I should state right now I am not a completely objective U2 fan. I love the band. I love how their lyrics are searching and the broad anthemic qualities. I love Bono’s ego and naked desire to be adored by everyone. I love Edge’s guitar (still echoing from the early 80s pop) and his beanies. I love Adam’s professor cool and Larry’s grumpy cat posture. Even a bad U2 album beats the banjo indie-folk-rock that seems to be everywhere lately.
But I can also laugh my ass off at the reactions from iTunes users who found that the band basically dropped their album into their libraries without their consent. “WHY ISN’T THIS DRAKE?” one twitter user screamed, while others screamed, “WHO THE HELL IS U2?” Everyone’s a critic and as one of the most iconic groups with naked ambition and desire to be on top, U2 is a pretty easy target.
For me, it was like Christmas, but again, I’m not entirely objective with this band. Perhaps the hardest thing for U2 is that their sound is so distinctive and often aped by other groups (I’m looking at you Coldplay) so it’s difficult for them to break out of the mold. Heavy is the crown of living icons.
All this being said, “Songs of Innocence” treads the line of their sound — Edge’s chiming guitars rooted by Adam and Larry’s fat and earthy rhythm section, while Bono’s voice slides around between the two. But there’s so many tantalizing songs that I wonder what was lost during their initial sessions with Danger Mouse and in the months of album delay. The album was supposed to be released earlier this year, but was postponed to news of “IS THIS THE LAST U2 ALBUM? ARE THEY DOOMED?”
For U2 fans, the delay shouldn’t have surprised anyone. I suspect Edge and Bono were clinging to it, their fingernail scratches found on the original tracks because they just needed to add a little bit more, make it more perfect, make it more loved. Sometimes that overthinking can kill creativity. But that’s always been the band since POP (and underrated classic in my opinion) and its stinging failure.
So Songs of Innocence has a lot of songs that sound like U2 — probably enough to keep the fanbase that think 80s U2 is the best U2. Thankfully there’s other things that are interesting enough, as witnessed by the second half of the album. Raised by Wolves and Volcano reminds me more of “War” and “Boy”-era U2 which were a little angrier and had a little more swagger. The opening of California (There is no End to Love) is promising and I wish they continued along the haunting Beach Boys-like path. Cedarwood Road is also a great song that fools people into thinking it’s a typical U2 song, until the jagged guitar comes swaggering in. It reminds you that U2 is capable of a hardness and crunch, despite their reputation. Sleep Like A Baby has a great electronica sound where Bono’s voice slithers around seductively in ways not heard since “Zooropa.”
The second half of “Songs of Innocence” makes you wonder what else was lost during those sessions and whether or not U2 overthought it during the album postponement and decided to play it safe with some of the tracks in the first half. I’ve heard that Bono’s threatening to release another album — “Songs of Experience” — that would bookend with this. I sincerely hope so, because I am curious to see what else was lost during those sessions. Hopefully it’d sound more like the second half of “Songs of Innocence.”