Last year, Apple released U2’s new album, “Songs of Innocence,” as a free download to over 500 million iTunes users. While fans rejoiced, critics called the release an act of desperation from an aging band trying to stay relevant. The move appears to have put a target on the band’s back, and the album has received mixed reviews. While “Songs of Innocence” is certainly nowhere near the stature of the U2 classics “The Joshua Tree” and “Achtung Baby,” many of its sour reviews from the international press are simply off the mark. This album is a quality addition to the band’s extensive collection.
Overall, “Songs of Innocence” certainly is deserving of respect. Bono clearly hasn’t lost a beat vocally, and the production, while overpowering at times, is high quality. Unlike the stadium rockers and defiant songs of U2’s past, “Songs of Innocence” is much more personal. Much like the Beatles did in creating their “Magical Mystery Tour” album, U2 looked to their childhoods for inspiration. “Cedarwood Road,” for example, describes a street Bono remembers as a boy. This interesting approach makes the songs lyrically appealing.
After a few listens, it becomes apparent that the album is top heavy. Structured by garage band gristle and a poppy energy, the opening track, “The Miracle (Of Joey Ramone),” cements itself as the anthem of the album. Smooth rockers “Every Breaking Wave,” “Song for Someone,” and “Iris (Hold Me Close)” bring back the classic U2 energy and sound. Not to be forgotten is “California (There Is No End to Love),” a song as sunny and cheerful as the name implies. The album’s first half has an optimistic vibe that builds a connection with the listener.
While “Songs of Innocence” begins with a bang, it ends with a whimper. None of the concluding songs are terrible, but they leave something to be desired. “Sleep Like a Baby Tonight” and “The Troubles” are lifeless and seem to float endlessly. “This Is Where You Can Reach Me Now” is far too bland and repetitive. The melancholy “Cedarwood Road” doesn’t make a lasting impression either. The occasional uninspired lyrics, like “tomorrow dawns like someone else’s suicide” and “Northside, just across the river to the Southside,” leave listeners scratching their heads. Bono’s awkward falsetto in “Sleep Like a Baby Tonight” isn’t impressive. The unconscious, dreamy effect that the band is trying to produce with their final songs simply falls flat.
“Songs of Innocence” is a mixed bag. But considering that this is the band’s thirteenth studio album, the outcome is actually quite impressive. Even though the critics have been quick to label this album irrelevant, that is not the case. U2, while not as consistent as they once were, prove that they are still very much alive and capable of producing quality music.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.