Taylor Swift did it first. Now U2 are following suit. The Dubliners have released an all-new recording of their 1984 single Pride (In the Name of Love). It’s a taster for an album that, much as Swift has done with her catalogue, will see the group revisit and revise their songbook.
There is one big difference. Swift’s revisions are largely faithful to the originals, springing from a dispute over ownership of her master recordings. With U2 and their 40-track collection – named Songs of Surrender, and to be released on St Patrick’s Day – there is a conscious attempt to reimagine the material for a new time and place. Or as the Edge, the band’s guitarist, puts it, “Music allows you to time travel, and we became curious to find out what it would be like to bring our early songs back with us to the present day.”
If ever there was a song that did not require rebuilding from the ground up, Pride is it. It was a soaring suspension bridge of an anthem. Does it need to be demolished and reconstructed from scratch?
But will Pride come before a fall? The track was, after all, one of U2’s more perfect moments. Regardless of your feelings about Bono, bombast and mid-1980s Celtic rock mullets, it combined angst and ardour to devastating effect. Pride also provided an early glimpse of U2’s future as sloganeering rock prophets: the lyrics refer to the shooting dead of the civil-rights leader Dr Martin Luther King (although Bono got the time of death wrong).
In other words, if ever there was a song that did not require rebuilding from the ground up, this is it. Pride was a soaring suspension bridge of an anthem. Does it need to be demolished and reconstructed from scratch?
Diehard U2 fans may agree to disagree about the wisdom of this remake. Indeed, they are already doing just that on social media. Casual listeners might feel equally torn. Pride 2.0 begins as the worst possible version of “unplugged” U2. Bono’s voice creaks and cracks; the Edge’s acoustic guitar sounds like an overproduced version of something you might encounter wandering down Grafton Street.
But in the end this autumnal reboot justifies its existence. As the song reaches its final 60 seconds the Edge takes over with a molten solo. Eighties Bono chants the woah-oh-oh refrain; the “present day” version delivers the “in the naaaaaame of loove” chorus. With that, the recording’s awful daytime-radio-playlist quality is banished. Nobody’s socks will be knocked off. But it isn’t horrible.
This late into their career it would be foolish to claim U2 are at a crossroads. This is, though, a time of change for a 45-year-old institution. With the publication of his autobiography, Surrender, Bono has been reborn as a cuddly raconteur mesmerising the book-tour circuit. Adam Clayton, the group’s bassist, was last seen eulogising Francis Bacon in an RTÉ documentary. Larry Mullen has revealed he will require back surgery if he is to continue drumming.
And the Edge? The 40 project is, it turns out, his idea. Which may be why the new Pride is a showcase for his expressive guitar playing.
It may be that he’s merely getting started. The full album will feature revisitings of Beautiful Day (a snippet has already been teased) and classics such as Bad and The Fly. Does anyone need new versions of 40 old U2 songs? Of course not. But for U2 this is an opportunity to try something new – to escape the stasis of their recent studio albums. For four stadium warhorses in need of inspiration, it might be a lifeline.