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U2 plays it way too safe on ‘Songs of Experience’

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One and a half stars

U2 Songs of Experience

It was once unimaginable that U2 could forsake the restlessness and bravery that made it one of the world’s most exciting bands, yet Songs of Experience is the group’s third dud in a row. It’s now distressingly easy to believe in this new U2—the one that no longer takes creative risks, can’t win over a younger audience even when it provides an album gratis and makes bland festival fodder like “The Blackout” and “You’re the Best Thing About Me”—songs that don’t evoke fin de siècle U2 as much as they do other bands that were inspired by U2’s early, good stuff. When you’re making U2 music that’s only as good as Snow Patrol, it’s time to reassess.

Songs of Experience has some moments. With its rolling bass and soft-sung vocal,“13 (There Is a Light)” is transportive yet personal, like a dream about flying. But the rest of Experience is buried in lyrical muck and unfortunate attempts to get current. (Hate to see Kendrick Lamar go to waste.) Three listless LPs in, it’s no longer a question of “can U2 be good again,” but whether U2 even cares.

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