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U2 – Songs of Innocence

October 1, 2014

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This album will be legendary if for no other reason than U2 tarnished their brand by becoming spam.  They broke the number one rule of online marketing: get the customer’s permission.  But they are not the first mega-band to overreach.  There has been plenty written about the U2/Apple fiasco – I am here to talk about the music – which is actually pretty damn good.

I haven’t touched iTunes in a year because of Spotify. Giving this away for free forced me to use it. But it will not bring me back unless iTunes goes HD.  Who needs the trouble of a download? We are streaming baby!

My first impression was that is hard to be U2 – they are so imitated it is hard to sound like the original U2. My first listen made me think of Imagine Dragons.  I wondered where was Danger Mouse (so much of the per-release hubbub was about that collaboration)?

I am a U2 fan and despite the bad PR and the first impressions I was determined to give it a fair listen.  It is a grower – it is a good album. On a real stereo (vs iPhone and crappy buds) the textures are revealed – Danger Mouse’s fingerprints are obvious. Bono’s voice sounds as good as ever and Edge sounds more like a guitar hero than his usual atmospheric self.

I have read a several reviews. So far only raves and haters. They must be doing something right. Here is a quick overview of the songs.

The Miracle (Of Joey Ramone) – This a little devotional to the power of rock and roll and has U2 sounding more like their disciples than themselves.

Every Breaking Wave – This sounds like classic U2.

California (There Is No End to Love) – This is the strongest and most ambitious cut on the album. It opens with a wink to the Beach Boys. As Bono gets warmed up he sounds like Police era Sting. A powerful pop song.

Song for Someone – This includes a rare acoustic guitar as the lead instrument, yet it does not sound like folk – it is pure U2.

Iris (Hold Me Close) – To me this has a bit of a Coldplay feel – and that is not a bad thing. Coldplay are clearly inspired by U2 and it is fine with me if there is a bit of a volley between the two bands.

Volcano – The song has a nice pre-Joshua Tree feel to it.

Raised By Wolves – This has a career spanning sound – a little bit of all U2’s bag of tricks is sprinkled throughout this song.

Cedarwood Road – Bono sings about his boyhood street without getting misty.

Sleep Like a Baby Tonight – By this point in the album I am hearing Danger Mouse and this track reeks of the Mouse. It is a very inspired pairing: the Mouse and U2. U2 is a band who is not afraid of a producer and they are typically better off when they are in a collaboration. They have had some great ones over the years.

This Is Where You Can Reach Me Now – Perfect collaboration of U2 and the Mouse. Almost a Black Keys feel.

The Troubles – A nice atmospheric ballad that allows Bono to show off his amazing rock and roll pipes (really he has not sounded better).  The song is punctuated by Lykke Li’s very prominent “backup vocals.”

In summary this is a solid late career offering.  I appreciate that U2 is not comfortable becoming just a legacy act and that they need to put out new material and that material has some ambition to it.  But let’s be honest they have not put out anything truly innovative since Achtung Baby (1991). I like the fact that the album has a reminiscence theme – that seems age appropriate for mature rock stars.

I wrote most of this blog within the first week that this album came out,  then I got busy and never finished it and set the album aside for a few weeks.  I forced myself back to finish off this blog, feeling like the enthusiasm had worn off and thus maybe this was not such a good album after all.  But it is a good album and it is a nice updating of the U2 sound with a gentle nod to their progeny.

 

 

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