15 September 2014
U2 - Songs Of Innocence
It has been dubbed the biggest musical give away ever, a tax dodge, like having herpes, a waste of time, a genius move and everything inbetween. But no matter what you think of U2 or the tactic, it has got them (and Apple/iTunes) a hell of a lot of publicity - including some more from this blog. Now, I will give my opinion of the music, and then in the round up I will also say what I truly feel about the way this was launched and distributed. But some background to the release. This is the thirteenth album from Irish rock act U2, it is an album that has been anticipated for a long while and was surprised released on 9 September 2014. The only way to get it at first was to have an iTunes account, then it would be "downloaded" for free to your account. Now, you can see I put inverted commas around the word downloaded. This due to the fact that whilst it on your iTunes (if you liked it or not), it was only available online via the iCloud system. So basically, it can only be streamed and you do not actually own it - much like Spotify in that way. Another thing about this album is it has a curse; it is cursed with multiple producers. Fair enough, the producers list is a who's who in production terms; Danger Mouse, Flood, Declan Gaffney, Ryan Tedder and Paul Epworth. If you had wanted to make a pop record, most of them are the go to guys; I think Flood is a bone thrown to the old U2 audience and the alternative kids (also he only co-produced the one song). To say there is a lot riding on this album is not quite correct, U2 are minted and if they released an album of Adam Clayton farting and the U2 faithful will probably love it. But with all the publicity, if the album turns out to be a flop it would be hard to come back for the band in someways; let's see how it goes?
Opening the album is lead single "The Miracle (Of Joey Ramone)", which is currently being used to launch the latest round of Apple products for the same sorts of people who love those Beats headphones. As a launch single for a U2 album, it is the first one in years that is not even catchy. Think about it, it has about as much of a memorable tune as last year's winning X-Factor number (bet you cannot remember that one either). The fact they have used the name of one of the Ramones in the title does not make it any better, the fact the lyrics are about the joy of first hearing the Ramones does not help; this song is bland, ham fisted in delivery and devoid of imagination. "Every Breaking Wave" by comparison is much better; it does the slow and deliberate U2 number proud. It finds U2 on reflective ground and thinking they should not change everything (a little bit ironic in hindsight), it also has that classic riff sound that Edge places on every U2 anthem. It might just be improved more due to the fact that "The Miracle (Of Joey Ramone)" is so bloody awful, but that is beside the point. The third track is "California (There Is No End Of Love)", which has a string section and keyboards running through it. It is a confused number; it wants to be everything to all U2 fans; anthemic, classic, love swooned and edgy, whilst achieving none of that. It is ok; again the further away from "The Miracle...." the better; but it does not excite either. It is not memorable enough to make an impression.
The fourth track is the gentle "Song For Someone", this is another of the slower numbers from U2. Whilst it does not even approach the emotional heights of their 80's/90's heyday ("One", "With Or Without You", etc), it is another song on the album that does what U2 delivers best; the anthem to get their fans singing and Bono can do that emotional pose that he does all so well. I have heard a lot worse from U2, but I have also heard a lot better as well. "Iris (Hold Me Close)" follows on, this is one of the songs that I can imagine working incredibly well with their audience; the classic Edge riff, Bono giving the powerful chorus to uplift the audience and Messrs Clayton & Mullen providing good support. It is a decent number once again, but it is not making the hairs on my neck stand on end; it feels a little too safe from U2 (not that they are known for being mad or off the rails), that said - it is still better than "The Miracle (Of Joey Ramone)" which is true of every song ever made by U2. "Volcano" is unfortunately not a cover of the brilliant song by the Presidents Of The United States Of America, it is much like "Iris (Hold Me Close)". The tones of the song is very interesting here, it reminds me of that early 90's American indie before the grunge explosion. Once again I have an empty feeling with the song, it is not necessarily a bad number; it is just not a good song either, very average. Then we have "Raised By Wolves", it could have been raised by empty ghouls for all the space in the productions. I can hear so many things in the song, but it is also incredibly hallow and cold; still better than "The Miracle....".
"Cedarwood Road" sounds like U2 trying to be Coldplay. Read that sentence again and absorb it, U2 TRYING TO SOUND LIKE COLDPLAY. I think that is enough to be said about this song, as I have no problem with either band; but that is woeful. "Sleep Like A Baby Tonight" is one of two songs which is produced by Danger Mouse alone, it is also one of the more interesting numbers on this album. The electronics are out in force on this number, it does not feel empty and dull; it feels like the band are at least trying on this number, not saying it is an amazing song but it does at least have an interesting solo and does not make me want to reach from my pencil earphones. "This Is Where You Can Reach Me Now" is the second of the Danger Mouse only produced numbers and once again it is one of the better numbers on the album, to be honest it is the best one of the album as the bass is brought to the forefront that is something of a key to most songs produced by Danger Mouse. It also feels like he has been playing The Black Keys to them, as it sounds a bit like them in places. Ending the album is "The Troubles", a song which has very emotive title to say the least for an Irish band. The song seems to be a love story in many ways, but it reverts back to that empty feeling that has been happening when someone else works on the songs with Danger Mouse. Also (and for the last time on this review), at least it is not "The Miracle (Of Joey Ramone)".
Firstly, I want to address the launch of the album - giving the album away from is an attention grabbing way to make yourself seem relevant and up to date, at least it was when Radiohead, Nine Inch Nails and Beyonce. But people do like getting something for the square root of nowt, having it download to people's iTunes and iCloud accounts is probably not the best move ever. It is quite frankly the musical equivalent of junk mail, it should have been just added to the iTunes store and then people would be able to download it at their leisure. There would have been no complaints or backlash, it would have probably had received much better press than it has in some circles. Now, onto the album marks out of ten that we love to dish out. This album is empty, it does not feel like the personal journey that the band have talked about, the production on some of the tracks is not fluid and distracted with too many people working on the songs, there is not a song on here which the band have already done better and it is average. It is not their worst record by any length of the imagination, that honour is still held by 'Pop'. But this is not the sound of a band trying to push their own boundaries anymore, this is the sound of a band trying to keep up with the hipster and sound like everyone else in the world. Look at their producers and the tone of the album, it just feels empty in more ways than one. There are rumours that there might be a more experimental album (which I can only hope is as mad as 'Zooropa'). Not bad for the price, but still not going to win them many more fans.
2 out of ten - If only there was some quality control
Top track - This Is Where You Can Reach Me
You can pre-order it here from Amazon; once it is available on general release I will update the link
At the moment, you can download it for free on iTunes - but you cannot burn it onto CD, you can only stream it
Obviously, it is currently an iTunes exclusive for now - but once it is on Spotify, you will be able to hear it here (link will be amended once available)
Once it is on Deezer, the link will be on here around this place
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