No one likes waiting too long for an album release. So just when the world thought it was going to have another ‘Chinese Democracy’ situation on its hands U2 capitalised on its own creative tardiness with an ambitious plan.
“What if our new album, which everyone thinks may be delayed even further, was instantly injected into half a billion iTunes accounts?”
“Sure, sounds good.”
Far more telling however is why U2 even needed such mass exposure? Aren’t they still “the best band in the world”?
U2 have something to prove. With much of the 00’s going in their favour, they have been locked into a downward trajectory ever since 2009’s lacklustre ‘No Line On The Horizon’. In the meantime they have been teetering on the edge of cultural and musical irrelevance. They needed to return with a bang.
The Apple experiment paid off, but without the music to match, extinction was certainly on the cards.
Fortunately ‘Songs of Innocence’ is a major coup for a band who have spent the last number of years on a quest for honest and meaningful material. Thematically set in the bands hometown of Dublin, this back-to-their-roots approach has allowed them reconnect with what Bono describes as the “sacrament” of music.
Evidence of this sincerity is weaved in throughout the fabric of every song. Opening track The Miracle Of (Joey Ramone) is a big stadium anthem chronicling Bono’s musical awakening upon witnessing The Ramones live. “I woke up at the moment when the miracle occurred/ heard a song that made some sense out of the world” he sings, describing it as the most beautiful sound he ever heard.
A first listen can tell you a lot about an album and what is abundantly clear after sitting through the eleven tracks is that it is fresh, energetic and above all else, it has heart. It is U2 being U2. Songs such as Every Breaking Wave and Song For Someone are prime examples of U2 being comfortable with themselves. They are big, uncomplicated anthems that come from the heart.
Lyrics throughout the record are direct and stripped of any pretence. The content does not dwell far beyond the personal level and is decorated with the odd literal reference to the past. Cedarwood Road (where Bono grew up in Dublin) and Iris (Hold Me Close), which is written about Bono’s mother, are solid examples.
This lyrical simplicity is contrasted with a more colourful melodic variety. The music is unapologetically catchy and demonstrated best on California (There Is No End To Love) where Bono slides comfortably into the higher vocal register for a melodically irresistible chorus.
Leaving aside all context surrounding the release of this album, U2 have done something quite simple. They have released a collection of memorable songs of a high quality and have earned a good review. If people could find the time to actually listen to the record as opposed to questioning the bands relevance and their iTunes stunt, they may give it a good review too.