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U2 - Songs of Innocence

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Most U2 fans I know want the band to "return" to something. I want a sense that they're pursuing something. On those occasions after Achtung when they've really stuck their necks out, they've been soundly punished by their fans and the press. And they took those beatings too personally. But still, in one sense or another, they remain a band in motion.

 

They may not be moving, this time, in the mysterious ways you love best (this isn't a reinvention of lyrical style, guitar style, or a diversion from their bad habit of crowd-stoking). But in some ways they are still stretching and trying new things. Heck, they dumped the producers they could not do without this time and tried others — primarily the fellow responsible for Gorillaz and Gnarls Barkley and Broken Bells and the Black Keys... and what do you know? This album often sounds like U2 produced by that guy... an album preoccupied with hooks, layers, and somewhat simplistic melodies and hooks, just like, well, Broken Bells.

It's not really that I love them for being mysterious. Some of my favorite songs by them are their most clearly delineated tunes. I don't really have an issue with the production either. I've liked Epworth, Tedder and Danger Mouse for a long time, I think they all do great stuff, and they've done some cool soundscapes here. Actually, the production might be my favorite aspect of this record. 

 

Personally, I feel like their songwriting here makes allusions toward substantial ideas, and then backs off before things get too involved. As you referenced, there are individual fragments of lyrics that show real honesty, but for me, they then devolve into  banalities like in the horrible refrain "This is a song for someone". For me, the closest the album gets to achieving that real sense of transcendent truthfulness is "Every Breaking Wave". It is a cohesive, well-produced track that is only brought down by the fact that it's really not a peak song, and at least to my ears, that's how it functions here.

 

I just don't feel compelled at all toward these songs. I know that's a subjective experience, and others have had very different reactions to this music. But again, that's why I say that U2 has a very disparate fan base, with various groups coming to the music with different intents.

 

Is it up with my favorites? No, but that shouldn't matter to you. Nor should it matter to me where you rank this one. I'm interested in the moments that work for you. (I love "And a heart that is broken / is a heart that is open" so much I get a little shaky when it occurs. I cringe at "California," although I think Bono sounds so fantastic throughout.) I understand why some of us here love No Line on the Horizon so much. For me, the production on that album stifled the life of several tracks, and I felt an unsettling compromise, an overeagerness to recreate past crowd-energy highs. But I won't disagree with anyone who says it had some of their boldest, most beautiful songwriting. I don't view our differing album-rankings as an argument so much as a way to compare and contrast our personal relationships with the music.

 

I'm excited by the way they've "progressed" this time; maybe next time they'll move in a way that works for you. It's alright. It's alright. Alright.

Fair enough. I don't begrudge you your enjoyment of the album, I'm actually really glad you connected with it. It's not that I think these songs couldn't be meaningful to anyone, but all honesty, there are very few moments that work for me, and that's why I won't be purchasing the album after the free download expires in October. I don't think it lessens them as a band, and as I said before, this is very much par for the course for me with U2. I tend to like approximately every other album they release. The beauty of U2 is that you could ask someone else and they could give you a completely different set of songs/albums that they found rewarding. I still hold them in very high regard, and I look forward with anticipation to Songs of Experience.

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 As you referenced, there are individual fragments of lyrics that show real honesty, but for me, they then devolve into  banalities like in the horrible refrain "This is a song for someone". 

 

 

I'm not terribly fond of the song, but I think "someone" is a wink, a term of endearment in a way, to the one specific person that the song is for. It's like a poet at a poetry reading saying, "This one goes out to someone who's here tonight, she knows who she is." So many songs on this album are specifically addressed: Joey Ramone, Joe Strummer, Guggi, Iris. This one, I'm convinced, is for Ali. "Your Hill of Calvary" is, I believe, this time, not meant as one of those references that could go either way, but a reference to the sacrifices she's made for him, the place where she's raised their family without him, as he travels around the world. I've already heard more than one person say that this is a song that worship bands will bend into a hymn, but I don't think the lyrics to the song work that way very well at all, unless they're addressed to a very doubtful, needful savior who needs to be coaxed not to give up. Also: "I was told I’d feel nothing the first time / You were slow to heal but this could be the night..."  No, not his best lyrics, not by a longshot. But I find it simply personal and private and direct rather than banal.

 

I could be wrong.

Edited by Overstreet

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 As you referenced, there are individual fragments of lyrics that show real honesty, but for me, they then devolve into  banalities like in the horrible refrain "This is a song for someone". 

 

 

I'm not terribly fond of the song, but I think "someone" is a wink, a term of endearment in a way, to the one specific person that the song is for. It's like a poet at a poetry reading saying, "This one goes out to someone who's here tonight, she knows who she is." So many songs on this album are specifically addressed: Joey Ramone, Joe Strummer, Guggi, Iris. This one, I'm convinced, is for Ali. "Your Hill of Calvary" is, I believe, this time, not meant as one of those references that could go either way, but a reference to the sacrifices she's made for him, the place where she's raised their family without him, as he travels around the world. I've already heard more than one person say that this is a song that worship bands will bend into a hymn, but I don't think the lyrics to the song work that way very well at all, unless they're addressed to a very doubtful, needful savior who needs to be coaxed not to give up. Also: "I was told I’d feel nothing the first time / You were slow to heal but this could be the night..."  No, not his best lyrics, not by a longshot. But I find it simply personal and private and direct rather than banal.

 

I could be wrong.

 

That's an interesting take on the song, and I appreciate your knowledge of U2 to provide that kind of context. It certainly makes the song more anecdotally interesting, though if what you say about the refrain is true, it still seems executed in an unnecessarily sloppy manner. These guys are gifted enough tunesmiths and wordsmiths that they should have been able to craft the concept a bit more deftly with a couple more rewrites. 

 

Ftr: "If there is a light / you can always see / and there is a world / we can always be / if there is a dark / within and without / and there is a light / don't let it go out..." This feels like a tired rehash of a multitude of other songs with similar lyrics, some of which communicate the same concept with more force and vigor. This is what I mean when I say "banalities", or at least that's how it comes off to me personally. 

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And...FWIW, I hope this album does grow on me over time. I want to like it, even if I don't really care for it at this moment. It wouldn't be the first time I warmed to an album which I initially wrote off. Lucky for U2, I'm more invested in them as a band than I am with many artists, and so I will probably give this album more time than I otherwise would.

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I wrote this long piece of "industry analysis" for my job.

 

I don't talk about the record, though, because I can't remember my iTunes password to download it.

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I wrote this long piece of "industry analysis" for my job.

 

I don't talk about the record, though, because I can't remember my iTunes password to download it.

 

I really like this, Kevin:

 

 

Journalists could avoid these problems by spending more time talking to a more diverse range of musicians (non-superstars, especially) when covering music industry issues. U2’s professed concern for new generations of musicians is admirable, as is their willingness to speak openly to fans about the importance of supporting creative work. But maybe a conversation about the future of the industry would be more grounded in reality if the actions of “the biggest band in the world” weren’t at the center.

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Cover art-- yes, the photo that morgan posted here earlier-- confirmed.

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And here's the full track list for the bonus disc:

http://www.amazon.com/Songs-Innocence-Deluxe-digital-booklet/dp/B00NX53H2W/ref=sr_1_3?s=dmusic&ie=UTF8&qid=1411742448&sr=1-3&keywords=u2+songs+of+innocence

 

1. Lucifer's Hands

2. The Crystal Ballroom

3. Every Breaking Wave (From Acoustic Sessions)

4. California (There is No End to Love) (From Acoustic Sessions)

5. Raised by Wolves (From Acoustic Sessions)

6. Cedarwood Road (From Acoustic Sessions)

7. Song for Someone (From Acoustic Sessions)

8. The Miracle (Of Joey Ramone) (Busker Version)

9. The Troubles (Alternative Version)

10. Sleep Like a Baby Tonight (Alternative Perspective Mix by Tchad Blake)

 

The final track is 10:27, and that's likely because "Invisible" is a hidden track at the end. Dave Fanning and Bono discussed this song being on the deluxe CD during a recent interview.

 

I'm usually a big fan of all the bonus tracks and remixes, but I'm enjoying the simple 11-track album so much that I almost don't want all these new versions coming along and mucking it up.

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... because "Invisible" is a hidden track at the end. 

 

Of course it is!!

 

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A small thing, but I just noticed it: "Iris," which is about his mother, really plays like the sequel to the song for his father, "Sometimes You Can't Make It On Your Own." He even climbs the same ladder of notes near the end, giving both songs the same operatic peak: "I dream ... where ... you ... are" matches "Can you hear ... me ... when ... I ... sing?" pretty much exactly.

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 He even climbs the same ladder of notes near the end, giving both songs the same operatic peak: "I dream ... where ... you ... are" matches "Can you hear ... me ... when ... I ... sing?" pretty much exactly.

 

Heh. That's very generous. An alternate observation would be that there's such a dearth of fresh ideas on this album that Bono resorted to lifting melodies wholesale from the back catalog. 

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Hey Jeffrey...

 

I'm reading your review.  Stupid question.  How is "The Miracle (of Joey Ramone)" a tribute to the music of The Clash?  Isn't it about The Ramones?

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Ann Powers' new essay is worth noting here-- not just because it's excellent, but because much of it seems pertinent to our discussion here.

 

 

Even if the mere omnipresence of Songs of Innocence hadn't provoked a fight-or-flight response in unbelievers (an omnipresence that might have been felt differently if a reclusive, controlling or confrontational artist, like Prince, Beyonce or Eminem, had provided the gift instead of an oversharing band), this is a challenging time for U2 to revel in its ridiculous ways. The practice only really works over time, not in the flat, non-linear atmosphere of our social-media dominated culture. The street-corner preacher must bother the ears of passersby for weeks before people start to realize that some wisdom might be embedded in his blathering. Coming through the radio, repetition can be a scourge, but it's also the force that beats a hater's sword into a fan's ploughshare. Hear something repeated enough, and you will form a relationship with it, even if it's ultimately negative. In social media space, however, people are focused on each other; art is more a conduit of conversation than a repository of feeling. That's not to say people don't still have private experiences of art that evolve over time, or that artists don't mean for their work to be received that way. But especially in the public space of the pop mainstream, judgment usually comes first; taste, not feeling, dominates. A band like U2, reliant on a belief in feeling, becomes an object of ridicule.

 

Can U2 transform this moment of ridicule into one in which they earn the right to be ridiculous? A reversal could take place, but it might require the band focusing on the final attribute that makes seriousness ridiculous sustainable: humility. When All That You Can't Leave Behind signaled its return to form in 2000, U2 actively courted its audience with small club gigs and television appearances. It presented itself as not presuming anything. It's difficult to know what such humble pie might look like in the Yelp age, but Adam Clayton has said that U2 has another album nearly ready, and another chance to be alert to its own contradictions and how they play out in the historical moment. Like Dostoevsky's redeemed man, they'll go on, taking their punches and believing.

Edited by Josh Hurst

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That is a great piece. Ann Powers: Quite a puzzle. I like her in-person stuff on All Songs Considered, but I love her writing for their site, and the two seem so strikingly different in tone and personality that I can't quite reconcile them into one person.

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The Guardian delivers a remarkably thorough article/interview with all of the guys in U2 about the band's past, present, and future.

 

It also features my favorite band photo since All That You Can't Leave Behind.

 

U2-feature-011.jpg

Edited by Overstreet

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Poking my head back in here to put this link to recent acoustic performances of "Miracle of Joey Ramone" and "Every Breaking Wave" on Italian TV.

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I finally got to give this a listen. By the third or fourth song, it was in the background while i did other things.

Maybe it was that I also (again, finally) had just given the new St. Vincent a first listen. Or maybe it's due to my recent visits to Youtube, where I've spent a fair amount of time lately watching U2 circa 1983 or so... Or maybe it was just an off day, and i need to try it again after a while -- but I found nothing here that stood out. Nothing that made me want to listen again. And I say this not only as a huge fan, but one that even likes "Magnificent" and quite a few of their "recent" songs and sounds.

I can easily say that no matter how many times I do end up listening, I don't like the production. I don't like the mix. Bono's voice is too high, and the instruments and effects are over-separated. When you see U2 live, you get one huge sound. This mix sounds like four guys from the band, and a few others too, all in different rooms. I don't like it.

Edited by Persona

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Poking my head back in here to put this link to recent acoustic performances of "Miracle of Joey Ramone" and "Every Breaking Wave" on Italian TV.

 

Yes: The "Every Breaking Wave" performance gets at something important: Underneath all the glitz and bombast-- and I'm talking about both the in-studio and on-stage stuff-- these guys still write songs with strong, sturdy bones-- even moments of real transcendence.

 

I really want an acoustic U2 album now-- and in fact, wouldn't mind if they just revisited more of their old material in this format.

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The Guardian delivers a remarkably thorough article/interview with all of the guys in U2 about the band's past, present, and future.

 

It also features my favorite band photo since All That You Can't Leave Behind.

 

U2-feature-011.jpg

 

That's a great article. Larry Mullen Jr.'s comments definitely suggest that this album--or this duo/trio of albums--is the band's last hurrah. Actually, he seems to insinuate that NLOTH was going to be the band's last album, but they didn't want to go out on something that was poorly received. (As if an album spawning the biggest tour in history could really be considered poorly received!)

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Last night, Jeff Keuss, Galen Disston of the band Pickwick, Jennie Spohr, and I had a great time "dismantling" and considering Songs of Innocence. The more I dig into these songs for the sake of discussion, the more I love them. "The Troubles" has become my favorite track, and one that I'd include among their best songs. I just wish it was longer, with more U2 sprawl and soloing.

 

BTW, Steven Thomas Erlewine has amended his original review with this:

 

Upon the surprise digital release of Songs of Innocence in September 2014, U2 announced the physical edition would appear a month later with an extra disc of bonus tracks. The band kept their promise, adding a second disc (along with finished artwork) to their thirteenth studio album for its physical release. Depending how you keep score, this second disc contains either 5, 10, or 11 tracks; the count is thrown off by five cuts being sequenced as one 22-minute track called "Acoustic Sessions" and a slightly alternate version of "Invisible" being buried as a hidden track at the end. Along with these "Acoustic Sessions" -- most being more fully arranged than the title suggests, particularly "Raised by Wolves" -- there is an alternate version of "The Troubles" and an "alternate perspective mix by Tchad Blake" for "Sleep Like a Baby Tonight," welcome variations all but which basically leave two songs as enticements for anybody other than the hardcore: "Lucifer's Hands" and "The Crystal Ballroom." Neither song seems to belong thematically to the loose semi-autobiographical narrative of the proper album and they're also more nimble than much of the record, with "Lucifer's Hands" benefitting from a dense percolating arrangement anchored by a trashy little guitar riff and "The Crystal Ballroom" evoking an arch, art-punk disco quite well. They might not have fit snugly onto the record but as individual songs, they're stronger than some of the tunes that made the cut.]

That aligns with what I've heard from others: That the acoustic versions of these songs are arguably more powerful and moving than the record's version. I'll check them out today.

Edited by Overstreet

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Anyone who hasn't had a chance to buy the physical album but wants to get a taste of the bonus material can find all of it on Spotify and Beats-- and it's worth noting, perhaps, that though the CD annoyingly sequences all of the "acoustic sessions" as one epic track, Spotify conveniently separates them into distinct entities.

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There's a video out there from over the weekend when Bono and Edge appeared on an Italian TV show. They performed "Every Breaking Wave" with just Bono's vocals and Edge on the piano, and it was way better than I thought it would be.

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