(Photo courtesy of Spotify) “U2 delivers a tribute to their long-running career on ‘Songs of Surrender'”
In recent years, it has become a popular trend for successful musical artists to dip back into their catalog and re-record older material. This trend picked up steam in 2021 when Taylor Swift began releasing re-recorded versions of each of her studio albums to gain ownership of the master recordings.
A year earlier, unbeknownst to anyone, Irish rock legends U2 took advantage of coronavirus-induced lockdowns to begin reimagining 40 of their songs, some with drastically different lyrics and arrangements.
Appropriately, the group chose St. Patrick’s Day to release “Songs of Surrender,” a collection of these 40 tracks divided into four volumes. “Songs of Surrender” (or “SOS,” as the band has been calling it in promotional interviews) is the group’s first release since 2017. The title refers to their previous two album releases: 2014’s “Songs of Innocence” and 2017’s “Songs of Experience.”
While some of the reimagined tracks (“Beautiful Day” and “Vertigo,” for instance) are simply acoustic versions of the songs, the majority of the tracks are vastly different from the originals.
“Stories for Boys,” originally from the group’s 1980 debut album, “Boy,” is stripped down to keyboards. Rather than a punk anthem, the song is now a piano ballad, featuring beautiful vocals from The Edge. While The Edge still handles all of the guitar duties on the collection, he also sings multiple lead vocals.
There are some slow spots on the album, which is inevitable on a collection of 40 songs. “Every Breaking Wave” from 2014’s “Songs of Innocence,” has already been re-recorded three times previous to this version, and each of these is nearly identical.
The 1988 song, “Desire,” was initially a frenetic display of power-pop, and it’s now rendered absent of any energy, while Bono’s falsetto cracks throughout.
Perhaps the strongest pieces on the album come when the band nearly entirely reinvents their hits.
“Bad,” initially a sweeping arena-rock anthem, is now a slow-burning acoustic piece. It is “Bad” which gives “SOS” its title. As the track nears its end, Bono’s ad-libs say, “This is a song of surrender.”
U2’s 2000 song, “Walk On,” has inadvertently found itself with a controversial history. Bono wrote the song about Burmese politician Aung San Suu Kyi, who was under house arrest at the time for winning an election against the nation’s dictators. Suu Kyi was later freed and granted leadership of the renamed Myanmar, where she was later convicted of atrocities against Muslims and unlawful arrests of journalists.
On “SOS,” the now-titled “Walk On (Ukraine)” is given new life. The lyrics have been completely rewritten and now address the people of Ukraine, urging them to “Walk On” for freedom. This version of the song debuted during a live performance that Bono and The Edge gave in a Ukrainian bomb shelter in early 2022.
Another track from 2000’s “All That You Can’t Leave Behind,” “Stuck in a Moment (You Can’t Get Out Of)” is presented beautifully in an acoustic format. This arrangement of the song was previously done during the U2 360° Tour in 2009-11. The song was written as an imaginary conversation between Bono and his friend, INXS singer Michael Hutchence, who committed suicide in 1997. On the “SOS” version, drummer Larry Mullen Jr. is assisted by his son, Ezra on the tambourine.
Mullen, who founded U2 in 1976, underwent multiple surgeries during the pandemic to address longtime back issues, which date back to 1987. In an interview with Rolling Stone, The Edge noted that Mullen was unable to play a full drum kit for the majority of the SOS sessions. While Mullen still contributed new percussions to every song, most of the drums on the album come from drum loops recorded for previous albums.
Bassist Adam Clayton shines throughout the album as well. On “City of Blinding Lights,” Clayton’s bass drives the instrumental sections of the song. Often described as the “jazzman of the band,” Clayton also gets to shine on a reimagined version of “The Fly,” presented as though being played by a jazz band in an underground club.
Appropriately, the 40th and final track on the album is “40,” which has traditionally been used as the final track during U2 concerts. An adaptation of Psalm 40 from the Bible, the song is centered around keys from The Edge and bass from Clayton, who notably did not play on the original version of the track in 1982.
There’s a line that Bono sings in the track’s chorus, which says, “How long, to sing this song?” The rest of U2 fans are also wondering how long will fans of U2 sing these 40 songs. With the new life given here, U2 has left even more of an impact on fans of rock music.