U2 – Songs of Innocence Review and a few thoughts

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So U2 are back with their latest and 13th studio album. It’s been almost 6 years since they last produced something and work on this one has been protracted whilst they have also been working on various failed projects and a very disappointing headline set at Glastonbury. So are they still relevant or has time finally decided that they have had their time as the worlds biggest act?

The way this record was released has caused some debate, there are many who see the release as some takin to an act of terrorism on their device, there are many who are probably delighted to be given something from U2 for free and there are even more people who probably do not care one jot! For me I am pleased to be given this for nothing as I have fallen somewhat out of love with the band that formed a major part of my earlier years of music love. Putting it simply I was 15 when Live Aid came out and they stole the show, it then got me listening to their songs of protest over the troubles in Ireland and then in 1987 they released the Joshua Tree still, to me, one of the finest records ever made. So I have been a fan for some time.

But I get why so many people despise U2, be it down to how Bono preaches to all about saving lives (all be it he has played his part in raising consciousness of those who have suffered to the rest) or their less than honest affairs with the tax man. Mostly, it appears from the U2 haters I know, it purely is the front man himself. He is amongst the most vilified of all in the world of music. He shares a title of the most sanctimonious arsehole in pop with Chris Martin. And for many he is akin to Simon Cowell for crimes against music. unlike Martin I can’t help but feel he does these things knowing the irony of what he is doing but I do,wish he’d stick to singing songs.

So given the choice of listening to a record when it is presented to you for nothing will seem unappealing to many. Let’s be honest, if the Kaizer Chiefs game away their entire back catalogue I wouldn’t listen to it! But give away they did and this presents a discussion alone.

Is it right that Apple and U2 can simply give away without a catch to upwards of 500 million people? I have my doubts. Firstly the music industry is on its knees. In an age when downloading for free means millions of people are not buying music is a concern. When a band who, potentially, could sell millions decide not to that can only be damaging to the industry. Yes the supermarkets won’t be too worried, they can simply stop selling music and carry on. But what about those retailers whose very life blood is selling music? We have seen the record shops all but disappear because their product isn’t viable anymore. And whilst there is, thankfully, great revival of the independent shops like our cities very own Pie and Vinyl means that physical music isn’t dying. Sales of vinyl are rising as those of us who love music want to hold it, hear it how it’s meant to be heard when it was recorded and still hark,back a few years to the glory days of music. But even these stores would have benefitted from the release of a U2 album. Yes it’s being released in physical format soon but how many people will honestly buy it now that so many have it for free?

In addition, I feel this will have a detrimental effect on smaller bands, those for who the money and exposure from iTunes sales could mean they are the next best thing? I believe it won’t help. Whilst I am very much a fan of live music (indeed I’ve done every U2 tour since Zoo TV) even that is getting expensive. It’s rare to see a gig for under £20 these days and for people like me I now have to pick and choose my live experiences. Though thanks to the likes of SouthseaFest and the ever superb 6 Music, I am lucky that I still discover new and great bands and will head out to see them.

But also this release caused so much anger. Not sure why so many people have such ire over a free record that they simply can ignore. From what I have seen it is mainly for 2 reasons why people get so angry over this. Firstly it is ‘cool’ to hate U2, the press (especially the ever increasingly irrelevant NME) couldn’t wait to stick their claws in or the second reason appears to be people’s inability to understand how their itunes accounts or Apple devices actually work! Mine are set up that I get to pick and choose what I download, in fact I had trouble finding the record to listen. So I’m not sure why so many others simply have no idea how easy it was to prevent. Such was the faux anger that Apple had to release a special removal tool to stop people bemoaning!

But this stunt certainly worked for the band. Apple have paid them a sizeable fund to release the album, which entails that they don’t need to worry about the amount of sales. They also get exposure and, no doubt, will hold one of the highest grossing tours of 2015. So they win there – let’s hope the tax man get his cut too! Off the back of this release, Apple had 7 U2 albums in their top 100.

So,giving away music may not be the future, certainly Radiohead are miles ahead on this type of work. Releasing albums on a pay what you want basis may have more legs as will Thom Yorke’s decision to use Bit torrents to release work legally. At least U2 didn’t force you to buy the Daily Mail so you could listen to their new work,like Prince once did!

Anyway what about he record itself. The majority was produced by Dangermouse and then after he upped and left they called in Paul Epworth of Adele fame to help finish it off. It opens with a very typical U2 track The Miracle (of Joey Ramone) which is also, arguably, the best song on the record. There is a fair amount of filler on the album. Songs such as Every Breaking Wave and California keep the record going. Whilst none of it hits the peaks of such classics as Where the Streets and One it certainly isn’t their worst work (that will be mostly Pop). Song for Someone and Iris have touches of the All You Can Leave Behind era. Others such as Volcano have that Stadium Rock feel that has become synonymous with their past work. Only Raised by Wolves does absolutely nothing for me. Sleep,Like a Baby Tonight and The Likki Li duetted Troubles both bring the latte half of the record to a high end.

So overall, not their finest work but certainly not as poor as some of their efforts. And it is a noticeable improvement on the other ‘biggest band in the world’ Coldplay woeful effort this year. Unless you really hate them give it a go. You never know you may think it’s OK.

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