Musical artists covering themselves is hardly an unknown concept these days, but U2 is still going about it in an unusual way, having recut 40 of the band’s catalog songs for a new album due in March, titled “Songs of Surrender.” They’re not subtitling the album “U2’s Versions,” and the band isn’t involved in any contractual dispute that’s caused them to record soundalike tracks. Instead, the Edge is saying, the four members wanted to “bring these songs back with us to the present day and give them the benefit, or otherwise, of a 21st century re-imagining.”
U2 hasn’t announced the project through a press release or any of the formal channels, but has been dribbling the information out to fans. The long-expected project (which last year many assumed would come out in conjunction with Bono’s memoir, “Surrender: 40 Songs, One Story”) will arrive March 17, according to a one-minute YouTube teaser the band put up Tuesday.
Hand-numbered photocopies of a letter handwritten by the Edge have started showing up in fans’ mailboxes. In that letter, the band’s guitarist explains the intention behind the new album. “The fact is that most of our work was written and recorded when we were a bunch of very young men. Those songs mean something quite different to us now. Some have grown with us. Some we have outgrown. But we have not lost sight of what propelled us to write those songs in the first place. The essence of those songs is still in us, but how to reconnect with that essence when we have moved on, and grown so much?”
He continues, “Music allows you to time travel and so we started to imagine what it would be like to bring these songs back with us to the present day and give them the benefit or otherwise, of a 21st century re-imagining. What started as an experiment quickly became a personal obsession as so many early U2 songs yielded to a new interpretation. Intimacy replaced post-punk urgency. New keys. New chords. New tempos and new lyrics arrived. It turns out that a great song is kind of indestructible. Once we surrendered our reverence for the original version each song started to open up to a new authentic voice of this time, of the people we are, and particularly the singer Bono has become. … I hope you like our new direction.”
Fans have been able to piece together what they believe is the track list for “Songs of Surrender,” based on clues laden in U2’s Spotify listings. On Tuesday, the site U2songs.com published what it believes may be the final track listing, based on those clues.
According to U2songs.com, a Morse code rendering of the album title that was found at the top of the Edge’s letter to fans is also included in a video snippet that has been embedded in exactly 40 tracks by the band, strongly suggesting that those will be the 40 tracks remade for “Songs of Surrender.”
It had been expected that the 40 songs Bono uses as chapter titles in his book would align with the 40 songs on the album, but it doesn’t appear to be turning out to be quite that exact a correlation. There are 28 tracks that appear as chapter titles that have what the website is calling “the Morse code effect,” but then there are another 12 picks that differ from the memoir to the album.
U2songs.com notes that of the 40 self-covers on the new album, “All That You Can’t Leave Behind” is the prior album that is best represented, with five remakes, followed by “The Joshua Tree,” “Achtung Baby” and “Songs of Experience” with four each, three apiece from “Boy,” “War,” “How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb” and “Songs of Innocence,” two each from “The Unforgettable Fire,” “Rattle and Hum” and “Zooropa,” one from “Pop,” and four non-album tracks. No songs have been recut from “October,” “No Line on the Horizon” or the Passengers side project, according to the listing.
Bono mentioned the album in his “Surrender” memoir, published in November, writing: “During lockdown we were able to reimagine 40 U2 tracks for the ‘Songs of Surrender’ collection, which gave me a chance to live inside those songs again as I wrote this memoir. It also meant I could deal with something that’s been nagging me for some time. The lyrics on a few songs that I’ve always felt were never quite written. They are now. (I think.)”
Bono did short U.S. and European solo tours behind his book, consisting of mostly spoken-word text from the memoir and some musical performance elements, in November and December. He has announced an additional 11-date residency at New York’s Beacon Theatre in April and May. Variety cited his Los Angeles show at the Orpheum as one of the best concerts of the year, calling the show “‘Bruce Springsteen on Broadway’ meets an acrobat’s act, figuratively and almost literally.”
U2 was celebrated in December at the Kennedy Center Honors. In an interview with the Washington Post prior to that ceremony, drummer Larry Mullen Jr. said he did not expect the group to tour in 2023, citing surgery he requires as one reason for that. A new studio album has been in the works for some time, but interviews with the band members for the Post story suggested that it is not yet near completion.
Variety was not able to immediately reach reps for the band to confirm details of the new release, which is expected to be formally announced shortly.
From Variety US