Album Review: U2’s “Songs of Innocence”
Anyone who knows me knows that U2 has had a massive impact on my life. I wouldn’t be the man I am today without their music, their ethos, and their persona. Like my mom who introduced me to the band, I know that they have an ability to write the songs of a life. My life’s soundtrack can be filled with U2 songs, from the anguished and lost soul crying out in Achtung Baby and Pop to the dystopian fantasies of Zooropa and the soaring heights of The Unforgettable Fire.
U2 has had many incarnations, each with their distinctive musical traits. I personally have always been partial to the experimental side of U2 found in their 90’s era albums like Achtung Baby and Zooropa, but I truly love it all.
Songs of Innocence took multiple (enjoyable) listens to digest how I viewed it in the scope of U2’s sonic contributions. Even more so the liner notes unlocked the deep emotions that went into the album. This is the most overtly personal I have ever seen the band. Their lives have always been intertwined with their music, but in Songs of Innocence the band’s lives ARE the songs. Bono himself said this of the album:
“We wanted to make a very personal album. Let’s try to figure out why we wanted to be in a band, the relationships around the band, our friendships, our lovers, our family. The whole album is first journeys — first journeys geographically, spiritually, sexually. And that’s hard. But we went there.”
Whereas the other albums have multiple topics (social, personal, political etc.), the personal journey of a life well-lived is the point of Songs of Innocence. From the first time U2 heard the Ramones to Bono watching his mother die as a young boy to the band’s pilgrimage to Los Angeles (my ever so beautiful hometown)… Songs of Innocence is a moving, uplifting, jamming, bleeding, broken, and spiritual collection of songs that take you inside the head of the band.
The feel of the album, from instrumentation to overall song structure, makes Songs of Innocence seem like it is one part the direction of All That You Can’t Leave Behind, one part the direction of How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb and the rest is a new area. Gone is the massive amount of multi-faceted musical experimentation (which admittedly I dearly love). In its place is a raw, stripped-down album that makes you realize why the album took so long to make (a paradoxical statement I know…but allow me to explain).
The openness of Songs of Innocence is hard to achieve. There are no frills; it is just 4 guys in a room making music. The album does not feel heavily processed, but really like an exploration into what the guys sought out to make when they first started. While I was expecting a push further in the direction of No Line on the Horizon, this pure storytelling, anthemic rock album proves that Bono, the Edge, Adam Clayton, and Larry Mullen Jr. do not need numerous layers of instruments and electronic sound samples to create art.
Will Songs of Innocence go down as groundbreaking? I doubt it. The thing is, however, this album is not intended to be a magnum opus. The folk approach of telling a story is really what Songs of Innocence is all about. This album is a reflection on life, the band’s life. It is a window into their collective minds, and as a life-long fan it is a raw honesty I can truly appreciate. This is a U2 that is saying “come into our hearts, whether or not you understand what you hear, we are going to say exactly what we want to.”
Guys, welcome back.