Final Rating: 5.5/10
In front of the world, Bono and Tim Cook both announced the newest U2 album and released it within seconds to anyone with an iTunes account. Artists have sprung surprise albums on us before (Beyoné offered her best work yet last year without even a peep beforehand), so this new album, titled Songs of Innocence, isn’t innovative in any sense, but it is (as titled) harmless. Sure, everyone in the world is getting this album and it may very well end up being the biggest album release ever, but what cost is this title at? Is this award truly genuine? People with iTunes accounts had the album mysteriously pop up in their library, so they were one of the millions of ticks on the tally sheet without even trying. Then there are the people who wanted to be a part of such an event, and that doesn’t say anything about the album’s credibility either. Songs of Innocence is a sneakily clever advertisement for Apple and U2 combined. This is supposed to mark the biggest album release ever, but it certainly isn’t the release of the biggest album ever: The latter would deserve far more attention, I’d observe.
One thing to remember is that this is a free album. Some things to not forget, however, is that 1) this is U2, who are one of the most successful bands in history, and 2) this is an album that came five years since their last release. There shouldn’t be too much to expect from a free album, since no one’s hard earned money was wasted on music they didn’t like, yet there should still be something worth listening to from such a large name pulling off such a gargantuan stunt. This whole event feels like a bag of chips: You’re excited to open this product and are left emotionless when you find out what little is truly inside (while the rest is filler, or air). Songs of Innocence isn’t a crime against humanity, but it is most certainly a glacial bore. All I can think of is the South Park episode Asspen, where the childrens’ parents were excited to be a part of a ski weekend only to be bludgeoned to near-death by boring timeshare salesmen. It may seem like a good idea to be a part of such a big event, but don’t expect the album to party with you in return.
Is the whole album bad? Not at all. In fact, a few songs aren’t too shabby. There are a lot of callbacks to possible influences of U2 within these songs. Some are literal (The Miracle [Of Joey Ramone] uses guitar riffs that sound a bit like something the late musician would come up with) and some more subtle (the amount of Beach Boys harmonies and even an inclusion of a “bar-bar-barbara” in the song California [There is no End to Love], which I doubt is a coincidence). These two songs are two of the better cuts on the album, as well as the surprisingly soothing Sleep Like a Baby Tonight and the Lykke Li finale The Troubles. None of these songs would come even close to the top of a list of U2’s greatest successes, especially when their peak was full of monumental material. In fact, this is some of the better work they have put out in years. The problem is that Songs of Innocence is full of duds, too, where the innocence in the name goes from being cute to being just so damn naive. Cedarwood Road, Iris (Hold Me Close) and Song for Someone are three ways to test your gag reflex and if your tear ducts still work (although Song for Someone has what could either be a really interesting tribute to The Smiths or an embarrassing coincidence). There is a lot of filler on this album, but there is also an unhealthy dose of rejections being included. Not only are these songs typically bad, they are harshly so.
For their age, everyone in U2 still has talent. Bono doesn’t sound a day older than he ever has in this band, the instrumentals are all given consideration, and there is always some thought behind every song here. The issue is that the songwriting is far from commendable, now. If this wasn’t U2, I doubt thousands of people would be giving this album a full listen, never mind billions. The band tried with the album, but the album truly doesn’t try with any of us. Songs of Innocence is the child that won’t come downstairs from its room to say hi to the guests, even though its parents spoke so highly about its grades. I don’t think U2 wrote this album just to celebrate Apple or to even advertise anything; I believe this connection was a decision that happened later on that both parties agreed on. I do think U2 worked on this album, which is why I won’t rank it any lower. It was just such a tedious listen, and one that felt so typical and so monotonous that it was never ending. Innocent or not, these songs, for the most part, just aren’t very good, and they wouldn’t be even with more work and time devoted to them. Again, there are some good songs worth checking out, and if I had Robert Christgau’s powers, I’d knight these songs as “choice cuts”. For now, the album matches the number 5.5: The size of the new iPhone 6 in inches. This is significant, because this phone feels bigger than the album that took part in the biggest album release in history.