U2 - Songs Of Innocence
So it’s finally here: the much rumoured, much denied 13th album from premier stadium fillers U2. And, boy, was that a surprise. Well, kind of, and kind of not. Radiohead have already done the free album thing (more accurately pay what you like) way back in 2007 and Beyonce did the whole “surprise!” thing last December. Hell, even Jay-Z gave away his last album (albeit in limited numbers and not the half billion copies Apple are claiming for this one). So it's a bit of bandwagon jumping? Yes and no; love them or hate them they’re one of the few acts in the world that could make this big of a splash doing something that’s not radically new. There web has been a-flurry with concerns that giving music away has implications for the future of the art form, but the long message posted on the band’s website from Bono makes it clear Apple paid for the privilege of having the album. But there’s always a lot of talk around the release of U2 albums. What’s Songs Of Innocence like - and is it worth the five year wait?
Simply put, yes. Mostly free of the pomposity that has weighed the band down over the last few years - maybe even decades - and it shares most DNA with some of their earliest records, Boy and War, in its simplicity. That spills over into the lyrics where The Edge and Bono hark back to their youth. Songs like the anthemic rock of ‘The Miracle (Of Joey Ramone)’ and the riff-heavy ‘Cedarwood Road’ are clear references to their beginnings, the latter being a reference to the street where Bono grew up. The diminutive frontman is in fine voice too: ‘California (No End To Love)’ is the most focussed he’s sounded since The Joshua Tree. Stripped of the effects that regularly blight the U2 sound, there’s a vibrancy to ‘Volcano’ and an anger to ‘Raised By Wolves’ that’s been sorely missing for about 30 years, before Lykke Li delivers a cameo and adds a different dimension on closer ‘The Troubles’. Though there are lapses - the bass driven ‘Iris (Hold Me Close)’ is a bit too close to default mode despite the touching subject (the loss of Bono’s mother as a teenager) - they're few and far between.
The much vaunted sessions with uber-producer Dangermouse have been supplemented with other work from Paul Epworth (of Adele fame), Ryan Tedder, and old friend Flood. The lack of sonic guff is pleasing; even U2's much heralded return to rock music over the last decade or so has been hidden behind layers of production. Songs Of Innocence has a much cleaner, crisper feel, again looking back to the early 80s, and is much better for it.
Like any established band this is unmistakably U2. Don’t like 'em? Don’t listen - but this is also the sound of a band that know they’ve lost their way getting in touch with themselves again. If you’ve ever fallen out of love with them, this is the time to give the relationship another go. It won't cost you owt after all.