One year ago today, U2 released their fifteenth studio album, Songs of Surrender.

However, unlike the other two installments in the “Songs of” series, Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience, Songs of Surrender featured no new material. Instead, 40 tracks made up of rearranged U2 hits made up the album.

And while I know some U2 fans rolled their eyes at the album, it's still in constant rotation for this fan. Not every track is a hit, but one year later, I think that Songs of Surrender is a misunderstood masterpiece.

U2's Songs of Surrender 1 year later

Bono next to U2 Songs of Surrender album cover and MSG Sphere background.

The past decade of U2's work has been Bono-centric. Songs of Innocence was largely written from his perspective growing up in Dublin in the '70s. Similarly, Songs of Experience was made up of 13 letters to his loved ones.

A lot happened to Bono in that period. From “brush with mortalities” to three huge tours in that span, U2 did it all.

Songs of Surrender felt like a contemplative closing of the book by Bono on the “Songs of” era. Sure, there is still the looming prospect of a proper trilogy-closer in Songs of Ascent, but it doesn't feel like that's coming any time.

I will break down each side of the album. First up are some tracks mentioned in Bono's book that would've been nice to hear. Each of the 40 chapters was titled after one of U2's songs. Most line up with Song of Surrender's tracklist. But some were omitted and replaced.

Songs mentioned in Bono's memoir that would have been nice to hear

  • “Bullet the Blue Sky” (The Joshua Tree): This is one of U2's gnarliest songs. Hearing a stripped-down version would have been so cool.
  • “The Showman (Little More Better)” (Songs of Experience): One of the standouts from Songs of Experience, “The Showman” would have been a great addition to Songs of Surrender. It's got such a unique sound and it would have been cool to hear how U2 would have reinvented it.
  • “Landlady” (Songs of Experience): Another Songs of Experience standout, “Landlady” would've been great. I know a lot of Bono's songs are about his wife, Ali Hewson, but one more wouldn't have hurt. It's the best love song he's written in years.
  • “Even Better Than the Real Thing” (Achtung Baby): Nothing would beat the original, but I would've loved to hear how The Edge would acoustically play his iconic guitar riff.
  • “Breathe” (No Line on the Horizon): If for no other reason than to highlight No Line on the Horizon.

The Edge's piano-heavy section

Songs of Surrender fittingly begins with a piano-driven rendition of “One.” This slowed-down, melancholic version of the song is phenomenal. While it doesn't replace the greatness of the original song, I enjoyed hearing the song in this manner.

The piano-heavy arrangements continue throughout Songs of Surrender. “Stories for Boys” undergoes a similar makeover. The Edge's piano playing is almost reminiscent of Joe Hisaishi's prime Studio Ghibli work. Other early U2 songs like “11 O'Clock Tick Tock,” “Out of Control,” and “I Will Follow” are played with an acoustic guitar, replacing the wailing sounds of their debut album, Boy.

Some of the other standouts from The Edge's portion of the album are “Bad,” perhaps the best rendition on the entire album, “Pride (In the Name of Love),” “Walk On (Ukraine),” which was totally rewritten lyrically, and “Every Breaking Wave,” for Bono's vocal performance.

The biggest misfire in the first 10 tracks is “Where the Streets Have No Name.” It gets better as it goes, but replacing such an iconic guitar riff with a very bare arrangement doesn't work in its favor. Bono's new lyrics, which were performed on his “Stories of Surrender” solo tour and the Sphere residency, are fine. The biggest issue is how empty the stadium-rocking anthem is. However, towards the end, it begins sounding like Phoebe Bridgers' “Scott Street,” and that's pretty cool.

Larry Mullen Jr.'s tracks

Larry Mullen Jr., who ironically isn't heard much on the album, starts his portion of the album with a bang. “Who's Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses” is epic on this album. Bono even hits the “Come on now, love/Don't you look back!” line with full power.

From there, Mullen's tracks include some hits like “Invisible,” “Sometimes You Can't Make It on Your Own,”  and a particularly great piano-driven “City of Blinding Lights,” and some misfires. Bono nearly completely rewrote the lyrics of “Get Out of Your Own Way” and “The Miracle (of Joey Ramone)” to varying degrees of success.

The other tracks are safe, but reliable arrangements of U2's hits. “Stuck in a Moment You Can't Get Out Of” isn't dissimilar to what you'd hear if Bono and The Edge performed it on a late-night show. “Ordinary Love” also remains largely intact.

Bigger swings were taken with “Red Hill Mining Town” and “Dirty Day.” The latter features a gravely vocal performance from Bono.

“Invisible” is also arguably better than the original here. The version Bono and The Edge played for their Disney+  was magical.

Adam Clayton's groovy remixes

Perhaps Adam Clayton's 10 tracks feature the biggest facelifts to the original U2 songs. It begins with a “Hola”-less acoustic rendition of “Vertigo” and an Americana arrangement of “I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For.” Some of these tracks, like “Still Haven't Found” and “If God Will Send His Angels,” feature Bono testing his deeper cadence. Songs of Experience's bonus track, “Book of Your Heart,” laid the groundwork for these arrangements.

At live U2 shows, “Until the End of the World” is a foot-stomping hit. Even in a stripped-back acoustic arrangement, the song kicks butt. Ditto for this rendition of “The Fly,” which is driven by Clayton's groovy bass playing.

“Song for Someone” and “Peace on Earth” are both played differently than the original songs. The former is a pretty standard acoustic arrangement, not too different from the one heard on the “Acoustic Sessions” featured on Songs of Innocence's bonus tracks CD. The Edge takes over “Peace on Earth” in what is a very minimal solo performance.

But Songs of Surrender's impact lasted well beyond the album release. During U2's Sphere shows, they played “All I Want Is You” in the Songs of Surrender arrangement. Instead of The Edge's guitar driving the song, it's a keyboard melody. Bono's falsetto is incredibly strong in this rendition.

Bono's mix of personal and big hits

“With or Without You” commences Bono's side of Songs of Surrender. While some may miss Clayton's thumping 4/4 time bass line, I quite like Bono's voice here. It was one of the standouts of the “Stories of Surrender” tour as Bono sang with the likes of Kate Ellis, Gemma Doherty, and Jacknife Lee backing him up.

Like “Dirty Day,” another track from U2's Zooropa, “Stay (Faraway, So Close!),” is featured on Songs of Surrender. The song is very easy to play in an acoustic arrangement, but U2 takes a new approach to the song. Yes, the choruses retain the angelic-like vocal duets, but The Edge's guitar is largely drowned out by the piano. The Edge's guitar also features a lot more shimmer effect.

“Two Hearts Beat As One” is another song led by The Edge. The iconic bass part is now played on piano, nearly resembling the Beatles' “Hey Bulldog.”

The final three tracks of U2's Songs of Surrender are all pretty good — “Miracle Drug” has never really gotten its due since its release as a part of How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb.

Songs of Surrender is closed out by “The Little Things That Give You Away” and “40.” The former is a slower version of its original counterpart. It also doesn't have Mullen's steady drum beat throughout. Still, it builds to a powerful crescendo.

As U2 showed during their final Sphere show, “40” is still a powerful closer. Call it cheesy, but ending Songs of Surrender with a piano-driven rendition of “40” was a great choice. It may be “Even Better Than the Real Thing.”