Thursday, September 25, 2014

U2- 'SONGS OF INNOCENCE' (ALBUM REVIEW)

   By: Connor Glowacki

courtesy of hollywood reporter






   




     Just over a week ago, Irish rock band U2 partnered with Apple to release their latest album, 'Songs Of Innocence', for FREE to all itunes and iPhone users. The deal cost Apple $100 million dollars to give towards the band and towards marketing for their latest album release. Opinions were divided as many people loved having a new U2 album arrive on their iPhones for free, while others wanted it gone and deleted. As much as we could go into the Apple deal in particular, this will be strictly about the music.
     The band's last album was 2009's 'No Line On the Horizon', and while it ended up being an underrated effort, the album failed to produce a huge hit and sold just 1.2 million copies in the United States. Their previous album before that, 2004's 'How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb' sold over 4 million domestically. That being said, I'm sure many artists would love to sell 1.2 million albums just once in their lifetime. Lead singer Bono has repeatedly stated in interviews that his biggest fear is if U2 is no longer relevant. Promo singles 'Ordinary Love' and 'Invisible' were released earlier this year and despite being solid songs, they didn't make a big impact commercially.
Figure 1: U2 with Apple CEO Tim Cook at a product unveiling. (Courtesy of blogs.wsj.com)
     'Songs Of Innocence' was produced by Broken Bells member Danger Mouse, who most recently produced The Black Keys stellar 2014 album, 'Turn Blue'. How does 'Songs Of Innocence' compare to previous U2 releases and will it keep the legendary band 'relevant'? Here is a track-by-track breakdown of the new album:

1.) 'The Miracle (Of Joey Ramone)

     Bono previously stated in interviews that the band was looking to its past musical inspirations to forge a concept for 'Songs Of Innocence' and that is aptly shown here in this first track as U2 pays tribute to Joey Ramone, lead singer of influential punk-rock band, The Ramones. 'The Miracle' starts with familiar arena sounding wails that U2 are best known, which then kicks into a distorted guitar power chords, played by lead guitarist The Edge, to create a punk-like sound.
     Bono sings about hearing the music that Joey Ramone and his band were creating and how as a teenager, he was drawn to that sound. With lines like, "We were pilgrims on our way" and "The most beautiful sound I ever heard", you can hear the sincerity in Bono's words and voice.
     Even though this song doesn't have the same punch of previous lead singles. like 'Beautiful Day' or 'Vertigo', U2 sounds tight, confident and filled with energy. Plus, it's a much better lead single than 'Get On Your Boots'.

2.) Every Breaking Wave

     'Every Breaking Wave' starts off with one of The Edge's signature guitar riffs that is encompassed with delay and reverb. The haunting melody synth lines in the background give the song a 'With Or Without You' vibe, but also draws inspiration from recent Coldplay and OneRepublic songs. The OneRepublic inspiration part makes sense as OneRepublic's lead singer Ryan Tedder was a producer on this track, as well as others on the album.
     There are interesting staccato rhythms by bassist Adam Clayton and The Edge on guitar. It's a song with a booming chorus about love, creating a change of pace from the urgent 'Miracle' track.

3.) California (There Is No End To Love)

     Never knew Bono was a Cali type of guy, but I digress. The song begins with haunting clock chimes creating a background that is then engulfed with repeated chants. Bono displays a wailing vocal and strong falsettos throughout the song, but is he talking about how California is the destination that he wants to go to? Or perhaps his hometown in Ireland? "Everyone's a star in our town, it just gets dimmer if you have to stay", Bono proclaims possibly about the influence of Los Angeles. The backing keyboard synths provide a youthful energy throughout 'California' that is staying true to the band's promise of revisiting their youth with 'Songs Of Innocence'.

4.) Song For Someone

     Here's another song that features Tedder as a key producer. 'Song For Someone' opens up as a soft acoustic number with The Edge playing guitar. It is very ambient and atmospheric. Unfortunately, some lyrics come across as slightly cliche such as,"If there is dark, then we shouldn't doubt. And if there is a light, don't let it out". However, it'll work in the arena setting.
     'Song For Someone' also sounds distinctly like a Coldplay song to the point where I can picture Coldplay lead singer Chris Martin belting the chorus on stage during one of their shows. U2, known for their lyrics on spirituality, offer a nice change of pace near the end of the song, "Long way from your hell on Calvary. And I'm a long way from where I was, where I need to be".
     Not one of my favorite songs on the album, but that lyric was a nice change of pace to the lyrics directed towards love in the previous three songs.

5.) Iris (Hold Me Close)

     This is a very personal song as Bono wrote it about his mother, Iris Hweson, who died when he was just 14. With lyrics like, "I've got your life inside of me", you can't help but picture the lead singer writing this song with the perspectives as an adult present day and also as kid who went through terrible personal tragedy. It's another ambient and atmospheric song that features a delay riff by The Edge.  A quick drum pattern by drummer Larry Mullen Jr. helps the song pick up pace during the chorus.
     'Iris' is a beautiful song about Bono's memories of his mother and his longing to be with her again, BUT this is now the fourth straight down-tempo song, which is causing the album to drag a bit for me.

6.) Volcano

     Now this is what I am talking about! A much needed uptempo song that is filled with distorted guitar, a faster drum beat, and soaring vocals. Clayton has a great, and even slightly funky, bass line that opens 'Volcano' and gives the song that quick burst of energy. With the line, "Vol-ca-no, something in you has to blow", listeners can interpret it in many different ways, such as personal struggles, spirituality, or just the need to let go.
     Interestingly enough, this song reminds me musically of 'Satisfaction' by The Rolling Stones. So far, 'Volcano' is my favorite song off the album.

7.) Raised By Wolves

     Another aggressive song that, according to the band, is about a deadly car bombing in Dublin. "Face down on the a broken street, there's a man in the corner in a pool of misery. 5:30 on a Friday night, 33 good people cut down", Bono sings as the song's political message can harken back to some of U2's earlier politically charged songs, like 'Sunday Bloody Sunday' and 'Pride (In The Name Of Love)'.
     Very strong vocals by Bono throughout the song and 'Raised By Wolves' shows another dimension of what makes U2 special. The punk rock inspirations that they grew up with allows the band to take risks by singing about actual events that affect real people.

8.) Cedarwood Road

     'Cedarwood Road' is about the actual street that Bono grew up on during childhood. That symbolism again supports the concept around 'Songs Of Innocence' with many memories harkening back to his childhood and the emotions that he felt as a teenager living on that street. Distorted guitars open the song and give it an alternative and punk-rock sound.
     I also have to give praise to Mullen for providing an aggressive drum pattern to perfectly complement the distorted guitars and the lyrics about Bono wanting to break out of his hometown, while now still holding on to all of the memories.

9.) Sleep Like A Baby Tonight

     After three aggressive songs in a row, this down-tempo number is a nice change of pace. A staccato muted keyboard is played throughout the entire song and there are additional violins and synthesizers in the background. Bono's vocals are added with reverb to give more layers to his voice. This is a nice quieter song on the album, but it never really takes off and goes anywhere.
     'Sleep Like A Baby Tonight' contains the same vocal and instrumental tones throughout the entire song and does not contain any peaks or valleys or any different variations with the song. Not all songs have to be loud or have a booming chorus, but this was a song that I found to be rather on the boring side.

10.) This Is Where You Can Reach Me Now

     Seagulls are heard in the background at the beginning of this song, which then leads up to an instrumental combination of a piano, acoustic guitar and a shaker. With lines such as, "Old man says that we never listen, shout about what we don't know", it feels as if this was written in the perspective of a younger Bono, as a teenager.
     The song has slight reggae and middle eastern tinged instrumentals all throughout and contains a section of multi-layered vocals during the chorus. That gives the song a 'larger than life' feel, if you will.  It's a solid track and continues to prove the mindset that the band was in when writing 'Songs Of Innocence' and how this undoubtedly an arena rock band with punk influences.

11.) The Troubles

     The final song on the album begins with a string section and silent electric guitar. The chorus line, "I have a will for survival so you can hurt me and hurt me some more. But you're not my troubles anymore", showcases a more restraint confidence from U2. 'The Troubles' is a song about letting go of past burdens and stresses.
courtesy of wikipedia
     Could the inspiration of this song be from the fact that pop culture and music critics put the band on such a high pedestal that anything that doesn't match U2's blockbuster albums (1987's 'The Joshua Tree' or 1991's 'Achtung Baby') is a complete failure? Or the notion that it's considered 'cool' nowadays to hate the band for no reason at all?
     We'll never know for certain, but the highlight of this song was the trading off of vocals between Bono and Swedish indie-pop singer-songwriter Lykke Li. Their vocals blend very well with one another and create a giant wall of sound by the time the song reaches the chorus. Very good closer to the album.

RATING: 4/5

     In today's modern age, where most people don't buy music anymore and rock music, in particular, doesn't sell many albums, U2 stands as the reigning kings in a empty wasteland. Therefore, they are put on a higher musical pedestal than their rock peers. As a standalone album, 'Songs Of Innocence' is an extremely well crafted and confident piece of work. It has been written from such personal places that it feels like we can understand U2 a little bit more as musicians and as people.
     That being said, 'Songs Of Innocence' is not perfect. There were periods in the album where there were three or four downtempo songs in a row and then another where there were three or four aggressive songs back to back. It would have been better if U2 had alternated between slow and fast songs so that the album could've felt like it had more musical and emotional peaks and valleys. Also, it doesn't appear that there is a clear, bona-fide hit song on this album. BUT that shouldn't detract from 'Songs Of Innocence'. It's a cohesive body of work.
     Bono needs to stop thinking about how the band can continue to be relevant and instead just focus on making the best music that they can make. The music is what will be U2's legacy, not some silly Apple marketing stunt. With a reported new album, 'Songs Of Experience' expected to be released sometime in 2015, 'Songs Of Innocence' showcases the band members musical inspirations as teenagers and where their sound could be going next.

FAVORITE TRACKS:
1.) Volcano        2.) The Troubles       3.) The Miracle (Of Joey Ramone)

What did you think of the new U2 album? Let me know in the comment section below or tweet at me @ConnorGlowacki.

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