono’s vocals are to be lauded. The sparse accompaniment allows his rich timbered vocals to feature on track after track.

One of the unintentional takeaways from the release is how it stresses how important Larry Mullen and Adam Clayton are to the sonics of the band. The frequent lack of their familiar contributions on percussion and bass makes this offering a very long listen indeed.

The final verdict on Songs of Surrender is the attempt to improve on what is already magnificent is a futile exercise. Re-imagining 40 songs is a Herculean task that in the end probably should not have been attempted if this is the outcome. Only a handful of tracks engage the listener while the new renditions of classics will not click with long-time fans. U2’s between studio album releases are, in the end, stop gaps until a new release once again amazes us all.

In the U2 discography of in-between studio album releases; Zooropa, is the very best of its kind, Unfortunately, Songs of Surrender is the most disappointing of U2’s efforts in this category.


Xsnoize Author
Lori Gava 335 Articles
Lori has been with XS Noize from the beginning and contributes album reviews regularly. Fav bands/artists: Radiohead, U2, The Cure, Arcade Fire, The Twilight Sad, Beck, Foals, Sufjan Stevens Fav Albums: In Rainbows, Achtung Baby, Disintegration, Funeral, Sea Change, Holy Fire, Nobody Wants to be Here and Nobody Wants to Leave.

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