Album: Songs of Experience***1/2
One of the many (many) things that the Trump presidency has been blamed for is the delay in the release of U2’s fourteenth album, Songs of Experience. The Irish rock band had originally planned a 2016 release for the follow-up to 2014’s Songs of Innocence (which famously became a frontrunner for the "most deleted album in music history" title when it was forced upon iTunes users without their consent almost three years ago). But the shifting global political landscape inspired the band to rethink and revamp the material they had recorded for the project. The result is an album that is often politically charged and socially aware, yet surprisingly optimistic in tone.
With Jacknife Lee and Ryan Tedder primarily in charge of production, this 13-song set serves as a companion to its predecessor, and paints the picture of a band that is attempting to be current while searching for relevancy, yet unwilling to musically challenge themselves.
There are earnest sentiments (delivered through Bono’s unsubtle lyrics) and well-crafted melodies aplenty (which doesn’t come as a surprise since we already have nearly 40 years’ worth of evidence that this band knows how to come up with a memorable rock tune). And there are contributions by some of pop music’s current hit-makers - primarily Haim (who appear on ‘Lights of Home’), Lady Gaga (who provides backing vocals on the tepid ‘Summer of Love’), and Kendrick Lamar (who sounds powerful yet a little out of place at the intersection of ‘Get Out of Your Own Way’ and ‘American Soul’).
But the instruments here are often restrained, the inclination to experiment rarely realized. It’s all very competently done, but you can’t always feel the passion. Even with all the work that has gone into its making, Songs of Experience sounds like U2 on autopilot, and that ultimately serves as both its main merit and primary disappointment.
Highlights: ‘Lights of Home’, ‘Red Flag Day’, ‘The Showman (Little More Better)’, ‘Love Is Bigger Than Anything in Its Way’
Artist: Noel Gallagher’s
High Flying Birds
Album: Who Built the Moon?****
The dissolution of British rock band Oasis may have left many of their fans broken hearted and yearning for a reunion, but the break has also given the warring Gallagher brothers a chance to pursue their own projects. Liam has been off doing his own thing (while incessantly slagging "rkid" for all his faux pas, real and perceived) and Noel has been making music with his High Flying Birds. Who Built the Moon?, the new album by the latter, catches the elder Gallagher sibling in a chipper mood, and we’re not complaining.
Infectious first single ‘Holy Mountain’ captures the up-tempo energy of the old Oasis B-side ‘Round Are Way’ and - say what you will about its lyrics - is catchy as hell (until some evil cretin mentions that it kinda sounds like Ricky Martin’s ‘She Bangs’ and ruins the song forever). The guitar pop of ‘She Taught Me How to Fly’ brims with joy. And the throwback goodness of the terrific ‘Black & White Sunshine’ is so R.E.M. reminiscent that it will leave you nostalgic for the American band’s heyday.
There are trumpets and cello and even tin whistle in the mix here in what is the most satisfying release by Noel’s solo outfit. Perhaps it is the influence of producer David Holmes - who has previously scored several Steven Soderbergh films - that makes this record so vibrant. Ultimately, Who Built the Moon? is a well-crafted record infused with psychedelic and glam influences that is thoroughly enjoyable. And while it may not attempt to reinvent the wheel, it does see the band traverse some interesting ground.
Highlights: ‘Fort Knox’, ‘Holy Mountain’, ‘It’s a Beautiful World’, ‘Black & White Sunshine’