Release Date: Sep 9, 2014
Record label: Interscope
No other rock band does rebirth like U2. No other band – certainly of U2's duration, commercial success and creative achievement – believes it needs rebirth more and so often. But even by the standards of transformation on 1987's The Joshua Tree and 1991's Achtung! Baby, Songs of Innocence – U2's first studio album in five years – is a triumph of dynamic, focused renaissance: 11 tracks of straightforward rapture about the life-saving joys of music, drawing on U2's long palette of influences and investigations of post-punk rock, industrial electronics and contemporary dance music.
Review Summary: A heart that is broken is a heart that is open.Like all great men, U2 entered the final phase of their careers thinking about the sort of legacy that they were going to leave behind. In an interview with Radio 1 DJ Zane Lowe, Bono even went as far as to admit that the group had started wondering if it was truly worth going any further. "We were trying to figure out, 'Why would anyone want another U2 album?'” explained the vocalist.
Like most musicians of a certain age do, U2 has reached the reflective part of their storied career. It’s at this point when most bands or artists revert back to either the sound that helped bring them their biggest successes or go even further in the past to pay homage to their influences. U2’s 13th studio album follows those same tenets but manage to throw an interesting spin on it.
Many U2 albums experience a difficult birth, but their 13th studio record underwent a particularly extended labor. Gestating for years, possibly started immediately after 2009's No Line on the Horizon and ushered into existence by many midwives, Songs of Innocence appeared suddenly in September 2014, nearly nine months after "Invisible," the presumptive lead single for the record, flopped. "Invisible" is nowhere to be found on Songs of Innocence, yet its vaguely electronic thrum did indeed turn out to be a taste of where U2 were headed after those endless sessions wound up shepherded by Danger Mouse.
You can't go home again, but you can sing and write about it. So that's what U2 does with a vengeance on their thirteenth studio album, "Songs of Innocence." The giveaway album — gifted to every citizen of the world with an iTunes account Tuesday — finds the Irish foursome looking back with longing, anger and excitement, as well as love, hope and fear. The lyrics survey the group's youth in a very different Ireland: at their early musical influences and inspirations, at departed parents and evolving dreams.
Even in an age in which we’ve grown accustomed to artists giving away their albums for free or suddenly unleashing them without warning, the arrival of U2’s Songs of Innocence feels slightly curious. It was announced, minutes before its release, at Apple’s Keynote Presentations: Bono and the company’s CEO, Tim Cook, indulging in some scripted “hey-why-don’t-we-do-the-show-right-here” banter so teeth-gritting it seems a miracle no one in the audience of assembled geeks tried to bludgeon themselves into insensibility with an iPad before its end. U2 and Apple – the latter footing the bill – don’t seem to have released the album so much as foisted it upon half-a-billion people: if you have an iTunes account, it is there in your “purchased” folder.
There’s a certain megalomania that drives U2. Perhaps you already know this, but if not, the magnificent mess surrounding the band’s latest offering, Songs of Innocence, drives the point home pretty concretely. U2 have been the biggest rock band in the world next to the Stones for almost as long as I’ve been alive. The fact that Bono, The Edge, Adam Clayton, and Larry Mullen, Jr.
There are a lot of questions that have surrounded U2 since the highly-publicized surprise release of their 13th full-length, Songs of Innocence: how will this effect future album releases and promotion? Despite being available in over a half-billion iTunes account, what does it mean when it was actually downloaded only 200,000 times in the U. S. ? Which record label actually put out the album (Rolling Stone lists Universal Music Group, iTunes lists Island, the New York Times lists Interscope, and the band’s own website fails to list a record label at all)? Why isn’t their halfway-decent charity track “Invisible” included? And, for some younger people, the biggest and most important question actually proved to be indicative of the response to the album overall: who is U2 anyways? By associating themselves with a massive media stunt of this nature, the band can’t be too surprised that a great majority of the reviews that have come out since the album’s release have talked about the album in much larger “future of the industry” standards, most publications rushing out reviews—which, in some cases, doubled as thinkpieces—as a way to garner traffic instead of actually giving the music any real consideration (these rapid-fire critiques proving to be something that U2’s own website was more than happy to round up).
Time was, the recipe for a superstar artist to create a Big Event Album was well known—a few teaser ads in the music mags, a lead single for radio, some late-night talk show appearances, then sit back and watch the fans line up at the record store on release day. But now that basically every entity in that sentence has been culturally marginalized, and the propeller churn of social media refuses to tolerate slow-burn marketing, the best—and, perhaps, only—way to get everyone talking about your record at once is to release it with no warning. U2 being U2, they’ve taken that strategy one step over the line into indisputably queasy territory, aligning with their old friends Apple to insert their new album, Songs of Innocence, into all of our libraries without consent.
The idea of rock’n’roll as a living countercultural force is pretty much discredited now. Experience has taught us that music is a lifestyle accoutrement, not the lifeblood of social change as it might still have been in the 1970s, when the young U2 were coming of age. Then, rock’n’roll would have seemed a terrific way out of the tense dreariness in which Ireland, with its religious wars and stringent sexual taboos, seemed mired.
There's a fine line between desperation and hope and, while they often write anthemic songs about the promise of the human spirit (or something), U2 has always been a very desperate band. At their most interesting, (around 1987's The Joshua Tree and through to 1991's Achtung Baby), they were still viewed suspiciously by music purists, as foreign geeks with naked ambition and obvious gimmickry (the Edge's treated, heart-string-pulling guitar progressions, his and Bono's lofty lyricism and overwrought vocals). They spoke so openly about their desire to be "the biggest band in the world," it made their music sound like an entry in a high school battle of the bands in which they wanted everyone in the gym to think that U2 were cool.
U2’s last album, 2009’s ‘No Line On The Horizon’ might have been a flawed midlife crisis of a record but, like an actual midlife crisis, it contained some brilliantly fun flashes. Its follow-up, unfortunately, has only a handful of standouts. ‘Iris (Hold Me Close)’, about Bono’s mother, is by far the best track, a wistful and pining ode that recasts the band’s best moments in timeless sonics.
"They'll never stop The Simpsons," sang Dan Castellaneta at the end of "Gump Roast," a critically slated clip show episode from the long-running cartoon. "Have no fear we've got ideas for years." That was back in the series' 13th season and it's hard to argue that in the dozen years since that The Simpsons retains the cultural importance of its golden age, if any at all. Certainly the second half of that line rings false: the vast majority of episodes since then have been lacking in ideas, feeling stale compared to the biting relevance of the good times.
Unless you’ve been living in a hermetically sealed cave for the last week or so, you will of course already know everything about the new U2 album. You will know that it has been forcibly dropped into the iCloud accounts of millions of users of Apple’s iTunes software. You will probably also be aware that whilst it arrives ‘free’ for the consumer (whether they want it or not), it certainly has not come free for Apple.
I’ve really never had any problem with U2: I kind of like most of their music up to the late Nineties; I’ve never taken much issue with Bono and his ‘ways’; having thought about it, I can’t even bring myself to get that angry about their tax avoidance; and even accepting that it’s been 14 years since they put out a decent record, I think they’re probably a more interesting proposition - albeit conceptually and culturally rather than musically - than most bands you’d care to call their peers. And I’m not really bothered about Songs of Innocence popping into my iTunes. I mean, for starters it was really helpful in terms of writing this review.
There is something inherently presumptuous about a band thinking you want its new album. So badly, in fact, that you can have it for free. Right now. You don’t even have to track it down. It will magically appear in your online music library after a simple click of the mouse. No money, no problem ….
Memories are a blast on “Songs of Innocence,” the album that U2 released on Tuesday afternoon as a worldwide giveaway. With a title that echoes William Blake, the album is a blast of discoveries, hopes, losses, fears and newfound resolve in lyrics that are openly autobiographical. It’s also a blast of unapologetic arena rock and cathedral-scale production, equally gigantic and detailed, in the music that carries them.
opinion byPETER TABAKIS < @ptabakis > Congratulations! Chances are you’re an iTunes user and, as such, the recent owner of the new U2 album Songs of Innocence. Since U2 still holds the title as the Biggest Band in the World, you were probably thrilled to discover this gift while live-streaming Apple’s announcement of two beefed-up iPhones and a timepiece that will shackle our wrists early next year. You no doubt rushed to your nearest compatible device and shared a monumental experience with 499,999,999 others across the planet.
When U2 and Apple released a surprise album on unsuspecting iTunes accounts earlier this week, the easy kneejerk reaction—especially given the band’s recent track record—was to assume that the freebie price would be reflected in the quality of the music. Despite employing some sophisticated electronic ambience and welcome jagged guitars, U2’s last album, 2009’s No Line On The Horizon, had frequently embarrassing lyrics and an unfortunate lack of emotional resonance. A tepid new single from earlier this year, “Invisible,” similarly felt like a facsimile of a U2 guitar anthem—all surface bluster and muted sentimentality.
Whether you want it there or not, U2's new album, “Songs of Innocence,” has moved into your iTunes library. The coffee is on, the furniture's in and Bono's got his feet up on the couch waiting for the cable guy to visit. Like just about everything the Irish quartet has done for, oh, the past 35 years, the arrival of free music is not so much a “gift” — as it's being framed by the band and its corporate partner, Apple — as an invasion.
One danger of artistic longevity is repetition. Then there's the problem of self-parody. In the case of U2, a band with 13 documented and doted-upon studio albums across 34 years, how does an artist deliver surprise instead of lapsing into well-worn tropes, even if they're expertly imagined and executed? One effective way to shock in 2014 is by dropping anticipated new work with no advance notice, for free, while the world is tuned to an Apple product launch.
U2 Songs of Innocence (Island) No Line on the Horizon becomes the demarcation point in U2's catalog given its equally undercooked successor, Songs of Innocence. Another five years in the studio didn't prove long enough, obviously, for Bono to cobble together any cohesion from his lyric notebooks. Ireland's conquering quartet thus moves from contemporary rock band to classic oldies act in search of final LP glories over its remaining lifetime.