When it comes to the complexities of the U2 machine, I find The Edge is the one to offer clarity and insight. “Through a combination of the global climate the album was going to be released into and our own personal stuff, it didn’t seem right to be getting it out in a hurry.
He explains: “We’d been rushing to get Songs Of Experience out by the end of 2016. “We just thought, ‘We’ve got to give ourselves a bit of time here.’ We needed to be certain the album was right.” Clayton, dapper and charming as ever, also alludes to Bono’s turmoil but widens the discussion to the whole band.
In his notes for the new U2 album, the forward-facing, life-affirming Songs Of Experience, the singer mentions his “brush with mortality,” a health scare that rocked him to the core. the force screaming at me not to move.” As we now know, life goes on for the 57-year-old Irishman who commands the world stage yet suddenly feels so vulnerable. In a reality TV world of minor/major melodrama, I can spare everyone that.” We must respect his right to medical privacy but its clear Songs Of Experience is a different album because of what happened.
“I was on the receiving end of a shock to the system myself, a shock that left me clinging on to my own life like a raft,” he writes. I was arrested.” He describes “facing a wall with my hands up over my head . Bono’s keeping a firm lid on exact details but has allowed me access to his stream of consciousness thoughts about his trauma of body and mind. Though he feels “fantastic now, stronger than ever,” he suggests the songs have an impetus behind them that demonstrate “the turbulence I was feeling at the time of writing.” The album reflects a crisis of faith in Bono that he had “to fight even harder for” and it recognises a world shifting on its political axis, where extremes are replacing tolerance, where democracy is under siege.
“We are entering that period in our lives where people can suddenly die,” he says.
“They are getting illnesses and you think, ‘My goodness, I didn’t believe that could happen to our generation.’ “There comes a time when we have to cultivate a sense of gratitude that we’re all still here and maybe not have enormous expectations of next week or next month or next year.
“The history of this band is precious and we realise we mustn’t break up, mustn’t die and that the legacy of what we do should continue.” In Bono’s notes, he talks of being dared by his friend, the poet Brendan Kennelly “to write as if you’re dead.” Mortality is on his mind when he says of the new songs: “A lot of them I approached with the sense that I might not be around to hear them on the radio or in the stream of things. I’d thought a lot about not being around so I made these songs love letters.” There are affectionate “letters” to Bono’s wife and love of his life Ali called You’re The Best Thing About Me and Landlady. like your pain.” The Little Things That Give You Away, pointed and self-deprecating, speaks of “the words you cannot say, your big mouth in the way” and is the singer’s letter to himself.
“I’d lost a lot of my heroes, Leonard Cohen, David Bowie, Prince . The term Landlady, a slightly odd song title you may think, is used because Ali paid their rent while four skint hopefuls were knocking around in a beaten-up van trying to make a go of U2. “Blessed are the filthy rich for you can only own what you give away. And Love Is Bigger Than Anything In Its Way gives touching advice to Bono’s sons Eli and John which Clayton says has that “classic Cat Stevens’ Father and Son vibe.” The Showman (Little More Better) addresses U2’s legions of loyal fans and is, says Bono, “a love letter to anyone who falls for the bluster of a performer with too much/too little confidence.
A recent New Scientist article "The most ancient piece of you" (4 November 2017) discussed the common ancestors of living beings today.
But are plants included in this universal common ancestor?
In 2014, when I met all four members on an idyllic, sun-dappled autumn afternoon in the south of France, they talked of a quick-fire companion album to that year’s Songs Of Innocence. “Brexit and the American elections threw a completely different light on everything and Bono was going through issues to do with his health that were quite profound.
But huge interest in The Joshua Tree’s 30th anniversary with its extended run of celebratory shows was just one factor behind a longer gestation period. “He wasn’t physically well and was in a place where he wanted to reconsider lyrics.
“There’s been an attempt to look back at our position, which is rarefied in many ways, but there’s also humanity in our shared experience.