Each recent U2 album has endured some kind of complicated gestation before its eventual release. Songs of Experience, the band’s 14th LP, is no exception: the companion to 2014’s Apple-branded blunder Songs of Innocence was delayed a year while the band reworked the material to reflect the changing political landscape. Maybe that’s why this album occasionally taps into an urgency its older sibling lacked. The political songs here are strident but sturdy, and Bono’s love songs are textured by an appreciation of his own mortality. On the rumbling “Lights of Home,” he cuts straight to the point: “I shouldn’t be here ’cause I should be dead.”
It’s still a mixed bag. The singles are disjointed and generic, and “American Soul,” featuring Kendrick Lamar, sees Bono moaning for a “refu-Jesus.” But the chiming “The Little Things That Give You Away” achieves the majesty that, at their best, seems effortless for this band. We’re deep enough into their discography to know the drill: you cherish those moments, and you grin and bear the rest.
This appears in the December 11, 2017 issue of TIME.