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  • Jonathan Widran

HOW U2 ACHIEVED THEIR ECLECTIC SOUND by Brix Jennings


Credit: Remy under license CC BY 4.0 No changes were made to the image.


Irish rock band U2 recently released a stripped-down reimagining of their greatest hits in an album titled "Songs of Surrender." As part of the album's promotions, Bono and Edge performed in NPR Music's Tiny Desk, singing reinterpreted versions of four of their songs. While "Songs of Surrender" has been labeled a hit-or-miss by critics, there's no denying that U2's sound has become a recognizable brand to them and their fans. Today, U2 continues to inspire newer artists. Our previous post on Matthew Squires & The Learning Disorders' latest EP even references their title track as similar to a U2 anthem. U2's latest — "Songs of Surrender" — and critics' response to it further testify to how much we have come to know and love the band's music. In this post, we'll explore some of the things that make up U2's eclectic sound: Their songwriting


Through decades of U2's discography, the Bono and Edge duo have long been the leading men in the songwriting process for the group. Referred to by Edge as a "minimalist" process, U2 sounds like they do because they move as a "live band" instead of a group that labors in a studio. In a recent interview with Edge, he explained the chemistry involved in his and Bono's songwriting process that has built up the decades-old U2 discography. Unlike the Lennon and McCartney partnership that is fueled by rivalry, for example, Edge describes his process with Bono as a part-by-part journey. Where Edge does a lot of music composition, the song doesn't actually get completed without Bono. This complementary songwriting process may be part of why the band has managed to stay together all the years — with the friendships remaining "sort of the same" even as they grow older — and why their sound remains familiar to diehard fans even as they pass through different genres. Their bond

As mentioned above, U2 are unlike most other bands in that they have remained together after all these years. From the Beatles to the Sex Pistols and Simon & Garfunkel — the 70s were filled with musical breakups. Somehow, the Irish fourpiece coming together in 1976 eluded the curse. Bono, Edge, Adam Clayton, and Larry Mullen Jr. began playing and making music together when they were 14 or 15 in age. Avoiding lineup changes, breakups, and long hiatuses, U2's consistency is marred only by the few times they rebooted their sound and image. Despite the musical changes, however, U2 is still on its way to becoming one of the biggest bands ever. Maybe there's something to be said about a decades-long friendship and camaraderie. Without lineup changes, U2's bond may have been the glue that kept their sound as a group together all these years. Their equipment


Finally, a band's gear can change the textures and quality of their sound — U2 is no exception. As the band's lead guitarist, Edge is known to own and use a lot of guitars and setups, including the Voc AC30 amp that has contributed to U2's unmistakable sound. Meanwhile, Bono is widely believed to use the Shure SM58 on stage and in the studio. According to Shout4Music, the SM58 is a long-time industry standard — a handheld dynamic, cardioid mic that's been used for over half a century. Compared to other studio and vocals microphones on the market, the Shure SM58 stands out for its durability and reliable sound, making it the perfect companion for a prolific band like U2. Like their band's lineup, not much of U2's equipment has changed over the past years. In an interview with Edge's longtime tech Dallas Schoo, Schoo takes the interviewer through Edge's extensive guitar and equipment collection. The tech also mentions Edge's iconic '75 Les Paul — which he had auctioned off at Music Rising for $288,000 a few years ago. Recently, Edge also put up other guitars for a charity auction; his limited edition Les Paul "One" and a custom-designed Fender Stratocaster, which were both used extensively on tours with U2. As you can see, many factors may contribute to U2's eclectic sound through their musical ups and downs. However, as mentioned throughout, certain consistencies — from the songwriting process to their gear — have helped keep U2's sound well-loved by fans and newcomers over the decades.


For more music and band insights, be sure to check out more posts from The JW Vibe.

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