Songs Of Innocence is the musical equivalent of Scottish National Party leader Alex Salmond: an entity utterly devoid of any personality or fun.
The surprise with this new U2 album, as you probably (definitely) know by now, is how it managed to go almost entirely under the radar. People knew U2 were working on a new album, their first in five years, but nobody expected them to drop it at Apple’s Watch conference last night. Or to give it away for free.
This publicity-baiting approach is in no way new. The sudden drop of a new album, with no hype-train billowing behind it, has been done before. That’s why it’s now known as “doing a Beyoncé”.
And then there is Songs Of Innocence’s half-arsed album artwork, which almost doesn’t exist. Look it up, the artwork is just a plain-white sleeve with ‘Songs Of Innocence’, ‘U2’ and ‘LP’ scrawled across. Kanye West did this whole “FUCK ARTWORK PEOPLE JUST WANT TO LOOK AT A CD” last year with Yeezus (a brilliant album, despite the awful artwork). So, once again, we see U2 trying to cotton on to something that has been done before, and done better, by other (superior) artists.
But let’s talk music now. The whole album sounds like generic U2 – and by that I mean enormous pop songs engineered solely to be performed in stadiums across the world, with anthemic choruses and echo-y riffs from Edge’s guitar whilst Bono pines on about yearning after something (this time it’s the joys of youth). Just listen to ‘Every Breaking Wave’ and you’ll get the gist.
If you like U2, then you will enjoy this. Indeed, nothing on Songs Of Innocence sounds at all new. This is just more U2. With producer Danger Mouse on board, you may have been mistaken into thinking that U2 were going to experiment even further than they were considered to have done on 2009’s No Line On The Horizon. But, alas, this is not the case.
When Beyoncé dropped a brand new album with no hype, the album also happened to signal a new direction for the artist. There were no guaranteed hits, and the whole production was darker than what Beyoncé had delivered previously. It was something new and exciting from a world-beating superstar who really didn’t have to do anything new to appease fans. But Beyoncé did. Because she’s a lot of fun. And this just isn’t the case with U2. Supporters may say that U2 doesn’t need to do anything new, that U2 fans only want more U2 songs; more massive Wembley stadium sized U2 pop songs. Fair enough. That may be the case. The problem is that what U2 does do on Songs Of Innocence is so DULL. Songs Of Innocence is entirely devoid of any impressions. There is precisely nothing present to despise, or be enthralled by. And that is U2’s most glaring crime. They make music that engenders precisely ZERO feelings inside of you. On Songs Of Innocence, they haven’t even tried to do something new.
Look at a band like Arctic Monkeys. With the release of their fifth album last year, they’ve successfully moved beyond being just a rock band. For the rest of their careers, they can craft anything they want to. They’re totally free to express themselves artistically. Songs Of Innocence is U2’s thirteenth album. It is not okay that a band of this size, that is this far into their career, thinks it’s okay to release a record that is, in a sense, a record they’ve already released. There is not a single ounce of progression evident on this new album, and that is, in the case of U2, unacceptable. It all feels so familiar, like a really horrible cold.
No wonder they gave it away for free.
And indeed, the only positive about Songs Of Innocence is that it has been given away for free. Because being asked to pay for this album would have been insulting. We deserve better. Even worse, I can guarantee that Alex Salmond would like this album*. Avoid.
*I can in no way guarantee that Alex Salmond would enjoy U2’s ‘Songs Of Innocence’.