3. U2, 'Songs of Experience'
Opening with a prayer and benediction – "Love Is All We Have Left" – that finds Bono leaping down a rabbit hole of pop-vocal processing to deliver one of his most emotive songs ever, U2's latest finds the band coming to terms with a world closer to the brink than at any time during their career. They meet the moment with precisely the right balance of grandeur and grace, harnessing their earnest post-punk past to their remarkable facility for modern pop gestures, abetted by producers Jacknife Lee, Ryan Tedder, Steve Lillywhite, Danger Mouse and others. Fittingly for dark times, images of love and light abound ("There Is a Light," "Lights of Home," "Ordinary Love," "Love Is Bigger Than Anything in Its Way"), and Kendrick Lamar even drops in to flip some Biblical Beatitudes. But alongside piousness is pure fun. See "The Showman (Little More Better)," which is vintage sock-hop shimmy-shake with a seasoned protagonist cheekily declaring "I got just enough low self-esteem to get myself where I need to go." It's a rock & roll creation myth that manifests the music's eternal magic, delivered by a band that refuses to let it fade. W.H.