It all comes down, as it almost always does these days, to Taylor Swift.
The re-recording of her old material created a cottage industry of commentary online:
Ranging from the ecstatic:
To unbridled joy:
And every level of nuanced criticism in between:
Yes, I’m cherry-picking and there are plenty lukewarm responses; reality does get in the way of opinion spewing on occasion. But we blowhards soldier on.
So it seems we’ve been living in a golden era of artists recreating past successes…
Mostly in response to corporate malfeasance and bad faith.
Swift’s complaints are similar to Def Leppard’s, who spent time and care over a decade ago recreating some of their biggest hits when UMG stiffed them over digital download royalties.
Squeeze, ever impish, released a greatest hits compilation back in 2010, for which the band reconvened after a studio interregnum of more than a decade to, as precisely as possible, re-record their biggest hits, going as far as bringing back the beloved Paul Carrack for the lead vocal on ‘Tempted.’
They cheekily named the album Spot the Difference.
While reviews were mostly tepid, the album did serve as a nice refresher for fans when the band embarked on a worldwide tour.
This brings us to U2’s Songs of Surrender.
As far as I can tell, the band isn’t engaged in guerrilla warfare with their label over ‘Sunday Bloody Sunday’ soundtracking a Tide commercial.
This means they actually intend for you to listen to a 63 year-old Bono croon his way through a somnambulant ‘I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For,’ originally laid down when he was was in his mid-20s.
After a few spins, I remain unmoved.
My ear prefers the original by a factor of ten million or so.
The band wandering down the Strip in the video doubly etched the song into the folds of my brain.
It captured not only the band at the time (a critical snapshot for fans and old people alike), but an entire atmosphere, era, dare I write it, zeitgeist.
Why taint that legacy? That said:
Why does Songs of Surrender exist?
(Equally important: why call the thing Songs of Surrender in the first place? Are U2 waving the white flag on their career, ready to take up a two-year residence at Sam’s Town Casino in Tunica?)
The Edge, somewhat paradoxically, explains it thusly:
“When a song becomes well known, it’s always associated with a particular voice. I can’t think of “Tangled Up in Blue” without the reedy timbre of Bob Dylan or “All the Time in the World” without the unique voice of Louis Armstrong.
So what happens when a voice develops and experience and maturity give it additional resonance?”
Exactly, Beanie Dude!
‘Tangled Up in Blue’ was perfect back in ‘75, and remains so today. While Dylan may have splattered the landscape with all matter of recorded material over the years, he hasn’t (yet) announced a contemporary version of Blood on the Tracks because he thinks the public is ready to hear him croak a new studio version of ‘Idiot Wind’ or something in his ninth decade.
As to the second part of Dave’s explanation?
A developing voice and experience and maturity happen, and the result is often an expansion of the artist’s toolbox.
The question then becomes: should these newfound and continually evolving qualities be used for revisiting previous recordings with the idea of adding ‘resonance?’
I don’t think so.
As a music fan, I’ve also lived across those same timelines and experienced much and matured a little. (The less said about my voice, the better.)
The resonance for me, however, doesn’t come from hearing the artist reinvent something from earlier in their career, but through listening to the original through the lens of my history:
And how it connects to my life.
Of course it’s all about me. I’m the listener, damn it!
And if I want to hear whatever performer ruminate about how the passage of time affects us all?
I want it to be couched in the accoutrements of new material. A more honest way, in my opinion, of sharing these kind of hard-earned meditative abilities.
Look, I didn’t want to kick U2 while they’re in their reflective era.
Bono and compatriots have provided so many moments of joy, it seems petty to slag them for SOS when they’ve graced us with The Unforgettable Fire and Rattle and Hum and Wide Awake in America and Songs of Innocence.
Admittedly: the latter bestowed upon us by ramming it into our music libraries.
They set the bar high, though. That they’re entering their sunset years regurgitating ancient material is beneath them. I eagerly await fresh material from the boys from Baile Átha Cliath.
Yes, I know. Live.
An ‘ISHFWILF’ performed similarly to the SOS version, the band sitting in a half circle entertaining a crowd in the low hundreds, would be great. I’m sure they’ve done it this way at some point.
My only defense would be that live performances are best experienced in the moment, at the venue, and that the secondhand nature of listening to the song on your new headphones subtracts from the impact.
Just never ask me about ‘Bad.’
Let the author know that you liked their article with a “Green Thumb” Upvote!