U2 are the talk of the town this week. Their 13th studio album, Songs Of Innocence, dropped in spectacular fashion, stunning the world and causing a mixed reaction to say the least. In case you haven’t heard, let me break it down for you.
Earlier this week at Apple’s Cupertino press conference for the iPhone 6, Bono and the band took the stage along with Apple CEO Tim Cook and revealed the extraordinary news that their new album would be sent directly to EVERY iPHONE IN THE WORLD. A mere 5 seconds later, Songs Of Innocence landed in every iTunes account around the globe. FOR FREE. While Apple got to be a type of musical Santa Claus, it is rumoured U2 made over $100 million from the deal. Win win right? Wrong. As with all big, unprecedented PR moves, the scrutiny was immediate. Some condemned Apple for an invasion of privacy. Others berated the band, saying they have sold out and have become business moguls rather than musicians (thank you Sharon Obsbourne). Gen-i reacted in a whirlwind of confused tweets asking “Who the eff is U2?”. Me? I love music. And I REALLY love free stuff. So when one of the most celebrated bands of all time hands me a shiny new record, who am I to complain? So without further adieu, lets forget the politics and get into the good stuff…
Songs Of Innocence is very much a window into the past. Aptly named after William Blake’s 1789 collection of poems, it takes us back to a time when everything was a discovery. It delves into Bono’s childhood memories and fondly recalls a time long passed. Songs Of Innocence is a poignant nod to where they came from, from men that have all the wisdom and experience of some of the greatest musicians of all time.
There is no better example than the opening track, The Miracle (Of Joey Ramone), an open letter to the man Bono credits as being the inspiration for his success. The song perfectly blends the spirit of U2 with the spirit of The Ramones, the resulting product a catchy rock anthem with an addictive Coldplay-esque Whoa Oh Oh / Whoa Oh Oh, built to lift the roof off a stadium. It’s not only going to be a sure crowd pleaser but has already made an impression with the surviving members of The Ramones with Leigh stating they were “awestruck.”
The Ramones aren’t the only act paid homage on Songs Of Innocence. The Beach Boys get a look-in on California (There Is No End To Love) with a Barbara-Ann inspired Ba-babara, Santa Barbara / Ba-barbara, Santa Barbara, while This Is Where You Can Reach Me is credited to a Clash concert the band attended in 1977, channeling their grungy essence, all the while sounding typically U2.
As well as being a nostalgic tribute to their mentors, Songs Of Innocence is U2’s most personal record yet. Every Breaking Wave, Iris (Hold Me Close) and Cedarwood Road sound like the U2 ballad’s of old, touching on the confusion of love, the heartbreak of losing a parent and the nostalgia of childhood memories. Listening to this album is like taking a look through Bono’s personal photo album, like an intimate peak at the singers diary. Volcano, Raised By Wolves and Sleep Like A Baby Tonight bring a little adolescent attitude, while the gorgeous ballad Song For Someone is sure to have our lighters (or more accurately our iPhones) in the air. The record closes with the least predictable track The Troubles, a moody indie-rock song featuring stunning additional vocals by Swedish artist Lykke Li. It feels dark and current and is absolutely my favourite of the bunch. This track would be just as at home on a MS MR or Lorde play list, but there is an honesty stemming from the Bono magic that seamlessly ties it in.
With cameras in every phone, instant information in every pocket and technology ruling the world, shock value is harder to come by than ever. True individuality and the ability to surprise the world are priceless commodities that are starting to separate true artists from the pack. Beyonce did it with her surprise self-titled album, releasing it as a complete body of work, along with a video for every track. An unprecedented visual album. Now, U2 have made their move. Video killed the radio star and Apple have just sucker-punched other platforms everywhere. While their last LP sold over 5 million copies in 2009, this record has already been listened to by a record breaking 33 million people. Songs Of Innocence may not be a ground breaking new sound for the band, but current fans are going to be very impressed – and isn’t that the majority of us anyway? Sure it’s weird that U2 can imprint themselves on my phone. Sure it’s a little terrifying how much power Apple has. So the band is named after a spy plane. Whatever. I LOVED this record.
And if you didn’t? Don’t say it out loud. Bono can probably hear you…