As if U2 weren’t already a massive joke in the music industry, the stealth release of their latest album through Apple has spawned a torrent of abuse and jokes. Were they so worried it wouldn’t sell if they gave it away for free? Is this really technological “engagement”? In a time when the music industry and the internet already have a frosty relationship, it’s amusing that so many were horrified about the existence of a “free” album on their computers, little more than a virus. Even Bono noted “And for the people out there who have no interest in checking us out, look at it this way… the blood, sweat and tears of some Irish guys are in your junk mail”. Nobody was more outraged than rapper Tyler the Creator though:
GET OFF MY FUCKING PHONE. YOU COULDNT COME UP WITH AN ACTUAL MARKETING IDEA? FUCK @U2 I DONT WANT YOU. FUCK BONO. I DIDNT ASK FOR YOU IM MAD— Tyler, The Creator (@fucktyler) September 12, 2014
The initial wave of horror has since turned to disappointment by those who have actually listened to the album, rather than just dismissing it. This might be a return to the early days of U2, but it’s not a return to their glory days. This is a soulless rock record: bloodless, corporate.
That’s present in the limp, lifeless guitar lines; the plodding mid-tempo drums; Bono’s tired vocals - clearly his diaphragm isn’t what it used to be. Volcano, for instance, sounds more like a gently oozing flow than an eruption and any genuine emotion on the soppy Song For Someone is swamped in beige. Mostly the band are struggling to stay relevant, as they enlist pop producers Danger Mouse, Paul Epworth, Ryan Tedder and more, who lend a distinctly polished and glossy finish to the songs. At best, this is a Coldplay-esque bore-fest. From the “whoas and oohs” of opener The Miracle (Of Joey Ramone) to the gently chugging Every Breaking Wave and the light smattering of synths dotted throughout, this is an album enslaved to the mainstream, imprisoned by those (not so innocent) pearly white iDevices.
Only Sleep Like A Baby Tonight dares to change up the sound with its pulsing synth bass and ends up sounding vaguely like a contemporary band, whilst Raised By Wolves does offer a sense of urgency with its screeching vocals, percussive breaths and calamitous drums. It’s not enough though.
And to take the Blake reference of the title, what exactly is so innocent, youthful or romantic about the album? Or is that just a poetic reference to heighten the intellectual value? Sure, the lyrical content is packed with references to the band’s beginnings – Cedarwood Road, for example, was Bono’s childhood address. Yet the point of Blake’s Songs of Innocence is childhood vitality untainted by life. If anything, U2’s album represents an ageing band looking back on their career through nothing but the eyes of experience and world weariness, Apple Inc. the crutch at their side. “Soldier soldier, we know the world will never be the same” Bono sings on This Is Where You Can Reach Me Now. Then again, this is an album that sounds like it’s performed by lambs, not by tigers.
What’s frustrating is that this isn’t an entirely bad album, but it’s far from their best and by no means justifies the elaborate release. It’s about as essential as an iWatch. Perhaps Bono et al are saving their best work for the album’s counterpart, ‘Songs of Experience’ – no doubt an album we’ll actually have to pay for. ‘Songs of Innocence’ is little more than a viral vaccine for that follow-up. Just press delete.
* Every Breaking Wave
* Raised By Wolves
* Sleep Like A Baby Tonight
Listen: ‘Songs of Innocence’ is sat waiting patiently in your iTunes. Unless you’ve deleted it already.
Let's just remember the glory days shall we?