A while back, eclectic U2 frontman Bono questioned whether or not it was worth releasing a new U2 album, as they might not be considered ‘relevant’ in today’s ever evolving music scene. It was a quote which made us all wonder, “are U2 still relevant?”. Does Bono still have that same appeal he had in the 80s, and are The Edge’s riffs still worthy of relevance in 2014? Today, all these questions regarding relevance were thrown out of the window, as U2 made a last ditch attempt to find that relevance they’ve been looking for, by releasing a brand new album for free, completely unannounced. Released in conjunction with the release of the new iPhone 6, Songs of Innocence is a far cry from the disappointing No Line On the Horizon, which came out in 2009.
The album opens with anthemic chanting on The Miracle (Of Joey Ramone), as scuzzy guitars and fists-in-the-air beats intertwine on an album opener which shows U2 leaning more towards modern day rock contemporaries The Script and Snow Patrol. Every Breaking Wave is, like its predecessor, a radio friendly rocker more in line with early 2000s U2. Another catchy melody in the chorus sees Bono touch on personal lyrical ground as he sings, “if you go your way and I’ll go mine” in and amongst various other heartbreak-related two-liners. Towards the end, it builds up in classic U2 fashion as it closes on a bigger and bolder note than before, yet it still feels like something is missing. “Are we ready to be swept off of our feet?” Bono sings towards the end. The answer to that, very simply, is yes. California (There Is No End to Love) swiftly follows suit with church bells, vocal effects and synth melodies. As with the previous two songs, it’s a radio friendly rocker, something which U2 do oh so well. Here, Bono sings of his love for California over a mix of sprawling synths and anthemic chants. As per usual, it all comes together in the end after a bridge in which Bono sings in a half-hushed tone, as Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen Jr. help build up towards the climax.
Song for Someone comes as the first real ‘ballad’ on the album, with ambient noise and an acoustic melody accompanying Bono’s ever so personal vocals. At one point, he sings together with The Edge for a whole verse before the song slowly builds up into an emotional, albeit brief chorus. Towards the end, it all gets rather good for a while as everything comes together with wailed vocals and string-like synths becoming the focal point of the song. Iris (Hold Me Close) begins with calm vocals and eerie ambience, before pulsating bass and drums accompany haunting vocals on the best song of the record so far. Volcano is a no-frills rocker with a grooving bassline and playful vocals. It’s got a big chorus and some great guitar work from The Edge, before Raised By Wolves’ goes on to introduce tense piano lines and odd vocals in its intro. Bono sings about darker topics such as drugs and murder, with occasional guitar stabs accompanying a massive chorus and jangly guitar work. As Bono sings, “raised by wolves, stronger than fear, if I open my eyes, you disappear”, we’re seeing a new side to U2s generally extroverted lyrical content.
Cedarwood Road misleads us with a generic sounding melody, before crunching fuzz riffs and grisly basslines take the lead. It’s got a very dark sound to it, something which U2 haven’t been afraid to show on Songs of Innocence. The verse sees some piano accompany Bono’s lyrics about friendship and life in the suburbs, as a slow burning chorus helps carry the song along. Sleep Like a Baby Tonight yet again sees a darker side to the band, with waspy synths and vocal effects-laden vocals helping it standout alongside the rest of the album. This is Where You Can Reach Me Now uses more tribal-esque sounds, before piano and acoustic guitar slowly fade into the track. The vocals are chanted, with the drums slowly building up to an eerie synth melody and pulsating bassline. Almost instantly after building up, the song proceeds to tear itself down before an instrumental outro slowly fades out, making way for album closer The Trouble. It’s very downbeat for the duration, not really going far for the duration, with electric drums, synths and occasional guitar being the main players in this album closer.
As an album, Songs of Innocence is actually rather impressive, to be perfectly honest. There is always going to be a stigma attached to all aspects of U2, yet Songs of Innocence is showing us that U2 are still capable of making a solid album. Although there are some predictably cheesy lyrics, this is an album which has shown U2 starting to look backwards, as opposed to constantly looking forward. You can say what you like about U2, but the important question is if they are still relevant. Regardless of how they launched the album, this is an album which has proven that U2 still do have long lasting relevance in the world of music. Come this time next year, and Bono & co. will be taking Songs of Innocence all over the world, and you’ll all want to be a part of it, because why not?