Songs of Innocence (2014)


 
1. Miracle (for Joey Ramone) 2. Every Breaking Wave 3. California (There is No End to Love) 4. Song For Someone 5. Iris (Hold Me Close) 6. Volcano 7. Raised By Wolves 8. Cedarwood Road (for Guggi) 9. Sleep Like a Baby Tonight 10.This is Where You Can Reach Me Now (for Joe Strummer) 11.The Troubles




 

The problem with being a legendary band such as U2 is that anytime you release anything that is less than spectacular, it tends to get unfairly panned. It didn't help when the guys released this record with an infinite amount of hoopla that surpassed, literally, anything that had ever been done in the history of pop music. For starters, the band had been hinting that a "new album" would be ready to go as early as 2010 – only one year after No Line on the Horizon. Then, delay after delay occurred, and the band finally set a release date for 2014. Well, then, angered fans were told they would have to wait another year – sometime in 2015 for the release of the new album – for reasons that were unknown to anyone at the time.

It turned out that delay was because of a hush-hush deal with mega monster Apple. Apparently when Apple released their new phone, they made the entire new U2 album available free for anyone that had an i-tunes account. A pretty sweet deal. The problem was that users woke up and found the new album on their i-devices, whether they wanted it or not, and initially had no ways of removing it. It finally dawned on everyone that whereas U2 was the coolest, hippest thing around back in 1985, it was now 30 years in the future, and younger fans really didn't give a rip about a new U2 release. So when they were "stuck" with the new album, they weren't mildly miffed, they were mightily pissed. And rightly so.

Again, the fact that this record was merely "good" in spite of all this, made the masses scream "foul". On close examination, this record sees the band stuck in a bit of a rut. The songs are mostly good – some even great, but the album seems to be missing something in terms of production. You can hear that these songs really do have the potential to be great, but songs such as Volcano and Song For Someone tend to make us want to sing along and tap our feet, whereas they should make a U2 fan want to scream and dance. These songs are missing some sort of "umph", that had they been recorded and/or produced a bit differently, they would have had a much bigger bite.

Then, we have the "personal" factor here - meaning this is a "personal" record. I'm not even sure what this is supposed to mean, as all great works should be personal. But U2 tends to want to cram this factor down our throats. It seems like about half the songs here have a title, and a subtitle in parenthesis, meaning the band is trying to spell out exactly what it is they're singing about. Take the first track, for example. It would have been preferable had the band simply named the song Miracle, but no, they have to spell out that this song is about the late Joey Ramone, so they have to name the song Miracle (for Joey Ramone). I'm not sure this is necessary, nor even a good thing. I've already mentioned that many young people don't even know who U2 is. Does Bono think these same kids know who The Ramones are??? Songs like this can (and should) be written about great influences, but you don't have to tell your fans that (unless they "ask"), this way, the song can be much more meaningful to the masses who may have never even heard of Mr. Ramone. There are a lot of instances like this on this record. We have songs about Bono's mother, Bono's wife, Bono's street where he grew up, etc. etc.

There really is a lot to like here. Oddly, albums that tend to be spotty tend to be "front loaded", whereas this album seems to pack its biggest punch at the end. I would argue the last five songs are the strongest songs on the release, with the last three being darn-near classics. To be truthful, in many cases it sounds like U2 is trying too hard to be fresh and relevant, whereas they should simply try to write and record songs from the heart. Perhaps it simply isn't easy anymore, as the four year process of writing and recording this record may have proved. Fortunately, longtime fans can find a lot to enjoy on this record, even if it does fall a bit short in the Expectations department.

One hopes that they will one day recover from the marketing fiasco around the release of this record, although this late in their career, that might not be an easy thing.

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