I know that some people first downloaded and heard this song a couple of weeks back when it was available for a short time from U2.com. I intentionally put off listening to it, though, because I didn’t want to hear any more of Songs of Experience before the new album was released. The other night, though, as I was getting ready for bed, I heard my wife listening to some music in the other room, and I asked her what it was, and she played for me the newest commercially available U2 song, “American Soul.” I knew before hearing it, from reading on the forums, that “American Soul” incorporated portions of “Volcano”, so I was prepared for that part of the song. I also knew, from some interviews that I had read, that the lyrics included those which Bono had sang on the Kendrick Lamar song “XXX,” but what I was unprepared for is how hard the song rocks. I absolutely love the fuzzed out, scratchy sounding guitar riff and the heavy bass and drums.
I read some of the usual complaints that I see every time U2 puts out something new – “they’ve run out of ideas”, or “they’re just ripping off …(insert any one of a hundred sources here – in this case it was their own songs “Volcano” and “Glastonbury”), and I admit that, before hearing the song, I wondered how it would work for the band to integrate a portion of an earlier song. After hearing the song, I think it works like gangbusters! It makes sense, on an album that is connected to the previous one by both title and theme that the band would want to continue some of the thoughts that had begun on that prior release – that there would be some through-lines, just like the lyric of “dream out loud” made appearances on both Achtung Baby and Zooropa. The only difference from those earlier albums is that this time, the connection between the albums is much more solid and literal, as both volumes draw inspiration from an earlier work of poetry by William Blake.
I’d enjoyed hearing Bono’s take on the state of America on the three songs that I’d already heard from Songs of Experience, and that topic is also in evidence on this new track, as you might expect from the title. “American Soul” is all about the search for the American Dream, whether that search is being conducted by Bono or an immigrant to the country, whether today or hundreds of years in the past. I’m currently taking a history class in college, and one of the things I’ve learned in that class is that what we’re seeing today, the racism and the calls for closed borders, the desire for America to be isolated – these aren’t new problems. America has always been divided between those who accepted America for what it is – a conglomerate of distinct ethnic groups and cultural identities – and those who wanted to separate America from all those various personalities. In “American Soul”, Bono is saying that he, and millions of others around the globe, need the country to make a return to acceptance, compassion, and openness. These ideas are the soul of America, and we need to come together to preserve them.