An ominous twang, like the rustling of desert tumbleweed or a one-string diddlybow, begins “Lights of Home,” the second song on U2’s Songs of Experience. It is the album’s expansively most produced song, featuring the Haim sisters on backing vocals and boasts production credits from both Jacknife Lee and OneRepublic frontman and “Undercover King of Pop” Ryan Tedder. Unsurprisingly, there is a lot going on in the song, from the tantric chanting that first accompanies Bono’s barreling vocals to the wall of effect synthesizers that eventually close him out. This is fitting, maybe. “Lights of Home” is about dying, particularly the personal “extinction event” that Bono once experienced, and, here, reveals itself in the line “I thought my head was harder than ground.” That is the most Bono way to describe falling on your head. And by this time, much like someone with their head bleeding on granite, the listener is dizzy too and lost in a bubbly outro that seems to go on forever, ceaselessly cooing: “Free yourself/ to be yourself/ If only you could/you see yourself…”
The twang at the beginning, however, also kind of sounds like the beginning of the 90s-hit song “Loser,” something that U2’s most recent tour mate, Beck, must have noticed at some point in the seven days they played together last year. (The riff was actually plucked from the middle of a Haim song called “My Song 5,” which accounts for why U2 invited the band on background vocals.) In an official remix of the song that was originally released in a limited run on Record Store Day last month, Beck notices this but doesn’t feel very nostalgic about it. He instead barrels ahead himself, flattening the song’s second half into the kind of bouncy sonic echo that has defined his best work of late (Modern Guilt, Colors). This is a serious improvement. Where Bono & co. want seriousness but also chase the fantasy of nonexistent modern rock radio, Beck pursues a vision of his sound that can accommodate solemnity.