Songs Of Innocence review by U2

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  • Released: Sep 9, 2014
  • Sound: 5
  • Lyrics: 7
  • Overall Impression: 5
  • Reviewer's score: 5.7 Decent
  • Users' score: 5.2 (83 votes)
U2: Songs Of Innocence
1

Sound — 5
Just this past year alone, watching musicians try different marketing techniques to effectively release their music has been captivating. There, of course, was Wu-Tang Clan's standout idea to make a secret album and treat it like a relic, with the only copy having a price-tag of several million dollars, as well as having that album touring museums for special listening parties; which has succeeded in being both unique and absurd. Then there's the more practical trend of surprise album releases: first executed by Beyoncé last year, which warranted massive results (though Wolfmother and Kid Cudi would try the same approach with their newest albums to much lesser avail), and even Thom Yorke unveiled a surprise release of his new solo album for $6 via a BitTorrent bundle, which surpassed a million downloads in just one week. 

But what's made the largest of waves recently, of course, is what U2 has done. For a while, everyone had known that they were gearing up for the release of their thirteenth album, "Songs of Innocence," but the band literally made headlines when it was revealed in Apple's annual product launch that every iTunes account would be receiving U2's new album absolutely free. This alone spurred a plethora of reactions - mostly millennials looking at the newly-acquired album on their iPhone with befuddlement, asking "Who's U2?" - but as information further unraveled, there was even more to talk about with this grand stunt of an album release - from U2 evidently making something along the lines of $100 million in this deal with Apple, to doggedly rushing to release the LP version of "Songs of Innocence" earlier than its originally -scheduled October 14th release date so it would be eligible for the upcoming Grammy Awards, and U2's bassist, Adam Clayton, claiming that the band is already close to finishing a follow-up album. 

If it seems like "Songs of Innocence" is more about the publicity than the actual music, that's because it is. As U2 have traversed into their 30s and double-digit albums, their prime has well passed, and anyone that's experienced U2's music before knows what to expect from them at this point. On the other hand, U2 also know how to compose music with enough cognizance to have it turn out feasible, so the supposition that "Songs of Innocence" would be abysmal due to it being given away is ill-conceived. Amongst the intended majority of adequate, not-great-but-not-terrible pop rock cuts, U2 do mix things up a bit, which results in hits and misses. The best two tracks on the album are the ones on the very tail end: the funky dance-rock "This Is Where You Can Reach Me Now" both distinguishes itself on the album after the thirty-and-some-odd-minutes of standard U2-sounding tracks that came before it; and the closing track, "The Troubles," turns out to be the most interesting ballad U2 have made in a long time - primarily banking on smooth, jazzy bass and the most self-realized string melodies on the album, as well as featuring guest vocalist Lykke Li to duet with Bono.

In the cases of when the sound tinkering misses, the trippy vocal chops in "Raised by Wolves" sounds like a knockoff of a Trent Reznor production technique, and the stronger whirlpool of vocal loops in "Iris (Hold Me Close)" doesn't help the song from feeling like a five-minute drag on the album. U2 attempt to enhance the cookie-cutter "California (There Is No End to Love)" with synths at the chorus, but overdo it like a person that spent too much time in the tanning bed, and the synth-driven slow-burner "Sleep Like a Baby Tonight" only manages to feign soul with a sub-par bluesy guitar solo and the return of Bono's strained uber-falsetto that made listeners originally wince in the infamous "Zooropa" track "Lemon." But aside from the distinctively good and bad, "Songs of Innocence" is mainly made up of safe-betting pop-rockers - from the energetic "The Miracle (Of Joey Ramone)," "Volcano," and "Cedarwood Road" to the easier-going "Every Breaking Wave" and "Song for Someone"- that is expected from U2. They're rock songs that are done right, but are tame and nothing beyond ordinary.

Lyrics — 7
Following conceptual suit with the title of the album, Bono's lyrics in "Songs of Innocence" are mostly recounts of experiences from his youth. This manifests in both positive memories - like Bono's first significant music inspirations in "The Miracle (Of Joey Ramone)" and "This Is Where You Can Reach Me Now," meeting his wife for the first time when they were just teenagers in "Song for Someone," and his first visit to California in the considerably benign "California (There Is No End to Love)" - and, of course, painful memories - like reflecting on his mother's untimely passing in "Iris (Hold Me Close)," and his days of teenage anger growing up during Ireland's chaotic era in "Volcano," "Raised by Wolves," and "Cedarwood Road." While it's this concept that's had Bono deem this album "the most personal record we've written," being album number thirteen, not everything here is a brand new topic - of course Bono has written songs about his mother and wife prior to now, as well as plenty of songs about the history of strife in Ireland. But aside from the overlap, the concept works, and with the ending track, "The Troubles," Bono takes the negative feelings he has towards his past and casts them away for a proper outro.

Overall Impression — 5
Despite their impressive longevity and discography size, U2 is arguably not the face of rock and roll, and there are plenty of other high-profile bands that are more ubiquitous than U2 today. And as U2's music has been predictably static for the past decade - neither soaring to great heights nor sinking to dismal lows - "Songs of Innocence" would have simply come and gone in the natural flow of new music releases, had it not been for its pompous release. Musically, "Songs of Innocence" is just average, but its music didn't need to capture the zeitgeist; the larger-than-life marketing strategy it utilized already took care of that. And consequently, "Songs of Innocence" will be remembered by all of the stories about its marketing buzz, and not about the compositions it contained.

39 comments sorted by best / new / date

    RadioTape
    I actually think it's a pretty good album, Apple paid them a fee to release it for free and it's a marketing strategy that hasn't been done before. If people actually listened to it and didn't just slag it off for it's marketing they'd see that it's not awful. People just want to hate on it for something to hate on.
    UncleBluck
    Its nothing but pure garbage. U2 sold out. They have not produced relevant/real music in years anyway...
    Nuclearcrayon
    IMO all their albums have something great to offer. But then I'm not sure if I should take your opinion seriously after using the term "real music". Is it exclusively the music you like that qualifies as real music?
    third(-)eye
    I loved Unforgettable Fire and War, Zooropa is generally frowned upon but I think it had some cool experimental ideas even if the execution wasn't the greatest... unfortunately, they took all the worst parts of Zooropa and decided to use them as the basis for their new sound.
    spyder52
    Hmm I must confess I deleted it today..
    JediMike
    Funny, so did I. I would have kept it if it hadn't kept automatically adding itself to my iPhone every time i connected it to iTunes. This really upset me. I decide what i want to listen to not Apple.
    timothyshrub
    This is my favorite U2 album. The songs from start to finish are very good. Every song has classic U2 hooks, but you have to listen for them. This is not the album to hear vintage The Edge guitar layering, but Bono's vocals are the true gem of this album. Strongest lyrics in some time.
    Guitar1969
    Actually don't agree. It takes a few listens, but that is how many of the U2 albums have been over the last 15-20 years. I like it in it's own right and you have to remember this album is a precursor to the next album - Songs of Experience. Yeah they are never going to be able recapture the buzz of Joshua Tree or Achtung Baby (what band or artist can in this music industry where music is so easily accessible), but you can't deny that they are unique in that they still sell albums and sell out arenas, while coming up on 40 years. Not sure of any artist that can churn out that many albums and not have it be so so. They are still a driving force in the music industry whether you like their music or not - That is why Apple is using them to release a new multimedia audio format. If you like U2 at all, give it a few listens and you will start to appreciate the creativity. Some of these songs are going to rock when U2 plays them live, especially when Edge's guitar is put more out front of the mix than these studio recordings. The song Iris is a perfect example.
    taytay8b
    This album has been in the making for a long time now.. I mean years. Don't make it sound like Apple approached them and was like "make a new album so we can release it this certain way for you".
    naterz
    I don't understand why U2 and Apple is getting so much sh*t for this free release. If you don't enjoy the music don't download it. It never appears in someones library unless someone downloads it. I personally commend U2 and Apple for what they've done. Whether people view this positively or negatively, their actions has gotten lots of publicity which was the goal.
    rcanders
    This will be one of those "cd"'s where the critics and the like like will trash it and then come back a year or so later and comment "it is really good." I think it isn't what people expected, like McCartney's first two solo albums were trashed only to be praised later.
    kasrafallen
    agree ! if they released it as"normal"as before!maybe community were commenting with more reliable words and ratings.
    Chickendirt
    This album is great. People were too prepared to hate it that they never gave it a full chance. A lot of what is mentioned in this review doesn't really match up to the songs at all
    LieveSander
    Liked the old U2 really, and I think they are still one of the best live bands. But this album isn't my thing. I think it's not as creative as their music was in the past. The good thing about the album is the fact that you can hear after a couple of seconds that it's a song of U2. That's quite unique.
    Inglig909
    If they're giving the album away for free that must say something about it...
    DanielN
    There were only two or so songs that sorta stood out... that´s it. I think it should've been EP.
    District
    "If it seems like "Songs of Innocence" is more about the publicity than the actual music, that's because it is." You cannot just claim this and not prove it. Just because the album's release method got a lot of negative publicity doesn't mean that this publicity was all they went for.
    Gubbeman
    The author argued tons about how the songs were ordinary and tame, and that's why he/she feels the album was more about publicity. He/she doesn't just say it, the author argues for his/her point.
    District
    So just because the reviewer doesn't like the majority of the songs, he concludes they didn't go for good songs and they went for publicity instead? Sorry, I don't see the connection. I don't really fancy Nirvana's Nevermind, but I don't write reviews in which I say the album's more about publicity than music.
    third(-)eye
    Look at it this way: the idea of making an album be automatically downloaded by everyone with iTunes is a new idea regarding publicity (regardless of whether it's a bad one). However, none of the songs on the album cover any new ground for U2 or music in general. In light of that, saying the album is more about publicity makes absolute sense, as it is apparent that that is where the intuition was spent.
    District
    I understand your way of looking at it, and my view at it is a little more sympathetic towards the reviewer now. So thank you for that. However, I think that kind of implies how an album should cover new ground, or else it will be overshadowed by everything around the music, which is in this case the publicity. It's perfectly okay to hold such an opinion of course, but I prefer to just stick to talking about the music and not let context interfere too much.
    third(-)eye
    It's not necessarily that it needs to "cover new ground", but I feel like a quality album should have at least something that sets it apart from others at the time. Why buy something I already have? I feel like I've totally heard all of the songs on this album before.
    logicbdj
    Perhaps an actual U2 fan should review this album, as opposed to someone who likely doesn't care about U2.
    vikkyvik
    In a lot of UG reviews, I might agree with you. But this one is actually very well-written, with supporting arguments and thoughtful critiques/comments. This sentence sums it up pretty well: And consequently, "Songs of Innocence" will be remembered by all of the stories about its marketing buzz, and not about the compositions it contained.
    w77yyz
    Deleted it both out of disdain for Apple shoving it into my tunes, but frankly there wasn't a single track that even made me want to hear it twice. I gave it a try. No thanks.
    MJK.71
    For me, I like to have a choice in what I want to listen to.... If they had just publicised it as a free album, and let people choose to take it up, then I do not feel that there would be any backlash. The fact it was just installed onto my mac kinda makes it all a bit big brother... sort of 'YOU MUST LISTEN TO THIS'... Musically it isn't great either so it was quickly deleted.