U2frontU2 – SONGS OF INNOCENCE

Label: Universal Music
Release date: 09.09.2014
Grade: 10/10

Month- and even years-long rumours about a possible new album by U2 went over the boiling point after Daniel Lanois, the famed U2 album producer (the one behind „Joshua Tree“ and other masterpieces), announced that something big is happening on September 9*. Everything downright exploded on that date when the entire new record „Songs of Innocence“ was released for free to half a billion iTunes users – at once! History in the making. And that’s as much as you need to know about the largest album release ever, because this is an album that is far more from a marketing gimmick or a faded attempt at re-conquering the world stage that belong to Coldplays of the world.

Let’s start from the beginning, shall we? „The Miracle (of Joey Ramone)“ is a true album opener, setting the tone for the rest of the record and inviting us into the world of the young Irishmen discovering the Ramones. Bono sings „I was young, not dumb“ and goes on to make the most beautiful, U2-esque homage to the punk legends possible. Upon finding out that the song „In a Little While“ (from „All That You Can’t Leave Behind“) was actually the last piece of music Joey heard before passing away, I couldn’t help but feeling this was very appropriate, like putting the last piece of an enormous puzzle in its place.

The whole album (almost) is a window into the world of U2 about to be born. Almost, because the ballad of the album is definitely „Every Breaking Wave“, which seems to deal with some of the same mature age feelings as, for example, „Electrical Storm“. Then there’s „California (There is no End)“ about the band’s first trip to those magical lands of the US and the „stolen days of their youth“. Catchy chorus and Bono’s high voice at just the right spot: you’ll be singing it – and feeling it – in no time.

In one of their iconic tracks Bono muses about the kiss that broke a heart, but in the „Song for Someone“ he sings about the kiss he stole from the love of his life Ali, the love that started when they were both barely teenagers. John Keats said about poetry, „it should strike the reader as a wording of his own highest thoughts, and appear almost a remembrance.“ U2 lyrics always had an individual, poetic twist, and upon listening to this track, and the following one „Iris (Hold Me Close)“, the feelings behind them will appear familiar – they’ll be your own. „Iris“ is a song about Bono’s mother who passed away when he was only 14, and reminiscing about a long lost parent with lyrics „We’re meeting up again“ and „I’ve got your life inside of me“ might just be that big doughnut in your throat.

Baring himself on the previous tracks, Bono goes behind his falsetto/distorted voice in „Volcano“, a track about what comes after grief. „You and I are Rock’n’Roll“, sings Bono, bringing a vocal throwback to the early days that spoke more of rebellion than any of the millenials with their flashy “angry” anthems of today. Anyone who compares this song to „Vertigo“ clearly doesn’t know a thing about U2 – if one must compare, then this track belongs to „Boy“ more than anywhere else. Also, excellent bass work by Adam here – it simply demands a repeat because it’s catchy, but there’s so much more to this song than its overt attractiveness.

Raised by Wolves“ somewhat breaks the thematical rhythm of the album by speaking about a car bombing in Dublin witnessed by a friend of Bono who, in Bono’s own words, never really got over it. „Boy sees his father crushed under the weight/Of a cross in a passion where the passion is hate” and a cry into the night of “I don’t believe anymore”. The loss of innocence echoed again and again, with each new war tragedy in some part of the world that “thankfully” is not ours anymore. The path down memory lane is continued with „Cedarwood Road“, the title of the actual road where Bono lived in Dublin with his friends Gavin Friday and Guggi Rowan (the track is dedicated to the latter). Definitely one of the strongest tracks on the album. „Sleep Like a Baby Tonight“ brings another turn in the step, this time getting you to that a-ha moment when you recognise Bono’s falsetto vocal and colourful lyrics à la „Zooropa“ – why yes, we just heard a lullaby by Mr. MacPhisto (and was there a hint of „If You Wear That Velvet Dress“ in the instrumental part?).

Bringing us back to late 70’s and the four Irishmen’s boyhood, „This Is Where You Can Reach Me Now“ talks about a Clash concert they attended and were struck by the energy – or perhaps, more by the realisation of what they themselves wanted to be afterwards. Music may change the world from time to time, but it undeniably changes anyone who wishes to be a musician. Closing this version of the album (there will be a deluxe hard copy edition with extra tracks in October) is „The Troubles“ with vocals by Lykke Li („fresh“ from her collaboration with David Lynch in 2013). Again a handful of memorable melodies and lyrics – while the Swedish singer expresses that „somebody stepped inside your soul“, Bono proclaims that „his body is scared and he’s not ashamed“ – a suitable ending for an album titled „Songs of Innocence“ and, perhaps, and even better intro to the follow-up Bono teased as „Songs of Experience“ (to the cheers of U2 fans across the globe).

If they kissed the future with the previous, “No Line On The Horizon”, this time they caressed their past – with both gravitas and youthful energy to transfer all those vivid, decades-old images into strong tracks full of stories. The new album is at times as fresh and unpolished as if it were forgotten on a shelf back in the 80’s, at times raw and unmistakably mature, and at all times being the most personal U2 album in their career spanning almost four decades. There are no really long solos by Edge or Larry’s powerful drums. You can say there are no vocal excapades either – this album is a cohesive, collective burst of music after all four (Adam included) opened a time capsule in their mind and reminisced about things that stay etched in the soul decades after. A loss of a parent, the streets of childhood games, the tragic reality of growing up in Ireland, first concerts, falling in love with punk, seeing the West Coast for the first time. All those milestones meta-connected with the albums that came after them via delightful flirtations (a falsetto here, a trademark riff there), which is why different tracks will probably appeal to people with different U2 tastes.

At the beginning I mentioned the world stage. The truth is – U2 have never left it. Yes, it might seem megalomaniac to bring a new album into virtually every second household in the world, but, as Bono himself put it in a letter to their fans, „Part of the DNA of this band has always been the desire to get our music to as many people as possible..” U2 were always about you too. And if that means reaching as many people as possible on this very connected planet that seems to be the loneliest in ages, then so be it. Also, let’s be honest, U2 never backed away from greatness in their endeavours, and this album is no exception. On to the repeat!

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Review by: Ilhana Škrgić ilhana@venia-mag.net

*Many interpreted this as connected to U2, and while Lanois dropped the news on his own album on the same date, it seems that this move was on purpose. One is left to wonder.