Album Review: U2 – Songs of Innocence

If U2 wasn’t one of the world’s most beloved bands it certainly is now.

Quite un-expectantly, the Irish rockers released the follow-up to No Line On The Horizon on Tuesday – an 11 song effort entitled Songs of Innocence on the heels of Apple’s latest and greatest technological achievements.

No wonder it took so long. Was that whole Bono has writer’s block rumor, among other reasons, for the long-anticipated album’s delay, simply a ruse to get people to stop talking about U2 and a record that was widely expected for release last year? Apparently, because the headlines of U2’s new album, available for free, nearly stole the headlines away from Apple. U2 performed live during Apple’s much hyped press conference announcing the new iPhone 6 and Apple Watch.

So, what’s even better than a free U2 album? A really good U2 album that is the quartet’s finest in more than a decade.

Songs of Innocence opens with an ode to the late Joey Ramone with “The Miracle (Of Joey Ramone)” a straight-forward hard rock song that starts with a great guitar distortion before Bono pipes in and then the emotive “Every Breaking Wave” is certain to get heavy airplay. Much like the fantastic “Magnificent” from 2009’s No Line On the Horizon it’s got great melody then combined with Bono’s soaring if not heart-aching vocals that forces you to sit and get stuck in a moment.

“California (There Is No End to Love)” is third which opens with a “Ba-ba-ba-ba-Barbara” chant – a nod to the Beach Boys – before diving into a solid rock beat. The chanting, as short as it is, and Larry Mullin Jr.’s drum beat gets in your head and Bono shows at 54 he hasn’t lost any range in his vocals. “Song for Someone” cuts back on the tempo a bit adding a pretty acoustic line before those imposing vocals again grip you and then “Iris (Hold Me Close),” a love song to Bono’s mother, brings back that so familiar U2 guitar sound of the 1980s while Adam Clayton drubs along on his bass for a great accompanying beat.

“Volcano” is ripe with all the ingredients for a great rock song. Thumping bass and a great snare open this one with Bono in command of the vocals in an abundance of ranges. “Raised By Wolves” is one of the most dynamic songs on the album – seriously, check out that chorus “I don’t believe anymore” – and “Cedarwood Road” adds some grunge. “Sleep Like a Baby Tonight” brings in the most synths of any of the songs though it’s primarily a repetitive fill. Don’t worry, it works well and guitarist The Edge drops in some great guitar riffs. “This Is Where You Can Reach Me Now” starts off with a tribal beat, then, like so many of the songs before it, drops right into a fun, toe-tapping beat. Finally, “The Troubles” close things out using guest vocals from Swedish pop singer Lykke Li on the chorus.

Songs of Innocence is chock full of great rhythms and melodies and is so much easier to not only listen to but straight out enjoy from the first spin (or is it download?) than No Line. None of the songs really end where you think they’re going from how they start. Yet it’s all cohesive and there isn’t one filler on the entire album. Bono is polished throughout vocally and brings one of his best performances to date.

Waiting is always the hardest part for a new album, this one five years since U2’s last release, but a lot of thought and energy went into making this record. It’s not as if the band has reinvented itself, they’ve always known how to push the envelope a bit and this time around they ripped it open.

All anyone needs to do to get this album is get iTunes and download it. That’s it. Now, whether or not U2 starts an industry trend by eschewing album artwork and thus the traditional album release, nonetheless they’ve certainly got people’s attention. Unless album sales soar into platinum status, it’s apparently not worth the financial effort to produce physical CDs anymore. The real money is made on tour and what better way to bring the crowds (as if U2 needs any help) then to give away the reason to see them play live.

For many bands, especially those who rose into prominence in the last 10 or 15 years, waiting five years between releasing new material pretty much undercuts whatever momentum they enjoyed the last time out. But U2 is at the point in their career where waiting 10 years would barely put a chink in their armor.

And with an album like Songs of Innocence it should keep fans satiated for a while, unless it just makes them hungry for more.

Grade: A-

Songs of Innocence Track Listing:

1. The Miracle (Of Joey Ramone)
2. Every Breaking Wave
3. California (There Is No End of Love)
4. Song for Someone
5. Iris (Hold Me Close)
6. Volcano
7. Raised By Wolves
8. Cedarwood Road
9. Sleep Like a Baby Tonight
10. This Is Where You Can Reach Me Now
11. The Troubles

Written By: AndrewT

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6 thoughts on “Album Review: U2 – Songs of Innocence

  1. Great write up about SOI. I wish I could be as upbeat and positive about it, though. I’m writing about the music itself and not the publicity that surrounded it. After months of listening to it there is barely any staying power. It’s not that the songs are bad, the majority are just very underwhelming. I think the high points are the lovelier offerings like Every Breaking Wave, Song for Someone, Iris and The Troubles…but I think I’m being generous about those kudos, most likely because I’m simply grateful for new U2 material…finally. I’m seeing 2 shows this coming May. Maybe after experiencing the songs live my opinion will differ.

    • Thanks for the feedback! I purposely put the album away for a while because of exactly what you mention. As the tour approaches I’ll be listening to it a bit more so we’ll see if I have the same response.

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