Sunday, 21 September 2014

Songs of Innocence - U2

May I just temper this review with the information that I have always loved and adored U2. During my formative years, they taught me about the world outside of my reach. The Joshua Tree needs no introduction and driving through the Mojave Desert with the opening bars of 'Where the Streets have no Name' pouring out of the radio like liquid gold, will live with me forever.

Then came the powerhouse of Achtung Baby, the necessary change of direction with its Eastern bloc allure and masterful craftsmanship. Zooropa, once again took the band in another more dance-driven direction, blowing my mind in the process and this avenue was further explored on 1997's Pop. Just when you thought the band were out of steam, they deliver an Eastern-fused classic in the form of No Line on the Horizon, proving that U2 can still be relevant in today's saturated market.

And I guess that is the expectation from a band so renowned for defying genre, yet managing to remain true to themselves. Unfortunately, Songs of Innocence does not live up to its predecessors in any way, shape or form. That is not to say, it is a bad album, yet by this band's high standards, it flatters to deceive.

The album begins with the quintessential U2 stadium rocker a la Vertigo, Beautiful Day and Elevation. However 'The Miracle of Joey Ramone' lacks the power and memorability we have come to expect. The verse weaves it's way to a weak chorus and the track feels like it never really gets out of third gear. 

'Every Breaking Wave' is a mid-paced brooder, borrowing heavily from The Joshua Tree's 'With or Without You.' A good song but again despite several listens and much good will, it never reaches its full potential.

The same could easily be said for 'Song for Someone' which is the traditional U2 ballad, but again fails to make the emotional impression of say 'One' or 'Sometimes You Can't Make It On Your Own.'

Two of the albums stronger tracks are 'Iris' and 'Volcano.' The former again dipping into the trusty formula of Edge's ringing guitar and the rhythm section as always do themselves proud. However Bono's monotone vocal and the endless 'woo-oo-ing' in the chorus, leave a fairly unsatisfying taste in the mouth.
'Volcano' feels like it could be from 'War' or a B-side from an early Concrete Blonde album. A mid-paced grower that explodes into life in the coda with the line, 'You are rock n'roll' and it is this that typifies the issues with 'Songs of Innocence' for me because it is not really rock n' roll. If it is, its the safe version you play in your car when your Mum is in the passenger seat. 

U2 rely heavily on the successes of the past with this record, borrowing and rehashing the groundbreaking sounds that made them what they are. However on this revisit, U2 are no longer defying the odds or indeed, breaking new ground. 

It felt for me, a lifelong fan of the band, like watching a film you loved when you were a kid again. There was excitement, anticipation a real desire for it to be as good as it was the first time around. However, by the end you wonder why you made all the fuss in the first place.

To it's credit it is tightly produced by Dangermouse. Sadly, Penfold's tactical vision appears to be missing. 'Cedarwood Road' is a move away from the archetypal 'U2 sound' and is a fairly satisfying rocky dirge and the album ends with 'The Troubles' a Lana Del Rey-esque soul tune, that dare I say it, lacks any real soul. 

It was a tricky one to write for me this, as I feel like I have just sold out my brother for stealing food to feed me. U2 were the band that defined my formative years and I will always thank them for that. But like Frank Lampard scoring Man City's equaliser against his beloved Chelsea, this U2 album feels like a bit of an own goal.