U2

Songs Of Innocence

Written by: TL on 28/09/2014 18:35:29

With five years passing since the unusually meditative and exotic "No Line On The Horizon" from 2009, Irish stadium rock legends U2 have struggled longer than ever before in their career, trying to put together a follow-up that they were satisfied with. Rumours of titles and producers have come and gone, until suddenly the new release titled "Songs Of Innocence" appeared magically, out of nowhere, on the itunes accounts of Apple products across the globe. Profiled as the band's most personal album after many years of high-minded global perspectives and produced by the reputed Danger Mouse, the release immediately caused controversy, with some loving the "gift" and others protesting against the "spam", while industry types predictably started debating whether U2 are contributing to the devaluation of music by releasing their highly anticipated thirteenth album for free to so many.

Paying heed to all that commotion, it's difficult to even begin to concentrate on the music that's actually on the record, also because U2 have been around for so long that few of us have intimate experience with their long release history, making it hard to know what to expect from the world-famous Irishmen in 2014. Singer/philantropist Bono has publically voiced his considerations about how the band could stay relevant, and reviews apart from this one have pointed to their efforts leading them to sound "derivative of bands that previously sounded derivative of them". Listening then to album opener and leading single "The Miracle (Of Joey Ramone)" - a salute to the band's early inspirations, at least lyrically - it's hard not to hear the staccato signature riff and poppy "whoa-ohs" and think of it like an underpowered version of Thirty Seconds To Mars' "Conquistador". Similarly songs like "Song For Someone", "Every Breaking Wave" and "Iris (Hold Me Close)" can either feel like they may have fit just as well as filler on a recent Coldplay album, or like b-sides to The Killers' vastly underrated "Battle Born", which is a record it's easy to feel like reaching for as an alternative to these tracks.

Now, U2's are not a band to push the envelope technically. You can hear as much readily on "Songs Of Innocence", where the flow of tempos and songstructures is seamless and totally predictable. The band's strengths are David 'The Edge' Evans' masterful sound-making on the guitar and Bono's unmistakeable vocals, and especially the former is apparent in the production: Evans' setup is to silence what burning drops of lava are to darkness, slashing through it and leaving seared fringes. It's perplexing then, that his contribution is this minimalistic. The same can be said of Bono's singing. The man's voice is quintessentially the sound of big choruses, to the point where he can shoulder a song entirely on his own if his melodies are good enough, but with "Raised By Wolves" offering the best bid for a strong hook on here, it's questionable whether "Songs Of Innocence" really contains the signature tracks for the ages that have traditionally built U2's legacy.

The thing is: "No Line On The Horizon" saw the band acting its age, accepting a lack of big hits in favour of a stately, contemplative sound, which oozed authenticity and relistenability from the seams. "Songs Of Innocence" doesn't have that confidence. It seems to yearn for renewed energy and renewed relevance to younger listeners, and the result is a batch of songs that, apart from the top-notch, diverse production, feel rather ordinary. Not bad, not good, just ordinary. "Cedarwood Road" is a decent exception, making rowdy noise to get going and then settling to a mature pace and thoughtful guitar melody, and "California (There Is No End To Love)" stands out as well, though it's primarily via its Beach Boys-ish male choir in the intro. "Volcano" and "This Is Where You Can Reach Me Now" on the other hand, sound like a band trying in vain to invoke a sense of danger.

Isolated from its parent band's reputation and from all the debate around its release, "Songs Of Innocence" sounds like the type of record that is decent and that's it. Existing fans of the band will not be alienated, and curious listeners will find the sound, songwriting and production adequate enough for any larger full time band. In the grander scheme of the rock scene 2014 though, the material on here is likely to have negligible impact. There's simply a lack of moments that overpower you or confound you with their urgency or elegance. So while the record will hardly annoy you or lull you to sleep, I doubt that it will give you anything to really blast on repeat in your car, and while this is hardly a disaster, the question is whether it isn't disappointment enough, for a band whose mission has been to drill in search of new pockets of inspiration. But then on the other hand, perhaps it's not bad to be reminded that a band often held so highly above others are in fact still noticeably human.

Download: Raised By Wolves, Cedarwood Road, The Miracle (Of Joey Ramone)
For The Fans Of: The Killers, Coldplay, Thirty Seconds To Mars, Manic Street Preachers
Listen: facebook.com/u2

Release date 09.09.2014
Island Records

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