There was no record store or any place I could buy new CDs in the small northern Maine town where I grew up. My dad worked in the next town over, though, and they had a Kmart… nay, a Big Kmart. So, on the night of November 21st, 2004, I gave my dad some money, so he could get me a copy of U2’s How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb on its release date the next day.
I was twelve years old then, so how I had money is beyond me — I probably swiped it from the kitchen counter one day and just gave dad his own cash back. Sorry, dad. The point is that How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb was my first new album as a hardcore U2 fan, and when my dad brought that red and black jewel case home that late afternoon, I eagerly popped the CD into my Walkman, put on headphones, laid on my bed, and had a personally meaningful listening session. When I came back downstairs 50 minutes later, my family asked how it was with what seemed like genuine interest, because they knew how profoundly important this experience was to me.
When I say “hardcore fan,” I mean it: From the moment my uncle lent me his copy of the concert DVD U2 Go Home: Live from Slane Castle, Ireland in 2003, I was obsessed. The transition between “All I Want Is You” and “Where The Streets Have No Name” from that performance is maybe my favorite live moment ever, even still. U2 was almost literally the only band I listened to for the next two to three years, save for the occasional Coldplay and Keane song. Again, I was completely infatuated.
I signed up for and frequented every U2 fan forum I could find — Shout out to U2start.com as the first entity to tell me “happy birthday” every year in their annual email that always comes a day early. My favorite podcast is U Talkin’ U2 To Me?, and not just because of Adam Scott Aukerman’s banter. One time in college, I stayed up until three in the morning with a lady I was into, sitting on my apartment floor and verbally taking her through U2’s entire band history from memory, from 1976 to then, by candlelight. Romantic, yes, but I think we both just wanted to see if I could/would actually do it. Just a few days ago, I made a “Miracle Drug” pun in the Uproxx Music Slack channel, and it earned the crying Jordan emoji reaction it got.
There’s far too much of this sort of anecdotal evidence in my (not sad, I promise) life. I’m sure that deep down, the seed of my music journalism career was my pubescent desire to wax poetic about Adam Clayton’s underrated bass work on Zooropa.
The genesis of my U2 fandom was nearly half my life ago, though, and a lot has happened since then. I tried growing long hair before realizing way too late in the game that it made me look like a pilgrim. I dreamed of playing in the NBA and later gave up on that when it occurred to me, also way too late, that while I was a pretty good shooter, I was also 5’11” and could barely jump over the foul line. And of course, U2 put out four albums: How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb, 2009’s No Line On The Horizon, 2014’s Songs Of Innocence, and the just-released Songs Of Experience.
The folks at Rolling Stone thought highly enough of U2’s new album to give it the No. 3 spot on their year-end top albums list, before the record even came out. After a couple listens, I’m not quite as hyped up about it. While I think “The Little Things That Give You Away” could actually be considered a great U2 song, and a couple album tracks are fine, none of the singles wowed me (“You’re The Best Thing About Me” is alright, though). Although it’s not a bad album, it’s also not a great one. On my personal year-end albums list, Songs Of Experience is somewhere in the mid-to-late 20s.
The reaction to the album’s Rolling Stone ranking — combined with the fact that U2’s Joshua Tree anniversary tour (while great) has officially, firmly, and finally cemented U2 as a true legacy act — will probably lead to Songs Of Experience being underrated; it’s not the third best album of the year, but it’s not bad. At the same time, I have a hard time calling it good (as in, better than mediocre). It’s decent.