“I think the young Bono’s a pain in the arse, myself,” Bono says with a laugh at the beginning of U2 in America, the new Spotify mini-documentary produced by music journalist Jessica Hopper, which chronicles the multi-platinum Irish rock band’s American takeover, and the making of their new album, Songs of Experience, which came out Friday (Dec. 1).
U2 came to America just as the short-lived but explosive punk zeitgeist ceded to the new wave revolution. They began their career as a post-punk group that reflected on the working-class struggles of their homeland, but quickly became entrenched in American culture and incorporated it into their lyrics. In the documentary, Bono cites artists as wide-ranging as Elvis Presley, Patti Smith, Woody Guthrie and Public Enemy’s Chuck D as huge influences on the band.
The group’s fifth album, 1987’s The Joshua Tree, launched U2 to worldwide stardom, as Bono fixated on America’s flawed ideals and the perceived hypocrisy of the Ronald Reagan administration. The album’s yearning, transcendent soundscapes reflected the disenfranchisement of America’s left-leaning youth.
Bono also notes the tonal shift on the band’s 1991’s Achtung Baby as he began to look inward for lyrical inspiration, fixating on the “hypocrisy of the human heart.” Still, the frontman refused to abandon his political convictions, regularly calling the White House onstage during the accompanying Zoo TV Tour in an attempt to contact President George H.W. Bush.
“I really believe in America,” Bono says in U2 in America. “I believe that it’s becoming itself. I don’t think it’s arrived yet.”
The band continues to strive for that idealistic America on Songs of Experience, which Bono chalks up to “a conversation that I sometimes have with what you might call my conscience.” Guitarist The Edge says that as the group rehearsed for their 2018 Experience + Innocence Tour, they decided to rerecord parts of the album to reflect their strengthened musical chemistry. “After six weeks [on the road], our producers will come out to check on us and they will always go, ‘Oh wow, I’d love to record the album now. You guys are playing those songs so brilliantly, confidently, and there’s just an energy to them,’” he explains.
Listen to U2’s Songs of Experience below, and watch the U2 in America mini-documentary via Spotify’s “This Is: U2” playlist. Tickets for the Experience + Innocence Tour are available through the band’s website.