U2 ‘Songs of Innocence’ track-by-track review
Half a billion listeners doesn’t mean much when you haven’t got a song to sing.
Hark! Is that the sound of a new U2 record? It’s hard to make it out over the dulcet tones of Corporate Synergy of Unrivalled Proportions, but yes, it is. And just how terrible is it on a scale of Coldplay b-side to That Song They Did From A Movie That No One Remembers? Let’s go with mostly extremely terrible, track by track.
After having this album helpfully appear free of charge in the distribution system of the world’s least philanthropic megacorporation, which somehow makes it the most downloaded album of all time even though no one actively sought it out, I can say that having your dreams comprehensively crushed by the artistic poverty of your once favourite band is not the best way to start the day. But that also I am a totally impartial listener and that this review is definitive among any that you will pointlessly read as this new release system proves once and for all that music critics are also dead. Onwards!
1. The Miracle (of Joey Ramone)
Naming-checking a Ramone does not a punk anthem make. This is not a good start. Sound reminder that the last time U2 were a true punk band was 1976.
2. Every Breaking Wave
This has been kicking around as a demo since the sessions on their last album. So that’s five years, approximately nine producers and one effortlessly forgettable track. Money well spent Island Records.
3. California (There Is No End To Love)
Here are some very literal lyrics from Bono’s trademark songbook of Oh Yeah, The Words. California is a place of awe-inspiring natural beauty and boundless freedom. It is a vast frontier that has inspired countless writers and artists, including U2. They once wrote a very good album about it, The Joshua Tree, which is 27 years old.
4. Song For Someone
This is kind of a great song. It has a lovely nod to the Smiths in “If there is a light/Don’t let it go out.” This is the kind of plaintive, simple song that U2 used to turn out like Ryan Adams puts out albums. This is a love song that Bono, when he is actually paying attention to being a frontman in a band, is fucking boss at pulling off. This will go down a treat in stadiums around the world, brought to you by whichever corporation Bono has decided are cool by then.
5. Iris (Hold Me Close)
This is a song about Bono’s mother, who died suddenly when we was 14, which understandably, has been something he has come back to over and over as a subject. It has a tonne of trademark U2 sounds, which having been so imitated by other bands in the last two decades, makes it sounds like U2 covering themselves when they are the ones doing it. That must be kind of awful, if you think about it.
This is also a pretty great, a kind of glam, ballsy stomper that suggests that U2 had a solid album in them around the time of ‘Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me’, that for whatever reason they never recorded and instead spent a few years getting wasted at their holiday houses in the South of France. Which, fair enough.
7. Raised By Wolves
This is a very good song by Bloc Party.
8. Cedarwood Road
This is the closest thing this album has to a hook anywhere, a vaguely interesting guitar part from the Edge on this song, who has remembered he is in a band.
9. Sleep Like A Baby Tonight
Where did this amazing Kate Bush song come from? Why isn’t there a whole record full of this stuff? Oh, there is, Zooropa. This is honestly great, but also terrible as it’s a glimpse of what could have been if only U2 would take advantage of the fact they can make literally any album they want and then 500,000,000 people will listen to it, at least once.
Rating: 9/10. (-8 for wasted potential)
10. This Is Where You Can Reach Me Now
Oh I see, is the part with the phone tie-in? White people should not reggae. Or whatever this is meant to be.
11. The Troubles
This is very pretty. Lykke Li sings on it. It is lush with strings. It is very familiar. I have a will for survival, Bono sings, hopefully. Somebody stepped inside your soul. If only they had! They would have stopped you from plagiarising your own greatest song.
As a band, U2 have no reason to exist. And yet, they are obsessed with retaining their “relevance” whatever that means. It means, seemingly, selling out every single value your band was founded on. Which is what this is really about: how alienated we can become from ourselves. Their new album Songs of Innocence – five years, superstar producers, who knows how much money and a meaningless product launch the entire world’s press falls over itself to give free coverage to in the making – has no reason to be. It has no real songs on it. It has no secrets to reveal. It is not vital in any way. People will not clamber to play it for their friends. Teenagers will not listen to it in their bedrooms and dream of an entire world outside their window, beckoning them to find it. People will not put songs from this album on meticulously crafted compilations they give to someone they love hoping to explain themselves. Millions of people will not sing along to these songs as their hearts beat in unison and they glimpse for even a short evanescent moment, something bigger than themselves.
You can devise the cleverest marketing campaign dozens of nerds beavering away at can dream Silicon Valley dreams of, but if you have nothing to say, no one is going to listen, even if you force them.
Songs of Innocence is out now for free via iTunes. It’ll be out through Island Records on October 13.