This past month, Apple announced the release of two new iPhones, and while that was really cool, I don’t think anyone was really surprised. No, the truly shocking news of the day came from what I thought was going to be the most gimmicky moment of the whole event:
Apple is giving away U2’s new album, Songs of Innocence.
Now, I’m not one you would ever call a “U2 fan.” I don’t dislike them; they simply weren’t on my cultural horizon as I grew up, save for a select few hits that most diehard fans probably hated as being too commercial.
Granted that this album was provided to me for free—though without any obligation to review it—I have to say that I really enjoy it. Several of the songs are really hanging with me throughout the day, and that’s not just because they are musically catchy. Some of the lyrics are just haunting, particularly “Raised by Wolves.” Seriously, I’ve been thinking about that song for days. What more could an artist want?
Concerning the lyrics, I am deliberately not going to dig into their meaning. Firstly because I’ll never be able to tell you exactly what as intended. Secondly, I’m in nowhere an expert in U2’s back catalogue, so I don’t have much experience with the structure or symbology of their songs. Thirdly, I share very little cultural/sociological ground with Bono, which means that I’m quite a bit out of my depth when it comes to interpreting the lyrics of a Irish guy who’s only one year younger than my dad.
Musically, this album is distinctly U2. You could have played any song on the album, and I could have told you immediately, without prior knowledge, who the band was. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Having an easily identifiable sound is not a problem. Ever heard the band Cake? All of their music sounds pretty darn similar, and I love Cake (both the band and the frosted dessert). Perhaps a better example instead of Cake would be Switchfoot. Heavily inspired by U2, Switchfoot is an amazing band that has grown and evolved over several, several years, and yet listening to their music, you can definitely pick out their “style.” In fact, my wife, who is a huge Switchfoot fan, and I were listening to this album together and decided on two things: 1) it’s a great album, and 2) while it is worth playing full-blast, it could also make for excellent background music.
That probably sounds terrible, but it’s that kind of music that ends being the soundtrack for our creative endeavors and relaxing autumn evenings with the windows open. With Songs of Innocence, U2 might have earned a place alongside Miles Davis, Dave Brubeck, and Explosions in the Sky in my writing playlist. Remember a few paragraphs ago when I asked what an artist could want more than to create something that provokes thought? I think I have an answer: better than provoking thought is fueling further creativity.
Songs of Innocence is quintessential U2 (thought-provoking, nearly anthemic vocals, ever-present flamboyant guitar parts, etc.), but it doesn’t feel like an album from a band formed over thirty-five years ago—five years before I was born! Prior to this album, some of may favorite songs from U2 were radio hits that clearly fit the musical milieu into which they were released, and yet—and I know this is repetitive—so very much U2. If anything, this new album fits that mold and holds the those two extremes in an incredible, if tense, balance. Not overly produced or overly pretentious, Songs of Innocence is a great album that I’m sure to enjoy for years to come. I’ll leave you to assess your own enjoyment.
“The Miracle (Of Joey Ramone)”
“California (There Is No End to Love)”
“Iris (Hold Me Close)”
“Raised By Wolves”
Before we leave this review, let’s take a minute to talk about the motivation behind Apple and U2 offering this album for free.
For starters, all I have read for years is that there is a growing murmur among rock stars about the increasingly consumeristic approach toward music. Many might have hoped that iTunes and the bevy of music stores that followed were going reinvigorate slumping album sales. No such luck. Songs sold, but albums didn’t. Perhaps Apple and U2 are hoping, maybe arrogantly so, that by giving every account holding a free copy of the new U2 album that everyone will remember or learn for the first time how sweet it is to listen to an entire album. Thus, culture will travel backward in time, and everyone would make a lot more money on future album sales.
Secondly, I think Apple just does stuff to get us talking. How much did they pay U2 for this album? I have no idea, but it can come right out of their advertising budget because that’s exactly what it was. Then again, thinking a little less cynically, Apple has been a relatively kinder, gentler company since Time Cook took the helm. Maybe this was simple a goodwill gesture? Maybe?
What did you think of the new U2 album?
Why do you think Apple just gave the album way?
You, too, can get a free copy of Songs of Innocence by logging into the iTunes Store on either your desktop/laptop or iOS device, searching for the album, and clicking download. You only until October 13th, so you’d better hustle! And don’t despair if you don’t yet have an iTunes account—simply sign up for a free account, and you’ll also be able to download the album for free!
[You’ve just read ChurchMag’s Saturday Morning Review. We hoped it was awesome.]