Maybe it's just me, but U2 seems to be forgetting what's important when it comes to creating music. Yes, it's always good to try to have an underlying message in your work, but when you try to attempt this with EVERY SINGLE SONG on the album it grows tiresome, to the point where it's suffocating the part of the brain that's trying to relax you. A certain fun factor needs to be present when you are trying to rock out the way Bono, The Edge, Adam Clayton, and Larry Mullen Jr do, but for some reason the presence of this factor appears to be weak in their latest album Songs of Innocence, released for free on iTunes this past Tuesday.
The album starts off promisingly enough with "The Miracle (of Joey Ramone)," a nod to the late Ramones frontman. The Edge has his trademark guitar sound traded in for some old-school garage rock chords. It's a song that has tries to have its heart in the right place, with it lyrically being very vague about the band's punk influence. Bono croons about "the most beautiful sound [he'd] ever heard," and whichever Ramones track that may pertain to is up for just about anyone's interpretation. (Some may say "Blitzkrieg Bop," others could argue it's "I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend.") A later track, "This Is Where You Can Reach Me," reverts back to the 80s New Wave era, with the band sauntering about in an a-ha sort of manner.
One of the album's highlights comes in the form of "Volcano," which strips the band's sound down to its very core. In a way it's reminiscent of the Black Keys' most recent works. (Perhaps this has to do with Danger Mouse acting as producer on this album, whom also helmed the Auerbach/Carney releases Attack & Release, El Camino and Turn Blue.) It brings U2 back to a more simple yet exciting melody, one that acts as a true homage to the artists that inspired them along the way. The line "You and I are rock 'n roll" is a reminder that music can't truly exist without someone there to receive the sound and embracing it with all their might.
Sadly this is where the inspiration runs its course. The rest of Songs of Innocence is Bono and the gang acting too preachy, attempting to recreate a message they've referenced over and over again since their All That You Can't Leave Behind era. "Song For Someone" and the closer "The Troubles" play around with the aspect of people trying to find any means necessary to survive, whether from a physical or emotional stance of life, but it all comes off too vague and uninteresting. "Iris (Hold Me Close)" treads Joshua Tree territory, but in the end it feels like a something that should've been left on the cutting room floor during those sessions.
Songs of Innocence plays around with worldly dark elements, only to forget the most important thing about U2's more classic albums: to pull the listeners out into the light. We get it, guys: there's war, famine, corruption, children dying, and diseases running amuck. I can turn on any news channel right this very instant and find it there. The last place I wanna be reminded of this is when I'm bouncing around trying to have a good time listening to your music. So while Songs of Innocence has a couple of good tracks highlights, the vast majority of it is just a wet blanket. Oh well, at least we don't have to pay for it this time around.