Yesterday U2 “did a Beyoncé” by releasing their brand new album, Songs Of Innocence, completely by surprise. What’s more, the album is digitally available for free to everybody with an iTunes account, until October 13th when it will be physically released.
For the 5 minutes between hearing the news and downloading the LP, expectations were high. It would be difficult for any band to repeat the successes that were Achtung Baby and The Joshua Tree, let alone one with a combined age of over 200. Nevertheless, there is always the possibility that a veteran artist can release a great album past their prime (see: David Bowie, Bruce Springsteen).
Listening to the record is underwhelming. The first track is a tribute to Joey Ramone, who was a friend of Bono’s. However, aside from the title, there is very little linking the song to the late punk singer. Instead it is a rather tame stadium rock affair, with power chords that may well sound as emphatic as they should in a live environment.
As Songs Of Innocence continues, it becomes apparent that it didn’t need to be made at all. ‘Song For Someone’ references ‘There Is A Light That Never Goes Out’, something so unnecessary in 2014, especially for a band that existed the entirety of The Smiths’ career. ‘Iris (Hold Me Close)’ is another song dedicated to someone close to Bono, this time his mother. Given the personal nature of the songs, it is surprising that they are so vague lyrically. It constantly seems as if the lyrics were given enough scope that they could be appreciated by any listener. Ultimately though, there is no sense of intimacy, or even that the themes are real.
Besides the centrepieces ‘Volcano’ and ‘Raised By Wolves’ the tracks merge into one, to the extent that a casual listen could make the first five songs sound like one that’s extraordinarily ordinary (albeit far too long). As the record reaches its anti-climax, it’s crying out for a ‘Pride (In The Name Of Love)’, or even a ‘Vertigo’ to break the monotony. Unfortunately Songs Of Innocence is an exercise in mediocrity, an album consisting entirely of filler tracks that might exist only to remind us that U2 still exist.
U2 have created an ‘average-est hits’, a collection of songs that probably won’t be remembered after the inevitable accompanying tour. It makes sense for them to have released the album for free, because they might have trouble justifying making people pay for it. Aside from the release method and the gimmicky vinyl inner sleeve artwork on an exclusively digital release, there is almost nothing that makes Songs Of Innocence relevant, or even interesting.
Songs Of Innocence was released on September 9th 2014 on Island Records.