So U2 are back and, thanks to their undying love for all things Apple, the whole world is aware of this.
A couple of days ago, the band announced the release of their new album Songs Of Innocence that same day free for all iTunes and Beats Music customers. Of course, since there are far worse things than a free brand new U2 album downloaded straight to your phone, loads of people promptly downloaded it (me included).
As potentially cool as this whole experiment sounded, I’ll admit I had reservations: for one thing, iTunes is about as user friendly as a chocolate chainsaw so accepting presents from it seems evil since this is clearly just a way for them to market research our asses through a phantom favour. Furthermore, U2’s last album, 2009’s No Line On The Horizon was honestly not very good and neither was that Spider-Man musical, by the way.
Unless hilarious means good?
Whatever, let’s give it a go.
I mean, it’s free! How bad could it be?
The album opens with an ode to Joey Ramone of all people. “The Miracle (Of Joey Ramone)” is a strong track with a cool hook, a grungy guitar and a catchy bridge. The chorus, I’ll admit, needed to be as memorable as the rest of the song for it to really have the impact it was looking for but it’s still a clear hit and one of U2’s better recent tunes. Besides, anything paying homage to The Ramones has its heart in the right place and has good taste so no complaints here.
“Every Breaking Wave” is a slower, softer track but it remains surprisingly engaging thanks to an actually pretty melody. Already, U2’s sound seems to have evolved into something interesting and promising again. The next song is “California (There Is No End To Love)” and that one opens with the words “Santa Barbara” used as a rhythmic, repeated lyric. It’s an enjoyable if occasionally cheesy California song and it confirms that U2’s less over-produced sound works much better in that you can actually hear The Edge this time!
“Song For Someone” continues the particularly personal route the band seems to be taking in this album: it’s a sad, nostalgic song which builds slowly but really well. It’s a very typically U2 song and, armed with a strong chorus and an overall solid melody, it out-Coldplays Coldplay, showing these guys how it’s done. The fifth song on the album, “Iris (Hold Me Close)”, is dedicated to Bono’s mother. Ethereal voices open the track and the band delivers a heartfelt song that’ll perhaps be too sentimental for most. It’s harmless enough, though.
“Volcano” is one of the catchiest songs on the album. It’s entertaining and inventive both with its rhythm and its lyrics. Fun stuff. Song number 7 is “Raised By Wolves” and that one opens with a cool experimental beat I’m sure Kate Bush or Phil Collins would have been more than happy with. There’s a retro feel to that one and its chorus is sharp and involving, even if the verses don’t stand out all that much.
We then get a fab guitar-led intro for “Cedarwood Road”, which is much better than the song itself. Whenever The Edge kicks in, the track gets fun again but otherwise, it admittedly doesn’t stand out all that much. A regular electro beat leads the next one, “Sleep Like A Baby Tonight”, and when the vocals finally land it all slowly builds to its soft chorus. That comfort is broken by The Edge’s simple but effective dark riffs which elevate the song to one of the best on Songs Of Innocence. It still ends on a chilled-out vibe, oddly.
“This Is Where You Can Reach Me Now” kicks off with another creative, promising beat. The track is unlike anything else on the album: a war-themed anthem which dips its toe into various styles and genres. Those reviewers criticising U2 for not experimenting probably haven’t heard this one which really is one of their most original songs in recent years. Like it or not, they try something different here and it works. Finally we have “The Troubles” which starts off with vocals by Swedish singer Lykke Li. It’s a less memorable track but it definitely has its moments. It ends the album on a thoughtful, more directly poppy note.
The physical version of the album should include a few more bonus tracks but we’ll get to those another time.
That so many people complained about seeing this album pop up in their iTunes library is ridiculous: not only is this a free album you can totally delete if you don’t like it but it’s a decent U2 album, their best in years in fact so I’d say it’s definitely worth not whining about it too much.
The good thing about Songs Of Innocence is that it looks like the band have learned from their past mistakes and decided to get back to the roots of what they’re trying to convey. The result is a proudly personal album with a handful of great songs and a whole bunch of entertaining and, at the very least, intriguing ones.
U2’s Apple-tizer receives 4 Ziggies out of 5.
Well, more like 3 and a half but it gets an extra half point for making my currently dull playlist not so dull for a little while for free and out of f***ing nowhere.