So, like 500 million other people, I’ve had U2’s Songs of Innocence on my phone for the last couple of days.
The thing is, I’m actually a fan of U2. Have been since I got my hands on The Joshua Tree back in 1987.
So, I’ve listened to it. The whole album, all 11 songs. I’ve been playing around with it in my head and listening in my car and at the office.
I’m not far from 40, so U2 is generationally appropriate for me.
But, how does it stack up?
First, the songs are all absolutely beautiful. The music is very nice and the lyrics are incredible, a return to Bono’s greatness in songwriting.
This is, in my view, the best U2 album since All That You Can’t Leave Behind. Maybe better than that one.
Here’s the thing: U2 may never again catch the magic that produced The Joshua Tree and then just a few years later Achtung Baby. Those are two albums that are pure magic from start to finish.
But, with Songs of Innocence, U2 has produced an outstanding album full of beautiful music.
The story behind the music is that this is U2 looking at the world when they were in their teens. What it feels like is a group of guys looking back on their formative years and recpaturing a few moments of innocence. In either case, the emotions it evokes are intense.
The album is very personal, introspective, and a bit haunting.
The last 5 songs (starting with Raised by Wolves) are simply superb. U2 magic. Like the way I felt when I heard the first 5 songs of War. If this were a cassette like the ones I bought in the 80s, I’d be playing side 2 a lot.
I’ve listened quite a bit in the last few days, and I’m coming to the conclusion that my favorite song is Cedarwood Road. First, the song kicks some ass. It opens with tremendous promise and when I first heard it, I turned the radio up. While it does not go full on with its rock potential, it has a driving beat and great guitar sound and it is worth playing loud. Plus, lyrically, it’s pretty interesting. The boy standing at home, waiting to face the world. Being defined for life by the years spent at home.
Raised by Wolves is U2 and political commentary. Ireland and war. And here again, the Edge is on fire.
Sleep Like a Baby Tonight may be the second best song on the album. It is haunting and dream-like and special. Plus, it ends with some guitar magic by the Edge.
The Troubles is also haunting and special. In fact, the album’s introspective nature makes it somewhat melancholy and maybe a bit angry. I guess not unlike a teenage boy trying to figure out the world.
Song for Someone (an early track), reminds me of nights spent in the car at the end of a date with someone special. Someone beginning to really like you. I can see myself hearing that song at 17 and melting under the emotion and excitement it conveys.
While I also enjoy Every Breaking Wave, which is lyrically brilliant and sonically interesting, it comes in the opening trio of pop songs that all run together. Sure, Miracle (of Joey Ramone) and California (There is no end to love) are individually good songs, but when you play Miracle, Wave, and California in order, they merge into a singular pop intro to the album. Fun, interesting, and perhaps forgettable.
Iris is powerful if for no other reason than the subject — Bono’s mother who died when he was 14.
Volcano is the “meh” of the group. Though I appreciate the chorus evoking the sounds of Glastonbury, a song the band wrote for the Glastonbury festival and played sometimes on the 360 tour. They should have just recorded Glastonbury as it was and left Volcano out.
All in all, the album is quite good. It gets into your head, and that’s what good music does. Some of the songs could be soundtracks to your life or to particularly fond or difficult moments. And, if there’s another album, as Bono has promised (Songs of Experience), the world could be in for some quite exciting U2 sounds for the next few years.