“Well, ok. That’s cool I guess.”
This, unlike the majority of the internet apparently, was my reaction to U2 releasing their new album for free — so free that it was already in your iTunes by the time you went to the trouble of checking. And maybe people found this self-described “gift” to their fans (as well as the millions of people who don’t give a shit about U2) to be mildly irritating because in order to do it, U2 had to go through a corporation that might as well own the world at this point. Also, it probably has to do with the fact that no one likes having something they don’t want forced upon them, be it religion, politics, or 11 songs by a bunch of middle-aged Irish dudes. But as for me, I’ve been a U2 fan since I was 15 years-old, and though my enthusiasm for this band has fluctuated throughout the years, I’m still gonna end up listening to whatever they put out no matter what. So I didn’t mind them making this process so ridiculously easy, though I kind of wish they hadn’t done it with such an easy to forget album.
First off, I’ll just admit that I’m not someone who thinks U2 haven’t done anything worth while since Achtung Baby, despite their reemergence as the biggest band in the world for about the past decade-and-a-half. In fact, I really like their last album. So much so that I’m pretty sure I named it as my favorite album of 2009, though that now seems a tad bit embarrassing, even when you factor in that 2009 was kind of an off year for music. But I think I responded to No Line On The Horizon when it came out because it saw U2 just goin’ for it, creating those all-encompassing, echo-laden sound cathedrals of rock that they do so well, even if that album didn’t quite get the same kind of fanfare that usually awaits a new U2 album.
However, despite the fact that Songs Of Innocence has gotten people talking (though not necessarily positively), it feels like an album where unlike No Line On The Horizon, U2 are a little afraid of sounding like U2. And what you get here is a much more “generic rock” approach to what this band usually brings to the table. Now, I don’t want to put all the blame on producer Danger Mouse, since I’m guessing it was U2’s decision to bring him in to give the album a more “modern” sound. But I’ve never been much of a fan of the guy’s production style, since it seems like everything he touches turns to bland, and Songs Of Innocence is no exception. My other biggest complaint would be that The Edge is kept somewhat in check for a lot of the album, which for someone like myself who finds The Edge to be one of the most unique and expressive guitarists around, is a bit of a bummer. So it comes as no surprise that the album’s more inspired songs are the ones like “Iris (Hold Me Close)” or “Volcano”, where The Edge finally gets to cut loose.
So then should I blame Bono for Songs Of Innocence just being an alright U2 album? Maybe. Because in interviews he’s described Songs Of Innocence as being an intentionally personal album, and since he is the guy writing all the lyrics (I assume), the album does feel personal to Bono in particular. I’d even say that The Edge’s relatively absent Edge-iness at times makes Songs Of Innocence feel almost like a Bono solo album, since no offense to Larry or Adam, it’s hard to ever gauge how much those guys are contributing. But I have to imagine that a Bono solo album would probably be more indulgent and honestly more interesting than this, so instead what we get is a relatively streamlined U2 album. But what do I have to complain about? I got it for free.
Favorite Tracks: “California (There Is No End To Love)”, “Iris (Hold Me Close)”, “Volcano”