When Bono first announced in the afterword of his 2022 memoir Surrender: 40 Songs, One Story his plans to reimagine 40 U2 tracks, the concept sounded intriguing — especially for anyone who experienced his recent stripped-back solo show, ‘Stories Of Surrender’. Backed by just a cellist, a harpist and musical director Jacknife Lee, the frontman breathed new life into his band’s stadium classics by breaking them down into stirring, heartfelt stories of his own.
So it was a tad disappointing when The Edge later confirmed that the whole band had been involved in the “reimagining and re-recording” process, with the release of a somewhat sanitised version of ‘Pride (In The Name Of Love)’ hardly allaying fears about the project. Further uninspiring takes on ‘With Or Without You’ and ‘One’ followed, as did the increasingly unshakable belief that maybe these songs shouldn’t have been messed with in the first place.
Thankfully, ‘Songs Of Surrender’ isn’t quite the disaster it initially threatened to be. Sure, some of the Irish four-piece’s biggest songs (‘Pride’, ‘Where The Streets Have No Name’, ‘The Fly’) have been stripped of their epic brilliance, but a number of U2’s early tracks and deep cuts have been thoughtfully reworked here through older and wiser eyes. The youthful post-punk urgency of ‘Stories For Boys’, for instance, has been transformed into a poignant, plinking piano ballad which gives off an air that life has become complicated with age. The Edge takes lead vocals here, singing Bono’s altered lyrics: “There’s a place I go that isn’t part of me / Like a radio with no controls / In my imagination, there’s only static and flow.”
Early single ‘11 O’Clock Tick Tock’, which was produced by the late Factory Records legend Martin Hannett, has been modified with jaunty acoustic licks and twinkling keys for an alternative take that is both moving and uplifting. Divisive electro number ‘Invisible’, meanwhile, is actually an improvement on the original, with the tapping drum beats being swapped for strumming acoustic strings and a Western-style saloon piano, while Bono and The Edge warmly trade vocals like two old crooners in a bar.
U2 haven’t shied away from expressing their political beliefs here, either. Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Bono has publicly campaigned for peace: he and The Edge performed in a Kyiv subway station-turned-bomb shelter in May 2022, while he recently joined Antytila for a surprise performance in London. Altered lyrics to the ‘All That You Can’t Leave Behind’ single ‘Walk On’ reference war-torn Ukraine, with Bono defiantly singing: “And if the dancer on the street wears a veil of tears / It’s a dance no army can defeat.”
There is disappointment that a number of U2’s big-hitters don’t translate well on ‘Stories For Surrender’, but this revision hasn’t been a totally fruitless endeavour: you just have to dig a little bit deeper to find the reimagined material that’s truly worth savouring.
Release date: March 17
Record label: Island