Songs of Innocence


Sep 11, 2014 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share

"They'll never stop The Simpsons," sang Dan Castellaneta at the end of "Gump Roast," a critically slated clip show episode from the long-running cartoon. "Have no fear we've got ideas for years." That was back in the series' 13th season and it's hard to argue that in the dozen years since that The Simpsons retains the cultural importance of its golden age, if any at all. Certainly the second half of that line rings false: the vast majority of episodes since then have been lacking in ideas, feeling stale compared to the biting relevance of the good times.

Plodding along the exact same furrow are U2. Beloved, rightly, for a vast body of work decades ago that any music lover worth their salt admires and respects if not enjoys, on they've gone since 1997 with increasingly diminishing results that reached a nadir with 2009's dreary No Line on the Horizon (can someone please call Rolling Stone's David Fricke to see how he now feels about calling it "U2's best...since 1991's Achtung Baby"?). After seeing his album yield just one hit and no songs anyone can remember five years down the line, Bono reportedly grew frustrated and wanted to take his band's sound in a new direction as he had with the thrilling Achtung Baby. Here we are then, with the result of five years of creative soul searching: U2 have smashed the mould... and rebuilt the exact same mould.

It's not that the songs on here are necessarily terrible; certainly there's nothing to plumb the depths of "Elevation" or "Get on your Boots," but rather that Songs of Innocence is a soulless and unwanted lump of shiny plastic. It's like when The Simpsons went HD. Gone is the heart, the tenderness of "And Maggie Makes Three"/"All I Want is You" or "Mother Simpson"/"One Tree Hill." Instead there is a glossy sheen to the album, five producers flattened under apparent instruction. Unsurprisingly, for a band that has got into bed with the iPhone manufacturers, it sounds like an Apple store. "Song for Someone" is the album's big anthem, complete with its reverb-laden "yeaahhh-eee-yeaaahh" hook and predictable minimalist guitar lines and swelling crescendo, but let me be more specific Bono: it's a song for thick sociopaths who can't form emotional attachments and have to have them manufactured—iFeelings—to wave their smartphones in the air to once they've paid $85 to see you in some stadium somewhere.

The songs on the first half of the album are bad, but it would be remiss not to note that there's an improvement as it goes on. "This Is Where You Can Reach Me Now" heavily features rubbish vocal harmonies but does reach back to those Zooropa-era weird guitars, while "The Troubles," which features guest vocals from Lykke Li, is tender and minimalist. It's a nice reminder of what U2 could still do if they weren't, as Neil Finn so perfectly and pithily put it, addicted to big. The problem is that there aren't enough ideas here to justify the album. When they're not self-plagiarising, as they are on "Every Breaking Wave," the intro to which is essentially a polished "With or Without You," they're outright ripping off riffs, as is the case on "Volcano" (Neil Young's "Hey Hey My My (Into the Black)" played on bass) and "Cedarwood Road" (the DER-DER-DER-DER-DER bit from Radiohead's "Paranoid Android").

A new U2 album in the same mould as their last is something that no one was waiting for, let alone wanted forced upon them as this was, downloaded automatically on to the computers and phones of 500 million people with an iTunes account. Ultimately I'd rather go back and watch my season eight DVD of The Simpsons than catch the new episodes and if I'm in the mood for U2 I'll listen to The Joshua Tree rather than anything post-Pop. When the aliens land and come to me as their cultural oracle asking to hear about "this U2 we've heard all about," nothing from Songs of Innocence will be considered for the mixtape. (www.u2.com)

Author rating: 3.5/10

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Average reader rating: 7/10


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September 11th 2014

Well, Fricke just handed this album a five star review as well, so I think that answers how he feels about that five year old five star review…
The guy must be bonkers, quite frankly…

September 11th 2014


September 12th 2014

I think it’s pretty telling with all these knee-jerk lazy reviews that all the reviewers can do is repeat the albums that moved them when they were younger. And Radiohead invented bar chords? Jesus, reach any higher for a pithy point and you might bump your head against the moon. Achtung Baby had no less than 4 producers; for Joshua Tree they brought in Lillywhite well after Lanois/Eno to punch up the radio singles. Sorry if U2 moved on from the music of your youth, but they moved on. Maybe you should get over that.

valuing popularity over integrity
September 12th 2014

The album is mostly garbage and is priced about what it’s worth.  Once again, the band picks the wrong first single - it should’ve been “Volcano.” I believe that the reviewer is inaccurate in his portrayal of U2’s last album. “No Line…” was a great record save for the 3 crummy stabs at radio play; this album completely switches the ratio.

shannon lewis
September 12th 2014

The moment you seem to suggest that “Get on your Boots” & “Elevation” weren’t two of the hugest piles in U2’s otherwise fantastic catalogue (makes me wonder if you also like “Vertigo” & “the Miracle” - ewe) made it had to take the rest of this review seriously. Though it may not be JOSHUA TREE, ACTUNG BABY, or ALL THAT WE CAN’T LEAVE BEHIND, at least it’s not RATTLE & HUMB - ha!  But seriously, though the first angle is an embarrassing stinker, “California” has radio potential all over it - hooks on hooks, & the final 3 tracks are nothing short of brilliant - songwriting, performance, production - “the Trouble” may be the greatest song U2 have written since the early 90s!  Me thinks you need to put this one back in the player in a couple months & give it a fresh perspective.

Dan Lucas
September 13th 2014

Er, suggest you read it again Shannon. I said those two tracks WERE two of their biggest stinkers.

September 14th 2014

After my first listen, I would have completely agreed with 90% of what the author stated.  Now that I’ve listened another 7-8 times, I completely disagree with him.  This album is very strong.  If there’s a problem with it, it’s that it is somewhat overproduced—I do miss Eno/Lillywhite.  “No Line” was their best since Achtung, but this new one might unseat that achievement.

September 17th 2014

Retard alert!

September 17th 2014

The critics hating on this album will only make sure it never dies with the rest of us everyday people. Average everyday music listeners are give this album good marks and many are having honest and enjoyable debates about where in the U2 catalog this album belongs.  Meanwhile the critics are enjoying the temporary attention they are getting while on the U2 bashing band-wagon. LOOK BOSS, LOOK HOW MANY PEOPLE ARE READ MY U2 BASHING ARTICLE!!! LOOK, I’M A CRITIC, FOR REAL!!!1

The kids starting to listen to music now - the ones who are actually thinking these days - will now encounter a U2 that is hated by the establishment of critics and therefore now have the chance to embrace U2 as rebels.  Talk about devious marketing.  Take that Sharon Osborn.

I, personally, hate Atomic Bomb and ATYCLB is probably second.  Those albums are ponderous, slow head-scratchers that go to a place I hope U2 never goes again.  No Line is mostly genius, and this album is totally different, but right up there.

Dan Lucas
September 17th 2014

Rebels who are selling you an iPhone, no less.

September 18th 2014

He meant the new fans, not U2, will be “rebels”, in the sense that they’ll be embracing a band that is majorly hated, as young people like to do, lol. Not that I agree with this idea.

By the way, I really don’t understand the problem in making a partnership with Apple. Is this any different than being distributed by giant labels? Are labels non capitalistic corporations and I didn’t know? Wow!

Also, SOI is good and solid. At least a six.

J Melnick
October 1st 2014

At the risk of sounding uncool, this album is very good. I’ve heard it about 10 times now (including right now) and it really grows on you.  There are a few U2-esque cliches that will annoy music reviewers and casual fans, but overall it’s solid.  I’m glad they’re still making new music and not coasting on decades-old hits like the Stones or any number of big groups.

Plus, I’m second to no one in my love of Neil Finn’s music, but his latest album absolutely sucked. I was shocked how bad it was and he should maybe have kept his opinion to himself.