This review is to commemorate Mike and Aaron‘s third annual “Toronto Record Store Excursion” and is dedicated to all my music blogger peeps…you know who you are! There is a little bit of all of you in this review. Let’s GIVE ‘ER!
[A long time U2 fan over here…what’s that you say? There is a FREE U2 ALBUM available on iTunes?!? How tempting!
But, wait a second…I hate iTunes! I have never bought any music on iTunes!
Oh, just download it will ya! Soon it won’t be free any longer. The Edge has to pay his bills somehow, you know…]
The above is the internal monologue that took place in my head just last Monday. I have read complaints of how people now own U2’s latest album, Songs of Innocence, and don’t want to…and they can’t exorcise it from their iOSs . It would seem I am the last to have this album (as a fan anyway), I guess it’s a direct result of never syncing my iPod Touch to iTunes. But what the hey. I decided to download the album because I am a U2 fan, and heck, I am a bloody cheapskate. It’s free? I’ll take it!
With all the critiquing this album has received, combined with my ambivalence towards U2’s last release, No Line on the Horizon, I was expecting to either hate Songs of Innocence, or never listen to it again.
I first listened to this album at my desk at work. I had to keep the volume down because, let’s face it: my place of employment doesn’t appreciate the RAWK. But I have since listened to it half a dozen times on my commute to and from work. What did I think?
From the first couple of listens, Songs of Innocence was not an instant love. But, persistent me, I kept listening to it. Since then, there are aspects that have grown on me, but this album was definitely slow to stoke any fires. Upon subsequent listens, there is one thought that stuck in my head at first listen that remains there today: I can’t help but think every song sounds like it was composed to be used in car commercials; either by its repeated use of crashing crescendos, quick fades or sweeping piano stylings. Thank goodness I didn’t hear a ukelele, because then I would know this is meant to be used commercially – in which case I would have thrown my iPod into my 32 gallon fish tank (look out, Nugget!).
The first track, The Miracle (of Joey Ramone) is that song heard everywhere right now. It has excellent fuzz distortion, and a catchy chorus (“The most beautiful sound I ever heard…”). Not bad at all, and one of the strongest songs on the album, but I don’t find it all that original, and yet I can’t put my finger on where I have heard it before.
The calming second track, Every Breaking Wave is a delicate song, reminiscent of their earlier Joshua Tree days. This is one of my favourites from the album.
Then, onward to the third track, California (There is No End to Love), we run into one of a handful of cringe-worthy songs on the album; you know, those songs that just don’t sound right to your ears or the lyrics are so drippy you wish you had Immodium nearby. California sounds overprocessed. The piano sounds saloonish, and Bono must have had a terrible cold ’cause everything he sings here is getting pushed through his nose. I know my auditory processing is off when I hear Bono sing, “She’s a rich snob…she’s a rich snob in love” when he’s actually singing, “There is no…there is no end to love.” Wow…that’s some Sinusitis, Bono…
Track four relieves the listener from the cringe with the touchy-feely Song for Someone. It’s another track we’re familiar with (think With or Without You). It’s not terribly original, but definitely welcoming.
Then, we’re back in the Ew Zone with the fifth track, Iris (Hold Me Close). One of my least favourite songs, because I am positive I have heard this before somewhere. It uses bits from different songs from different 80s bands and tries to blend them together to make a song, but I don’t think it sounds right. Unfortunately, this song earworms, so I get it stuck in my head!
Then, finally, we start to hit U2 pay dirt with the sixth track, Volcano. A great bassline by Adam Clayton sets up a tour-de-force that delicately and awesomely pulls from different 80s influences, including INXS and an awesome New Order Bernie Sumner riff. Effn right!
Whoaaaa! Better get that foam collar for the whiplash you’ll experience once you stop listening to Volcano and rush right into the seventh track, Raised By Wolves, probably my most hated tune on Songs of Innocence. Just watch: this will be one of the songs they plan to push up the charts, right? I’m sure the lyrics have some meaning behind them, but I just didn’t care for this song.
Then, out of nowhere comes more epic gold – arguably their strongest and best-produced song on the album. Track eight is Cedarwood Road; a rocker to the extreme. It’s reminiscent of that time Paul Weller broke into Led Zeppelin’s Out on the Tiles sessions and started playing.* This track is solid all the way. When I heard it, I actually said, “Yes, finally!! I want more of THIS!!”^ Unfortunately, you have to wait until track 8 to hear it…
Track nine, Sleep Like a Baby Tonight sounds an awful lot like Justin Timberlake’s stylings in “SexyBack”, minus the electronica. Seriously.
This is Where You Can Reach Me, song ten on the LP, is a funky little ditty with a warm whiskey guitar. And is that a Theremin+ I hear? And seagulls? This song sounds very much like something Michael Hutchence would have written.
And finally, the last track on the album, The Troubles, is a bit of a creep-fest in that I half expect to hear this song on a long lost episode of Dexter. That isn’t all bad, by the way. I kind of like it. Smokey and mysterious…
Now that I have explored this album more in depth, I have to say Songs of Innocence isn’t terrible, if a little derivative. Unfortunately, this album was not an instant love affair. It took me several listens to get into it, and I think even harder core U2 fans might have a bit of a problem with it. But there are some gems here deemed worthy to listen to and appreciate.
*Oh, yeah, it happened alright…IN MY DREAMS!!
^Yep, stopped at the light with the windows rolls down.
+ A Theremin? Think the music from The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951).
Songs of Innocence / U2
Island Records, 2014
MP3, free on iTunes