Ahead of their Las Vegas residency at the Sphere, U2 has released a new track. “Atomic City” marks the band's first single in years after the Bono and The Edge-centric Songs of Surrender.

If this is the direction the band is going post the “Songs of” era, it's a promising one. U2's “Atomic City” brings the band to their roots and inspirations such as The Clash and Blondie. I can already hear the die-hard fans who have disdain for anything post-1993 from the band groaning, but they should reconsider for this song.

Adam Clayton has been long overdue for a standout performance. Seriously, the last time Clayton's bass playing drove a track was “The Crystal Ballroom,” and that song wasn't even released on the original Songs of Innocence album. “Atomic City” starts and ends with Clayton's funky bass. Yes, The Edge still gets his spotlight, but the verses are being driven by Clayton.

It's easy to see where U2 got their inspiration from. Whilst U2 began as a punk band, they were more in line with the likes of Joy Division and The Cure with their usage of synthesizers. They've always had the more club punk-rock sound of The Clash and Sex Pistols somewhere in their veins, though they've never fully channeled it.

Better late than never, I suppose, as “Atomic City,” a song being released nearly 47 years to the day of U2's anniversary, brings them back to those punk-rock roots. Immediately, Larry Mullen Jr.'s (welcome back!) drumming leads into The Edge's “London Calling”-like guitar riff. Clayton's bass is in tow. The comparisons to Blondie's iconic “Call Me” are also inevitable.

While a distinct sound, it's not that U2 completely abandons itself on “Atomic City.” The signature anthemic chorus a la “The Miracle (Of Joey Ramone)” are there, with The Edge backing Bono up. “Atomic City” largely channels The Clash and Blondie, but a more recent reference point is Green Day — specifically, their hit song, “Holiday.” The Edge's backing chants of “I'm free” have that same level of aggression from Green Day's track.

Granted, The Edge's solo here is far more assertive than his recent work — a much-welcomed change. The usage of a wah-wah pedal has been lost on U2 in recent years. He leaned into it a lot on Achtung Baby (perhaps that's the reason for its usage on “Atomic City”), but it's a rarity for modern U2. “The Troubles” featured a solo that was as twisted as “Love is Blindness,” but this solo rocks.

Unlike some guitarists — looking at you, Jake Kiszka — The Edge has always picked his spots when it comes to solos. He can be assertive, as songs like “Bullet the Blue Sky” and “The Fly” have shown. But he makes more with less, often relying on his effects and basic arpeggios to make a cool sound. “Atomic City” isn't the magnum opus of The Edge's guitar licks, but it exceeds any solo he has had on the past two U2 albums.

Bono has written better lyrics before, but he finds ways to revisit themes from Achtung Baby songs in “Atomic City” ahead of the Sphere residency. The very first line talks about stars “falling out of the sky,” which is an homage to the opening line of “The Fly,” “It's no secret that the stars are falling from the sky.” He also talks about “betting on a future that's long gone,” which perhaps is Bono looking at the Sphere banking on the future of live rock music. U2 has always reinvented the wheel with their live shows. Can they do it one more time?

Sure, on one hand, “Atomic City” feels like a promotional song for their Sphere shows. It's a move similar to when U2 visited India for a concert for the first time ever in 2019. They teamed with A.R. Rahman for “Ahimsa.” The band played it with him during their Mumbai “Joshua Tree” tour show, but the song nearly fell out of U2 canon immediately after.

You'd have to imagine that U2 will play “Atomic City” during their Sphere shows. The visual of Bono singing the line, “I'm front row in Las Vegas, and there's a big one on tonight,” as he looks into the crowd is easy to picture. Will it have any staying power after the residency concludes? My gut tells me no, but my heart hopes that its impact does remain when the band releases its next album.

As noted, U2 has spent the better part of a decade in their “Songs of” era. This includes some of their best work — Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience both highlight the band's strengths. But it has been a Bono-heavy era. The former album was all about his childhood, whereas the latter album featured a bunch of letters to his family and friends as he faced his mortality. And Songs of Surrender was a chance for the band to look back at their old work by reworking 40 of their old tunes.

Again, great work. However, U2 is also aware that it's time to move on. Perhaps Songs of Ascent will eventually come to complete the trilogy of original albums, but even Paul McCartney spaced out the releases of his self-titled trilogy. Bono teased that an “uncompromising, balls-to-the-wall, transcendent” rock album with “unreasonable guitars” is on the way. “Atomic City” could be laying the groundwork for that, or it could be a one-off.

But for U2 fans, you have to hope that “Atomic City” is at least a hint of what's to come. You might find the lyrics silly — the “blah, blah, blah” bit is on-par with the verses of “The Blackout” — but sonically, it's a kick in the butt that U2 needed. And believe me, the social media posts of the band filming the music video don't do the song justice.

U2 is a band that's self-aware to know when to “dream it all up again.” “Atomic City” could usher in a new era. It's the most exciting single drop since “The Miracle (Of Joey Ramone),” which brought us Songs of Innocence. God only knows where U2 goes from here, but for a band that is typically looking forward, it's nice to see them officially do so after spending their last decade looking back.

“Atomic City” will be released on September 29.