Very few artists in music achieve superstar success. Those that have tend to give back to their communities and fans whether it’s through special concerts, discounts on merchandise or the occasional free music download. There are some that have taken their star to global issues and tackled famine, relief and many other noble causes. Now through October 13th one of the largest and most giving bands, U2 is giving away their latest album. Through Itunes “Songs of Innocence” is being given to 500 million customers. It is disconcerting, and anyone bred on the rebellion of punk rock is right to be wary.
With 13 albums, 22 Grammy Awards and induction in Rock and Roll Hall of Fame over the last 34 years, Bono, the Edge, Larry Mullen Jr. and Adam Clayton have found their way to remind us all that U2 is still here and still relevant. For all the grandiosity and backlash of its launch and Blakean title “Songs of Innocence” does have some memorable moments. It delivers noble snapshots on the power of the Ramones and the ways in which lead singer Joey Ramone nudged Bono to take the mic. The song is a really good exploration of adolescence “I’ve got music so I can exaggerate my pain,” notes Bono at one point.
“Where You Can Reach Me Now”, according to Bono, is influenced by the Clash’s disco experiments on “Sandinista!” and the way in which Joe Strummer’s politics informed his music. On “California (There Is No End to Love),” the band revisits its first arrival in Southern California, while giving a musical nod to “Barbara Ann” and the Beach Boys.
“Raised by Wolves” recalls the 1970s trauma that overwhelmed U2’s homeland one Friday at dusk, when simultaneous IRA bombings in Dublin and Monaghan killed 33 people. The striking “Sleep Like a Baby” opens with a heavy analog synthesizer and finds Bono’s voice, still miraculously evocative, enveloped in echo and strings. Soon, though, the Edge disrupts with a riff that throws the whole thing wonderfully off-kilter.
“The Troubles” listeners might be surprised to learn, doesn’t seem to have much to do with Ethno-nationalist conflict. The duet with Lykke Li is a genuinely pretty song. It simmers and gleams along the way to drawing parallels between a personal upheaval and the violence that’s always int he air in Northern Ireland. “Volcano,” surprises you as well with a dance-rock track that sounds inspired by LCD Sound system and the DFA posse. It’s one of the best songs on the album, capturing the bottled-up tension of a soul in need of passion.
Bono spends most of Songs of Innocence avoiding grandstanding in favor of personal recollection. On the u2 website, Bono refers to the album as the first installment of a two-album set, “If you like Songs of Innocence, stay with us for Songs of Experience. It should be ready soon enough.”
But “Songs Of Innocence” isn’t just a vast, fascinating benchmark moment in corporate-branding history. While many reviews have not been kind to the band for releasing this album in this manner and have compared this to Beyonce’s “Beyonce” album launch. No offense to Beyonce but her talents do not come close to compare to the lads in U2. Although not the band’s best work to date, Songs of Innocence is filled with 11 tracks from perhaps the one band capable of filling stadiums in any city in the world and just enough to suggest that U2 aren’t a spent force.