U2 – Songs Of Surrender

A project of rediscovery...

Redefined, reimagined and revitalised  – the rock pioneers’ revisit some of their most compelling work from their epic career with ‘Songs of Surrender’.

In Bono’s recently-released memoir he jokes that “the Edge is from the future” but it seems that U2 are looking firmly back at the past via their four-decade strong illustrious career with their latest album ‘Songs Of Surrender’. This collection of 40 seminal U2 songs from across the band’s back-catalogue of 14 studio albums which have sold 170 million copies worldwide have been re-recorded and re-imagined for 2023.

Originally intended as an audio accompaniment to the aforementioned memoir Surrender: 40 Songs, One Story, the project has taken on a life of its own and provides a fascinating new appeal and sonic approach to the Irish rockers’ work. It seems that U2 and in particular Bono and the Edge are not just revisiting and rediscovering their music, but are also reflecting and rediscovering themselves.

Curated and produced by The Edge, ‘Songs of Surrender’ sees the band revisit some of the most celebrated songs of their career, including ‘With Or Without You’, ‘The Fly’, ‘Beautiful Day’, ‘Sunday Bloody Sunday’ and ‘I Will Follow’, with a musical reimagining resulting in a completely new recording of each track, to include new arrangements, new tempos, and, in some cases, new lyrics.

It’s all about re-interpretation when it comes to this collection of songs where post-punk urgency and youthful exuberance have been replaced with intimacy and almost meditative experience. The arrangements and productions are emotive, stripped back and at times almost other-wordly.

Each of the 40 newly recorded tracks has been curated into four collections of ten chosen songs of each band member. Whilst the album does start with ‘One’ from 1991’s ‘Achtung Baby’ and closes with ‘40’ which was the final track to their third visceral and politically-inspired album ‘War’, it doesn’t follow any chronological pattern, but ebbs and flows in its own unique way. 

When it comes to new lyrics, one example of that is in their seminal track ‘Pride (In the Name of Love)’ which has a update to the original line about how Martin Luther King Jr. was shot “Early evening, April four / A shot rings out in the Memphis sky.” This was a line that Bono has waited almost 40 years to rewrite and is one of the tracks where all the band feature. 

There’s also an update lyrically on tracks like ‘Beautiful Day’ and ‘Stories for Boys’ which first appeared on U2’s debut in 1980. Initially a coming of age track, this has been brought into 2023 with a fresh approach based on the U2 of now, as opposed to four young men coming of age in Dublin in the early 80s.

One of the most notable changes is on for the anthemic ‘Walk On’ which has been reimagined to pay tribute to Volodymyr Zelensky. It was originally written for Aung San Suu Kyi, the Burmese political prisoner on 2000’s ‘All That You Can’t Leave Behind’ but has been reworked for today’s political landscape. Politically-motivated lyrics have always been a driving force for U2 and the song has been brought right up to date for the modern day.

Referencing Zelensky’s journey from a one-time stand up comedian to president of the Ukraine. With new lines like: “And if the comic takes the stage… / This is not a curtain call / This is the greatest act of all / A STAND UP FOR FREEDOM.”

Whilst the members of U2 have always maintained that there’s no member bigger than the band, on ‘Songs of Surrender’, it is predominantly Bono and the Edge that are sonically front and centre due to the minimalist arrangement. Larry Mullen Jr and Adam Clayton do make appearances throughout the album, but it is predominantly The Edge and Bono that are representing U2 on this record. 

U2 are no strangers to attacking huge themes in their music, and this is no exception for their fifteenth album. The overarching theme is intimacy which is predominantly achieved acoustically complete with a pared back production. This re-interpretation of existing U2 tracks is strangely touching and is an impressive showcase of their revered work which includes the big anthemic hits as well as more deep cuts like ‘11 O’Clock Tick Tock’ from ‘Boy’ and ‘Ordinary Love’ which appeared on the soundtrack ‘Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom’.

Bono attacks the lyrics across the 40 strong tracks in an understated fashion. There’s still an abundance of deep emotion that is synonymous with the frontman, but there’s also an undeniable current of almost touching vulnerability too. This is especially evident with U2’s most-loved song ‘With Or Without You’, which feels more raw and emotionally-charged than the original if that’s even possible.

‘City of Blinding Lights’ from ‘How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb’ is a stunning reinterpretation of the original as is the underrated ‘Cedarwood Road’ which has amped up the bluesy rock ‘n’ roll  riff from the original sounds like it could have been a cover of a Johnny Cash original.

An absolute standout of the album is the magnificent ‘Desire’ with Bono’s far-reaching falsetto which combined with Edge’s production of driving beats takes an already great track to sublime levels.

Most of the tracks work with the new pared-back arrangement, but there are exceptions: ‘The Miracle of Joey Ramone’ from 2014’s ‘Songs of Innocence’ doesn’t quite work. It maintains a feeling of moodiness and grit, but feels somewhat confused. Similarly, the ending of ‘Bad’ from ‘The Unforgettable Fire’ leaves you feeling a little bit short-changed, but on the whole, each of the tracks have been sensitively reworked and in some cases elevated even beyond the original.

‘Songs Of Surrender’ is so much more than just an unplugged ‘greatest hits’ quadruple album. This is a stunning showcase of milestone moments and more from the Irish quartet. It’s a touching journey reflecting on how the four boys changed into men and changed the world through the power of music at the same time.


Words: Emma Harrison

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