The cover of the physical edition of Songs Of Innocence by U2
U2 have become a legacy band. That is, their best work is behind them and now they’re all about the massive tours and occasional new recordings that few take note of.
It’s not a bad thing. The Rolling Stones have been a legacy band for decades and they’re still huge. But U2 may be trying to push back against that impending label for just a little bit longer with Songs Of Innocence, a surprise release in conjunction with Apple’s latest iPhone announcement.
Despite the potential benefits that could have come from making their latest album available to over half a billion people for free, it was still a risk considering only a small portion of those people would have ever considered listening to a U2 song by choice, let alone an entire album of brand new songs. And, since the album’s release, backlash did occur, whether Bono and co. were responsible or not.
As such, it’s a bit challenging to listen to Songs Of Innocence without also imagining what millions and millions of people who wouldn’t want a U2 album are thinking when skimming through the 11 tracks that make up the initial version of the album.
California (There Is No End To Love) immediately jumps out as cringeworthy based on the song’s intro of Bono repeating “Bar-bar-barbara” over and over again. It screams ‘past your prime. You’re trying too hard.’
And that’s what rubs me the wrong way about the album. U2 have nothing left to prove yet they put themselves out there trying to prove something to an audience that the majority of will never care. And they did it with songs that are personal and reflective, but simultaneously not that impressive.
Iris (Hold Me Close), a song written about Bono’s late mother who passed when he was 14, provides a glimpse into Joshua Tree– and How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb-era U2 while Every Breaking Wave is the most likely candidate at salvaging any sort of a hit single from the record.
They return to tackling Northern Ireland’s troubles in the aptly named The Troubles and Raised By Wolves, both two stronger tracks that appear toward the end of the record. And they draw attention to the Catholic Church’s guilt on the chilling (and best track) Sleep Like A Baby Tonight.
The first track, and also first single The Miracle (Of Joey Ramone) lacks the punch that recent U2 singles have had. It isn’t cross-generational nor a cross-genre track, limiting its reach from the get-go despite its easy access.
Overall, the record doesn’t hit as hard or go as far as their other recent albums. For a move as bold as its unveiling, the music isn’t. They clearly haven’t lost their touch as musicians and artists, as they can still craft songs that can be both striking and on point, but the band’s days of leading the pack are gone.
1. The Miracle (Of Joey Ramone)
2. Every Breaking Wave
3. California (There Is No End To Love)
4. Song For Someone
5. Iris (Hold Me Close)
7. Raised By Wolves
8. Cedarwood Road
9. Sleep Like A Baby Tonight
10. This Is Where You Can Reach Me Now
11. The Troubles [featuring Lykke Li]