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U2, "Songs of Surrender" (Interscope)

For decades, U2 refused to rest on its catalog, determinedly bringing new songs to huge audiences as recently as 2018.

From the beginning, U2 has worked on the largest scale: sometimes to magnificent effect, like its 2002 Super Bowl halftime show that memorialized Sept. 11, and sometimes badly backfiring, like the giveaway of its 2014 album, "Songs of Innocence," that forced the album into iTunes libraries worldwide, often unwanted.

"Songs of Surrender" — remakes of 40 U2 songs with largely acoustic arrangements — is an act of renunciation, drastically scaling down songs that once strove to shake entire stadiums. Like all of U2's albums, it's anything but casual; the songs have been minutely reconsidered. Some get different lyrics: clarifying that "Bad" is about drug addiction, swapping in new verses in "Beautiful Day," rewriting "Walk On" to allude to the war in Ukraine.

The album sets out to recast U2's arena anthems as private conversations. Bono croons as if he's singing quietly into your ear, and most of the arrangements rely on acoustic guitar or piano but by no means devoid of studio enhancements.

The remakes on "Songs of Surrender" often strip away too much. In the original 1983 "Sunday Bloody Sunday," a song that refers to the 1972 massacre of Irish protesters by British soldiers, the track evokes sirens and gunshots while Bono sounds both desperate and furious. The remake, with a lone acoustic guitar, recasts the song as something between a lullaby and lament, crooned as if it's a learned memory. And the surging, cathartic peaks of songs like "With or Without You" and "Vertigo" are far too muted in the remakes.

"Songs of Surrender" does have a few clever second thoughts. A brass band lends historical gravity to "Red Hill Mining Town," while "Two Hearts Beat as One" gets a wry disco makeover. The album's subdued arrangements and upfront vocals offer a chance to focus on lyrics that were obscured in the onrush of U2's original versions.

But for most of "Songs of Surrender," less is simply less. What comes across throughout the 40 songs is not intimacy, but distance. Wild original impulses have been replaced by latter-day self-consciousness. And U2, like most artists, is better off looking ahead than looking back.

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