[Music] U2: Songs of Innocence (2014)

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 edge smurf

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.

bono smurf

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.

6.8/10

*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

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29 comments

  1. Great review Sarca! For me as someone who does download from iTunes I did download it but have not gotten a round to listening to it as the backlash on them has been huge! Yours is a review from a fan and these are the ones i tend to put more weight into.
    Fair enough rating ! I will have to check it out now…
    Good job and keep the album reviews coming…..
    Old farts like me love em!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Deke! I had a lot of fun writing it! I haven’t written much about music – funny since my readership is mostly music bloggers, but I am a music lover. And the pics were fun too. 😉

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    1. Thanks, Scotty! I’m not sure this one is in your wheelhouse, but if I were to pick a song more your style, I would definitely recommend you take a listen to Cedarwood Road.

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  2. It’s disappointing to me that the so called “biggest band in the world” takes years and years to create an album with only a handful of great tunes on it. When U2 hit a homer (and it sounds like they do a couple times on this one) it’s a beautiful thing.

    Great review and absolutely fantastic Smurf art. I feel a page has been borrowed from 1537’s book but with your own personal slant and it rocks!

    Now, if you will excuse me. I have to get back to deciding if I’m going to shave for my Toronto trip!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I just watched your videos from last year – lots of fun!
      Yes, I am waiting for 1537 to see it! I have a whole shoebox full of smurf figurines – all mine (and a few duplicates that were my sisters). That’s where the idea came from. Glad you enjoyed. 😀

      Liked by 1 person

        1. It was totally by chance. They’re housed in an old Cougar shoebox from 1986. It was at my mom’s who found it on the top shelf in the rec room. “You want these?” Wow, YES!! And since, I haven’t done anything with them. I should check to see what I am missing.

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          1. Well now apparently they can become your own signature in photo art! Better be careful or Aaron will start buying Smurfs at Value Village for you! He has a habit of finding good stuff there for next to nothing. (Like that book we talked about, which I will be receiving today WOO HOO!)

            Liked by 1 person

  3. I enjoyed the review a lot too. I have very mixed feelings about U2, I really got into them around Achtung Baby & Zooropa (I think I’m the only person in the universe who has that as his fave U2 album) and then they dropped off for me again pretty quickly afterwards.

    I did give this a cursory listen and I do really like the Joey Ramone & Cedarwood ones, but there was a fair bit of mulch in there too.

    Ever seen them?

    Liked by 1 person

      1. I got to see them once on the Pop tour and it was everything you could possibly want from a big outside gig. I wasn’t the one doing the paying though …

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        1. In my teens, those concerts were always in Toronto – a 4 hour plus trip away from Sudbury. No way was my mom letting me go. This prevented me from seeing a lot of big ticket bands. Then, in my 20s, cash was strapped. 30s, busy working. Now, busy working and no desire to fight for tix, or stand up for three hours…or pay the cost. Man, I’m old.

          Liked by 2 people

            1. LOL!
              It would have been the Sudbury Arena which was probably too small to accommodate that large lemon they used to have onstage! But, Sudbury seems to get quite decent acts. I saw Dire Straits there.

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  4. This post has, methinks, inspired a post of my own for the KMA. But I can tell you that this band had me up til Joshua Tree and Rattle And Hum and then… no. Nothing since. I’m glad you found songs you like on this record! I have a Mac, and I never got it for free – then again, I don’t use the Cloud for anything. But I didn’t go get it when it was free. I can live with that.

    Thanks for inspiring a post! Watch for it in the funny pages!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I don’t technically have iCloud either (well, never used it). The album was just there waving at me.

      U2 had me until Achtung Baby, then skipped over a bunch, then picked up again at All You can leave behind or How to Dismantle…whichever came first…

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