“The Edge Talks About U2’s Intimate Re-imagining of Biggest Hits on ‘Songs Of Surrender'”
“WE wanted to give people the sense that Bono is literally singing in their ear,” says The Edge.
This might not be to everyone’s taste (!!) but it tells you a lot about U2’s new album.
In the band’s new album, Songs Of Surrender, we hear Bono as never before, toning down the rock superstar and upping the range, emotion and expression in that familiar voiceCredit: Kurt Iswarienko
Ever since this band of Dublin school chums got together in the late Seventies, it has always been a case of all for one and one for allCredit: AFP
Guitarist Edge has overseen arresting reinventions of 40 tracks from across the past four decades under the banner Songs Of Surrender.
He has replaced the band’s stadium-sized sound and their frontman’s stadium-sized swagger with intimate, nuanced, subtly textured performances.
So we hear Bono as never before, toning down the rock superstar and upping the range, emotion and expression in that familiar voice.
And though this album is a companion piece to his memoir Surrender, the singer would be the first to say the project is not all about him.
Ever since this band of Dublin school chums got together in the late Seventies, it has always been a case of all for one and one for all . . . despite a few typically rock ’n’ roll bust-ups along the way.
Edge is the quietly effective alchemist whose riffs, hooks and melodies give a touch of class to U2’s recorded output.
With his steady hand steering the Songs Of Surrender ship, it’s small wonder that he’s created this illuminating new addition to it.
The full edition features four ten-track discs, each named after a band member . . . The Edge, Larry Mullen Jr, Adam Clayton and Bono in that order.
Of course, there’s a huge element of nostalgia on display but new arrangements and significant lyric changes make these recordings the aural equivalent of a computer update.
“I was aiming for three things — to have more feeling, to be more personal and for it to sound of the moment,” says Edge.
Crucially, he found the songs to be “indestructible” no matter what he and the rest of band threw at them.
In this second part of my interview with the beanie-wearing guitarist, he talks about how the project came into being and reveals the secrets behind new versions of Pride (In The Name Of Love), Stories For Boys, Vertigo and many others.
“I am now, and was during lockdown, working on new material,” he says.
“But the idea of our classic songs in stripped-down form had been knocking around for a while. We’d already tried it in our live shows, so I thought, ‘Wow, this could be expanded’.”
First up, Edge considered how to handle Bono’s singing in this up close and personal context.
“Often the best way to showcase tunes is through the vocal so I started thinking about serving the voice,” he says.
This approach is in stark contrast to U2’s first forays into making music, as Edge explains.
“It’s fair to say that our early recordings were very much about creating live arrangements that would work in certain venues,” he says.
“It didn’t occur to us that we might benefit from changing the key so Bono wasn’t singing at the top of his range so often. Intimacy was never fully explored as a quality.”
That is until now, with Edge revelling in the task of bringing intimacy front and centre.
“The thing I love about this project personally is that there was no expectation, no pressure,” he says. “We went into it as a fun experiment to see where it would lead us.”
The first track to get the treatment was Peace On Earth, from All That You Can’t Leave Behind, with lyrics inspired by the 1998 Omagh bombing. “I was anxious to do songs that weren’t necessarily fully realised in their first versions or got the attention they deserved,” says Edge.
“Another was Dirty Day from Zooropa, a great tune that we played live a couple of times but didn’t get noticed much. I always thought there was something powerful going on there.”
As the sessions progressed, however, the big songs stormed into view.
“I knew we would get to One and With Or Without You at some point,” says Edge.
It comes as no surprise, thefore, that One, recast as a piano and acoustic guitar-led torch ballad with a sublime Bono vocal, eventually emerged as the first track on Songs Of Surrender.
And by happy chance, they had the ideal finale in 40 from 1983’s album War.
“We already had this idea of 40 songs and there was also a parallel project in Bono’s book and he decided to name his 40 chapters after song titles,” says Edge.
“So there’s this beautiful kind of rhyme between the two projects, which we liked.
“Then, I think it was Duncan (Stewart) in the studio who said, ‘Has anyone realised that you’ve got a song called One and another called 40?’. It was almost too perfect.”
Edge wasn’t sure about opening the album with what he calls the “heavy” One, even if uplifting “40” was the “perfect ending”. But, he’s happy to report, that they nicely bookended the album’s natural flow. “I got to be DJ for a couple of days and we hit on the running order.”
He’s particularly fond of the new Pride (In The Name Of Love), for which intimate delivery brings extra resonance.
It includes rewritten lyrics to reference Alan Kurdi, the drowned two-year-old refugee boy washed up on a deserted beach.
The desperately sad image had sent shockwaves around the world, appearing on countless front pages.
Edge agrees that Bono gives Pride stronger emotional impact and suggests that his voice has become “such a versatile instrument”.
So what of the other U2 members, Adam Clayton (bass) and Larry Mullen Jr, and their involvement in Songs Of Surrender?
“They were into it,” affirms Edge. “But we decided the arrangements would be as minimal as possible.
“So there’s very little full drum kit, maybe only on a couple of songs, but Adam came in and played a lot.
“The Fly is interesting because we did one version with Adam on bass and me on acoustic guitar.
“That was a little ordinary, so we ended up with two basses, which was fun and produced quite a different mood. We tried not to do the obvious. I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For had been famously done by gospel choirs so we stripped it back.
“It almost sounds like a Johnny Cash song. It was a surprise to hear the country quality in some of these versions.”
One of the most effective reinventions is Vertigo, originally a storming rock anthem, which meant Edge really has to attack his acoustic guitar for this outing.
‘Completely new lyric’
“The riff demands it,” he says. “Then the dual guitar and cello arrangement was a real thrill.
“Vertigo came early on and was a big encouragement. I thought, ‘OK, we can even do rock songs’.”
If you consider that the members of U2 are all past 60, imagine what it was like for them to redo a song from their youth like Stories For Boys.
Edge reveals: “It has a completely new lyric because we were 18-year-old boys when we wrote that. So, from this distance of time and experience, the words didn’t quite work. Now it’s from the perspective of us remembering the boys that we were.”
Edge looks back in “amazement” at those four fresh-faced Dubliners who went on to become arguably the world’s biggest rock band.
Thinking about U2’s debut album Boy, released in 1980, he says: “Intelligence was at play both musically and lyrically.
“To write your first album about innocence and the interest in preserving it — wow, that’s brave. It was against the flow of everything happening at the time.
“The Village Voice (New York culture paper) said, ‘Well these guys should break up now. Their first album is so perfect but where do you go from Peter Pan?’.” I ask Edge what didn’t make the cut from the Songs Of Surrender sessions.
“We tried Angel Of Harlem which was nearly good but felt similar to the original and we were running into standstill. The original arrangement is sort of in the style.
The full edition of Songs Of Surrender features four ten-track discs, each named after a band member . . . The Edge, Larry Mullen Jr, Adam Clayton and Bono in that orderCredit: AFP
Edge, left, talks about U2’s groundbreaking residency in Las Vegas this autumn which will focus on Achtung BabyCredit: Getty
“We almost had Moment Of Surrender from No Line On The Horizon on the record but decided that it’s mood could be fully expressed on other songs.”
Before we go our separate ways, Edge talks about U2’s groundbreaking residency in Las Vegas this autumn which will focus on Achtung Baby.
Sadly, they will be without Larry. “It’s one of those things when medical issues arise at unexpected times and they don’t honour the schedule,” he says.
But he’s hugely excited about the prospect of playing the new 20,000- capacity state-of-the-art MSG Sphere.
Audience and band will be inside a huge bubble containing 580,000 square feet of LEDs, forming a creative canvas so bold and bright you can see it from space.
Edge says: “There are two screens, one external and, when you go inside, there’s a different one which is completely immersive because it’s so big.
“You are literally able to transport your audience to a different location.”
And though the focus will be on Achtung Baby, he adds: “We’ll probably do some stuff from Songs Of Surrender.
“This venue will allow for that intimacy because the sound quality will be so pristine.”
And what about the next U2 studio album, which will be their 16th and first of new material since 2018’s Songs Of Experience?
“As soon as we can line it all up and make it happen,” he answers. “We’ve got a lot of great material with a wide range.
“Bono and Adam have been talking up my guitar playing, which I take as a huge compliment. But that adds a little bit of pressure!”
Songs Of Surrender is out todayCredit: Anton Corbijn
The full edition of the album features four ten-track discs, each named after a band member . . . The Edge, Larry Mullen Jr, Adam Clayton and Bono in that order.
Here are the tracks on each of the discs.
U2 guitarist The EdgeCredit: Anton Corbijn
2.Where The Streets Have No Name
3. Stories For Boys
4.11 O’Clock Tick Tock
5. Out Of Control
6. Beautiful Day
8. Every Breaking Wave
9. Walk On (Ukraine)
10. Pride (In The Name Of Love)
U2 drummer Larry MullenCredit: Anton Corbijn
1. Who’s Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses
2. Get Out Of Your Own Way
3. Stuck In A Moment You Can’t Get Out Of
4. Red Hill Mining Town
5. Ordinary Love
6. Sometimes You Can’t Make It On Your Own
8. Dirty Day
9. The Miracle (Of Joey Ramone)
10. City Of Blinding Lights
U2 bassist Adam ClaytonCredit: Anton Corbijn
2. I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For
3. Electrical Storm
4. The Fly
5. If God Will Send His Angels
7. Until The End of the World
8. Song for Someone
9. All I Want Is You
10. Peace On Earth
U2 sing BonoCredit: Anton Corbijn
1. With Or Without You
2. Stay (Faraway, So Close!)
3. Sunday Bloody Sunday
4. Lights Of Home
5. Cedarwood Road
6. I Will Follow
7. Two Hearts Beat As One
8. Miracle Drug
9. The Little Things That Give You Away
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