Songs Of Innocence
Released: September 9, 2014
Artists: Larry Mullen, Adam Clayton, the Edge, Bono
Listen: You always want the guitar to sweep you off your feet • You've given to the ONE campaign and you feel it's about time the guy started giving back to you • You don't mind simple inspiration • You like free • You have managed and mature expectations
Don't Listen: You always look gift horses in the mouth • Your music has to be pretentious and complex • You'd rather the new not redefine the old • You prefer your rockstars to be irresponsible and indifferent • Samsung user
I'M NOT THAT INNOCENT
The dominating story about this new U2 album has been the "invasive" way it was distributed to Apple's customers. Bob Lefsetz, an industry analyst with a hyperbole addiction, compared the album to rape– which is a disgusting way to trivialize actual victims for the sake of a sensationalist headline.
The underlying concern is about privacy. In the advent of the cloud age, are we comfortable with content providers being able to add to our devices without our direct and explicit consent? I understand the issue some may have with this kind of opt-out generosity. Especially when we want our music libraries to say more about us than they really do. But this should serve as a reminder that we are already networked with products and services that have access to us already. Those who criticized Apple and U2 for this gift are essentially the same stock as those who complain about how invasive Facebook is... on Facebook.
In 1997, to announce the beginning of their PopMart tour, U2 held a press conference in Kmart. While this stunt initially seemed tacky, it's now aged well: U2 was being culturally obtuse as a method of social criticism. Of course, shortsighted rock fans don't just want their rockstars to rebel– they want their rockstars to rebel in a certain way. The acceptable rockstar image of the 90s was supposed to look like Kurt Cobain– I suppose Bono just didn't feel like he looked good in plaid.
Now it seems like the way U2 defies convention is again socially unacceptable. Their influence on music has made a marked shift away from what it used to be: they are spending their celebrity as currency. Really, which other band would even be invited to the table if Apple had their mind set on buying all their users an album? It's totally appropriate for our aging rockstars to endlessly tour their ancient hits until we no longer want to buy tickets to their concerts, but it is offensive for U2 to bypass and undermine the conventional music market? Is it only appropriate for little indie bands to rebel against the music industry? Sure, everybody got paid, and you could rightly argue that U2 are industry insiders. But when major acts are willing to bypass typical marketing and distribution schemes, it's another huge blow to the unnecessary overhead that labels are carving out from their artists.
The music should, of course, be judged on its' own merits. In this case, your feelings about Songs of Innocence are a great indicator of how you feel about all of their music. Songs of Innocence is definitive U2: broad, lyrically accessible yet ambiguous, and designed with stadiums in mind. The album plays as a retrospective on the band's musical upbringing, and it purposefully invites comparisons to their older work.
If you like their older work, you'll appreciate the nods and gestures they make towards their defining moments– and conversely you'll dismiss this music if you've already dismissed them as a band. The distribution was primarily aimed at introducing another generation to U2– Songs of Innocence is a perfect primer for the uninitiated, but it's a terrible apologetic for the unconverted.
Songs of Innocence isn't just preaching to the choir– it's first recruiting the choir. The "whoa oh" chorus (beautifully analyzed here) on "The Miracle of Joey Ramone" is essentially a punk congregational.
"Song For Someone" will seem pandering and cliché to many. But the simple lyric and repetitive refrain can be impactful, if you believe in its'... *ahem*... innocence.
"Raised By Wolves" and "Every Breaking Wave" are designed to last in U2's extensive discography. Self-doubt and cynicism wear well on Bono, as a counterpoint to the excessive crusading hope he's usually mocked for. "Wolves" is more musically unconventional, and I'd bet "Wave" will be released as their third single.
"Volcano" works as a tribute to the some of the band's earlier work (polished right between "Zooropa" and "Pop"), but otherwise it's fairly forgettable.
"California" is creatively constructed, but lyrically weak. The singular idea of doubting love is not enough to sustain this track.