The new U2 album…something I’ve been anticipating since I saw them for the second time on the 360 Tour at Chicago’s Soldier Field in 2011. Since the conclusion of that tour, there have been repeated rumors of a new U2 album in the works. When they announced Tuesday that the new record is being offered to all iTunes users for free, I rushed home and was pleasantly shocked to find it waiting for me in my music library. There it was…Songs of Innocence.
“The Miracle (of Joey Ramone)” is the sound of a refreshed and inspired band, setting the tone for the long-awaited thirteenth album. “Every Breaking Wave” and “California (There is No End to Love)” convey the same feeling, but in a more melodic way. Bono is really at the top of his game for most of this album, and that goes for his dynamic melodies as well as his emotional performances. Especially on “Iris (Hold Me Close)” (written for his mother), the album’s lyrical content draws from the band’s experiences in their younger years.
Some of the songs (especially “Raised By Wolves”) will definitely take you back to their first three records. A lot of U2 fans love them for that early sound, and will most likely be delighted to hear it again. I’d call it a successful mix of U2 in 1982 and U2 in 2014. They pull off the incorporation of modern influences into their style much better than they did with Pop in 1997.
The main reason I love U2 is for the sound those four guys make together. Bono, Edge and Larry are all in fine form on this record, but I was pleased to hear Adam Clayton’s bass more out in front and edgy than it has been for a while. His playing has evolved with the band over the years and remains an essential component to their sound, but I’ve always loved his hard-working approach from the very early albums. That approach takes a few of these songs (“Iris (Hold Me Close),” “Raised By Wolves”) to another level.
The first time I listened to Songs of Innocence, it didn’t sound like the album I had waited five years for. Some of it is a bit over-produced and a few songs just miss the mark for me (“Volcano,” “This is Where You Can Reach Me,” “Cedarwood Road”). It’s certainly not my favorite U2 album. However, after a few more listens, I am impressed with the majority of it.
Lyrically and musically, it’s more united than their past two records, which had some stand out tracks but didn’t all fit together properly. I like an album to sound like it was all recorded at the same place and time, and even though they recorded this one in three different countries with five different producers, they pulled that off. They incorporated elements of their previous work, but they weren’t trying to recreate what they’ve done before. Instead they looked to their past to find the collective attitude this band originated from, and they delivered it with the maturity they have accumulated over the last 35 years. There are a few unsuccessful moments, but I think the good outweighs the bad and it sounds like the band is really proud of this one. There’s something to be said about four guys who can do that after 35 years together.
Key Tracks: “The Miracle (of Joey Ramone)”, “Iris (Hold Me Close),” “Raised By Wolves”
RIYL: The Clash, The Frames, Muse