Acoustic Sounds


Songs Of Surrender



Album cover for 'Songs Of Surrender' by U2

Label: Island

Produced By: The Edge, Bob Ezrin, Duncan Stewart, Declan Gaffney

Engineered By: Various

Mixed By: Various

Mastered By: Scott Sedillo at Bernie Grundman Mastering

By: Malachi Lui

March 29th, 2023


Rock Acoustic

How To Ruin 40 Good Songs In Three Hours

U2's 'Songs Of Surrender' is a dreadful failure

Last November at Rough Trade’s Rockefeller Center shop, a stack of hardcovers of Bono’s recent memoir Surrender: 40 Songs, One Story sat atop the book table. I flipped it open to a random page, scanned through some predictably pompous modern Bono writing, and I immediately wondered why anyone would consider paying money for it. I don’t criticize U2 merely to pile on them; at least half of their discography is very good, and Bono can write legitimately great songs when he feels like it. Still, defending U2 in the 21st century is increasingly difficult; hardly has such a monumentally successful band been so consistently and drastically out of touch with what anyone else wants. Post-Pop U2 has mostly been shallow stadium anthems lacking the nuanced lyricism or atmospheric construction of their classic work, and with each passing day, Bono’s “save the world for my ego!” messaging sounds increasingly worse. As a younger fan, I can’t say their generally negative current reputation isn’t undeserved. In my lifetime, they’ve only put out one good (albeit inconsistent) album, 2009’s textural and comparatively understated No Line On The Horizon. Everything since has been at best, unnecessary, at worst, deplorable.

Almost no one asked for 2014’s spotty, blandly produced Songs Of Innocence to be shoved into their iTunes library, and even fewer asked for a nearly three-hour compendium of mostly acoustic rerecordings from the catalog. Of course, U2’s latest project Songs Of Surrender, conceived by The Edge and billed as a companion to Bono’s aforementioned book, is exactly that. Supposedly, it provides a fresher, more mature, “intimate” perspective on these 40 songs you know and mostly love. Yet that misses the point of what made classic U2 so great, that oft-mentioned ability to amplify small observations to a global scale, and to personalize broader ideas.

Songs Of Surrender fails horribly by every measure. On a song by song basis, it’s a bland but listenable novelty. Accumulatively, it’s absolutely dreadful. A small dose of U2 ruining their own songs isn’t too bad, but one 10-track disc (physical or virtual) is a slog, and the exhaustion exponentially increases the further you get. A few of these new renditions are passable, merely because your expectations of an acoustic “Pride (In The Name Of Love)” or “Stuck In A Moment You Can’t Get Out Of” aren’t particularly high to begin with. Yet Songs Of Surrender also suffers from pointless revisionism, with Bono amending some of his lyrics: “Walk On” is now “Walk On (Ukraine),” “Get Out Of Your Own Way” has rewritten verses, and there are many other shifts in perspective (“Bad”) or tense (“Red Hill Mining Town”). However, Bono’s been a mature, fully-developed lyricist since the early days; his rewrites here are unnecessary, and only detract from the songs. He didn’t need to further clarify “Bad,” or add “religion is the enemy of the Holy Spirit guide” to “Sunday Bloody Sunday.” Both of those songs, and most of the others here, have the originals’ urgency completely sucked out of them (the live performance documentary hosted by David Letterman is equally unworthy—Ed.).

It gets worse as it trudges on. Achtung Baby tracks that originally sounded so cool and layered are now rendered sluggish and dead. Playing in the Kyiv subway is a nice gesture, but Bono and Edge didn’t have to replicate that aesthetic for the rest of the world via this new “Red Hill Mining Town” (which features Trombone Shorty) nor serenade each one of us with “The Miracle (Of Joey Ramone).” The Songs Of Surrender acoustic guitar- and cello-based “Vertigo” is laughable, as is the included “Desire” arrangement, with its already-outdated stadium-amplified acoustic guitar, claps, synth bass, stomping kick drum, and grating falsetto vocals that makes you think U2 are selling beard oil and flannels.

Throughout the record, Bono’s vocals are often hushed to the point of sounding sleepy, though it’s a particular issue on “Stay (Faraway, So Close)” and “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For.” The worst part is his egregiously off-key yelping on “Get Out Of Your Own Way;” keeping that in instead of doing another take or using Melodyne isn’t “authentic,” it’s just inexcusably lazy and unprofessional. The original songs’ essential musical dynamics are gone. The Edge’s acoustic guitar playing is serviceable but dull, and as shown on the new “Two Hearts Beat As One,” his signature electric style simply doesn't translate to an acoustic guitar. Bassist Adam Clayton only pops up occasionally, and generic drum loops replace Larry Mullen, Jr. Instead of sounding intimate and personal, Songs Of Surrender feels antiseptic and corporate. It doesn’t bring me closer to the songs’ essence—in fact, its overly measured, sanitized nature pushes me away. It’s what loops on the SiriusXM Coffee House station of hell, reminding you of everything potentially bad about the acoustic/Unplugged format and making you forget why you ever liked U2 to begin with. It’s easily the worst thing they’ve ever put out, and due to its excessive length (the abridged version wouldn’t be much better), lifeless interpretations of originally great songs, and pointless existence, it’s one of the worst things I’ve heard in quite some time.

Oh yeah, the sound quality. The 48kHz/24bit Apple Music stream sounds fine though not “in the room” convincing. The recording is technically sufficient but lacks body, and the overly polished mix contributes to the album’s lifeless nature. For a band with practically infinite resources, U2 have somehow never made a thoroughly great sounding record. I’m sure the vinyl edition also sounds okay, though it’s hilariously overpriced ($46 for the standard 2LP, $50 for other color variants, $60 for the clear 2LP with four bonus tracks, and $125 MSRP for the relatively bare bones deluxe 4LP). That said, there’s really no reason for you to spend your money when you can listen to the far superior original recordings.

Music Specifications

Channels: Stereo


  • 2023-03-29 02:29:31 PM

    Paul wrote:

    And I thought you were gonna do a 10/10 review!


  • 2023-03-29 03:29:43 PM

    Ronan O’Gorman wrote:

    Thanks Malachi for an honest review. Unlike The New York Times you have called out the album for what it is! I appreciate your honesty and perspective.

  • 2023-03-29 05:28:39 PM

    Silk Dome Mid wrote:

    Scorching, and well deserved.

  • 2023-03-29 05:45:11 PM

    Rashers wrote:

    We were listening to these tracks in the car when my wife, a big U2 fan (we have seen them countless times in concert) blurted out - “can you turn off this morose crap and put on Ron Sexsmith instead!” It really annoys me how the concept of “new arrangement” means slow sluggish and boring. “With or without you” was slow to start with - the new arrangement was practically going backwards. Too many tracks here and too turgid. The acoustic versions of “Songs of Innocence” were very good - and I think they held up well in concert. All references to the Apple debacle are tired. It was a decent album (the band had been together for 38 years at that stage FFS). I went back and listened to the vinyl versions - one side at a time over a week or so and found them far more enjoyable. In retrospect I think your review is too harsh - if you listen to these tracks one after another (ie 40 tracks) - it is not great. One side at a time is a better experience. Regardless the originals are superior. The Edge would have been better served re-recording “Pop” a great album that was badly produced and undercooked. The Rolling Stones produced “Stripped” at a similar point in their career. The unplugged versions usually precedes the covers album as the career fades…

  • 2023-03-30 03:45:48 AM

    Kim Petersen wrote:

    You might be from the young generation not having lived with U2 their whole life, I am now in my mid 50's and have listened to U2 since my youth... I am not happy with how U2 has developed either.

    For me U2 stopped being interesting after Pop. They lost their edge (not the Edge, mind you, pun perhaps intended), their initial political fight for Northern Ireland turned into politics, and their tunes became less and less interesting, and also seemed to lack inspiration.

    This new take seems to continue my feelings for U2, they have lost their way :-) I will still occasionally enjoy their older catalogue instead.

    • 2023-03-30 06:45:05 PM

      VTube6 wrote:

      The fact that they are still making music together in any form or fashion is amazing to me. Their longevity is to be applauded even if their music doesn't inspire like it used to. I'm the same age as the band members and have obviously lost my edge too because I love this release, it's soothing and what I want at my age.

  • 2023-03-30 11:02:55 AM

    Matt wrote:

    Great review Malachi. One of the few contemporary music reviewers keeping it real. More new music reviews please!!! Matt in Tokyo.

  • 2023-03-30 11:15:02 AM

    bwb wrote:

    I am not a huge U2 fan although I am passingly familiar with a lot of their music. Perhaps the problem you and others have is your memory of the original versions. Not hampered by these preconceived notion I found this album to be very well recorded and in some ways riveting. I have the 2 LP version and did what I rarely do. I sat through all 4 sides thoroughly engrossed by the quality of the music and the recording.

    Is it an album to listen to in your car? Absolutely not.

    Is it fair to judge the sound quality from an Apple stream? You should be ashamed to call yourself a reviewer if that is how you go about your business. The LP is sublime. It is one of the best things I've heard in quite some time.

    • 2023-03-30 11:31:13 AM

      Mats Gunnars wrote:

      Agree with you. I was never a huge U2 fan, but I find these 4 LPs haunting and meaningful.

    • 2023-03-30 12:50:14 PM

      Malachi Lui wrote:

      i think it's fair to judge the sound quality from a lossless apple stream. it's the master resolution file that the LP was probably cut from. i'm sure the vinyl sounds better but the lossless stream is a good indicator of how good the recording and mix are. in this case, it's just okay.

      • 2023-03-30 02:13:29 PM

        bwb wrote:

        then we have a huge disconnect. What I hear and confirmed with a friend on his system is it is very much "in the room." playing vinyl. In fact, those are the very words I used to describe it to said friend before ever seeing this article. The sound is excellent. While we're on the topic, I see no value in a review that guesses at what another medium may sound like. You should do your homework and spin a disc. This is, after all, "The Tracking Angle." Not the the "streaming off Apple" angle. It also seems unlikely to me that 48K/24 was the "master resolution file that the LP was cut from." But again, our guesses serve no useful purpose. As a journalist you should do your homework and find out. This is a classic case of people having a negative reaction to something they are familiar with done in a different way. Not liking it because they expect it or wanted it to be different. I refer you to the reaction Dylan got when he went electric. This album and every album should be judged on what it is, not went before or what we hoped it would be.

        • 2023-03-30 02:25:57 PM

          Rashers wrote:

          I have to agree with you on this. I found the album really boring while listening in the car. However, when the 4LP set arrived (I seriously considered cancelling it - but it was too late) - and I listened one side a time (as planned by the band) - I found it a riveting experience. I'm not crazy about all of the re-arrangements - but I do think that calling the release a "dreadful failure" is a bit unfair. Also, I get that many fans find the later albums disappointing - but U2 have been together for 45 years - every great band has an imperial period. The Beatles lasted 10 years. The Stones....well when did they last release an album that you would give a second listen? The Who? The Kinks? Beach Boys? Coldplay? Even U2s marginal records are better than most.

        • 2023-03-31 10:14:48 AM

          Michael Fremer wrote:

          If you read "Welcome to TrackingAngle" pinned at the top of the home page you'd read that like the original magazine, the site covers all formats including streaming.

  • 2023-03-30 04:10:41 PM

    Anton wrote:

    Malachi, your experience reminds me of a book by Nick Hornby, "Juliet, Naked."

    (Don't bother with the film.)

  • 2023-03-30 05:07:18 PM

    Georges wrote:

    I had a certain sympathy for them at their beginnings, the Irish persecuted by the perfidious albion, the bloody Sunday, all that etc. A bit like the Virgin Prunes yes. Unfortunately their subsequent political "analysis" (hum) became confused as quickly as possible with the interests of some big trusts. As their bank account swelled disproportionately in fact. There they became a caricature.

  • 2023-03-30 05:08:37 PM

    VTube6 wrote:

    As a U2 fan from pre-Joshua Tree, I have yet to hear a U2 recording as well produced as this on vinyl. Quite frankly, I don't sit in the music room sweet spot to listen to U2 albums of the past, but this two LP set is different. Now, would I want to go see U2 in the Sphere play this collection of songs as recorded, hell no! I'd likely be bored and reach for my phone to check my Twitter feed, but when relaxing in my comfy recliner spinning these albums on a high end audio system, I sure do appreciate the maturity of the music as well as the quality of the pressing. As a 61 year old, I appreciate this album for what it is as I sometimes like music stripped down. I also like when artists play full on acoustic versions of songs that are no longer fuzzy with intentional distortion and feedback, not always, but sometimes as it's different. The last U2 concert I attended was the Joshua Tree anniversary tour and the music was fun, it brought back a lot of great memories from when I was in my twenties and that's what you expected to hear at that show/tour. This compilation of songs is not intended to give you that same "remember when" connection, it is intentionally different and for me it meets its purpose. When I received my LPs in the mail I immediately cleaned them and planned on listening to just two sides of the first LP, but was so captivated by the mature vocals and the production of the sound that I ended up, like fellow reader Bruce B., listening to all 4 sides. Maybe the music sounds lazy to some, but I like the music and appreciate the stripped down artistry. I also appreciate Bono's aging and mature voice as I can relate. At 61 years of age, I don't need a full frontal assault from U2, if I want that then I'll see them in concert again for maybe one last time. For those unfortunate souls who only listen to music with ear buds from compressed digital sources, you are truly missing out on what I and others believe to be U2s best pressing to date on vinyl while the music is what it's designed to be for this particular release.

  • 2023-03-30 08:37:37 PM

    David wrote:

    Proof that some people just don’t know when to call it a day, pack it up, shut up, and go spend their hard earned loot.

  • 2023-03-31 12:09:02 AM

    JuzDisGuy wrote:

    Saw their Tiny Desk concert and thought the songs they played from this album were great. I enjoy stripped down versions like this, especially when well done. Perhaps not for everyone, but as others on this thread have already mentioned, played on a good hi-fi when you're in the right mood it can be a wonderful experience. No, this is not U2 in its prime, did anyone really expect this album to be that? Instead, it's something for U2 fans interested in hearing a different take on these songs. I'm good with that. Malachi's views, as usual, push the extreme, but it's probably a fair representation of his demographic's general opinion of U2. U2 was not of their generation, so their opinion is kind of irrelevant in my mind. They don't have any of the rich experience each of us who grew up with them have. For many of us these songs were the soundtrack of our youth. That gives them a richness that someone like Malachi simply doesn't have. It's like commenting on Woodstock because you watched a documentary on it - it's a perspective, but it's not an authentic one.

    • 2023-03-31 07:59:05 AM

      PeterPani wrote:

      I grew up with U2 and always hated their bathos. Malachi is right.

  • 2023-04-01 09:26:33 PM

    Ross Cameron wrote:

    I am a long term U2 fan and was thinking the same thing as Malachi as I listened to the album. Obviously most of us know the originals which taints our view of the new album. However this is a borderline "Lemon" production.

  • 2023-04-02 11:13:11 AM

    Simon Pepper wrote:

    Have been a long term fan since the early 80’s and I find these reworked songs quite acceptable, and see they for what the band set out to achieve - a revisit to songs they recorded many years ago and have been performing them live hundreds of times over the years around the world. So they know their songs the best and when some time is made available during lockdown they revisited the songs on this 4-LP boxset. I believe you are being a little hard in your review of this material

    Simon, Dublin, Ireland

  • 2023-04-04 03:01:05 PM

    Tim wrote:

    Agree Malachi... This album sucks...

    Should be renamed "U2 does all of their good songs in the worst way possible"... Not a single interesting rendition... Just downgrade after downgrade.

  • 2023-04-04 05:50:41 PM

    CHRIS ASSELLS wrote:

    Factoring in the arrogance of youth (hey, we all had it) this review makes me want to check it out

    Always loved U2 and the compassion and passion in their work that reminded me of the time in the 60's and 70's when we were going to change the world with love and positive vibrations. Big fan of their big dumb hearts displayed on their sleeves and also a fan of Bono's voice.

    Always enjoy alternate versions of songs I love. They of course don't make the original versions disappear.

    • 2023-04-05 07:27:56 AM

      Tim wrote:

      Way to try and bring a talented and eager young guy down.

      His supposed "arrogance" seems to me to be a function of a deep and passionate interest in music and vinyl.

      Perhaps just because his perspective doesnt match yours, you shouldn't try and belittle opinion based upon your supposed "age advantage" alone.

      The fact that you would seek to listen to the album regardless of the content of the review is neither a backhanded support of the review or any argument in support of the album... just dumb.

      I hope your comment above made you feel good about yourself..

  • 2024-04-11 10:17:29 PM

    Larry Green wrote:

    I’m not a big U2 fan and never owned one of their albums. I was curious about this album since I was somewhat familiar with the hits from satellite radio streams. I actually enjoy the album very much. I bought the vinyl and on my system sounds quite good, no complaints from me here. I certainly respect everyone’s opinion of the album since it’s very personal but I can’t help wondering if this situation is analogous to a movie made from a best selling book. The book aficionados will always say the movie didn’t do the book justice while many viewers that had not read the book thought it was great. To each his own.