U2 Plays It Safe On 'Songs Of Innocence'

The members of U2 remembered why they wanted to be in a band on this record but forgot why we ever cared...
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I, like most, was shocked at the way Songs Of Innocence arrived and, unlike some, eagerly downloaded it and began listening. I got sucked in by the excitement of new music from one of my favorite bands and tried to ignore years of misdirects, false hopes, and pained statements from U2 about when the next record what arrive and what it would be. None of that mattered. The music was here, now, ready to be heard.

I still experience that same surge of giddiness when my favorite bands call out to me and that excitement was enough to get me in the door. Songs of Innocence wasn't enough to keep me there. Bono writes throughout this record about the things that inspired them to form the band in the first place and I love that idea. I wish they executed it better.

I'm not going to pan this record as a dud and lambaste it the way some have -- there are many fine moments -- but the novelty wore off and the songs just haven't stuck. The same joy I describe in my relationship with music is the subject of two songs on SOI, "The Miracle" being the better of them. Bono's sincerity is at once his greatest asset and most annoying flaw; it works for him here. Maybe I respond to it because music does for me what it did for him, although to far greater heights in his case. Paul Hewson heard Joey Ramone and became Bono. Josh Hathaway heard The Beatles and became Josh Hathaway. Advantage, Bono. The whoa-whoa chorus and energy of the song will work well on stage but I can't escape the feeling "The Miracle" sounds like Muse if they chilled the fuck out and turned it down a peg or two.

"Every Breaking Wave" has existed for years. It's been played live and played with to the point they really overcooked it. It's so much more restrained than I thought it would be and feels dry but it's the best thing on the record. It will be better live than it is on the a'bum and they have at least 3 mixes/versions that are better than the one on SOI and 18 that are worse.

"Raised By Wolves" is energetic and forceful musically and Bono wails in the chorus in a way I frankly didn't think he could anymore (and will be shocked if he can onstage at this age). You can hear the digital doctoring on his vocal and it makes him sound huge and strong. The digital doctoring in the bridge makes it sound like he has phlegm in his throat and bugs the shit out of me. The problem with "Raised By Wolves" is the chorus. There isn't one. Not every song has to have one but Bono wants to say something on this song. He does so in the verses. He coils up and explodes in the chorus and he has nothing but noise.

Raised By Wolves
Stronger Than Fear
Raised By Wolves
We Were Raised By Wolves

That's weak even for AC/DC. They don't go for anthemic often on this record. They needed to elevate here and they couldn't. That's not the worst chorus on the set, though.

This is a SONG!
For SOMEONE!

Bon Jovi is embarrassed by that. You're aiming for earnest and anthemic, again, and that's what you've got for the climax. This is another missed opportunity because I like the quiet, ambient nature of the song's beginning. I like the sound of what the chorus would be, had they written one. Foreplay is fabulous when it's done right and teasing can be sexy but here it's a letdown.

"Volcano" also had potential. Adam Clayton delivers a couple good bass lines on the record and the intro to this is one of them. I like the effects on Bono's voice, hinting back in time to the days of "The Fly" and "Zoo Station." Then Bono sings the word "volcano" and my ears shriek in horror. I don't know what he was going for with that delivery. Maybe you lot hear it differently. I don't ever want to hear it again.

The reason Songs Of Innocence doesn't work better is because they too often went for safe instead of interesting, despite having spent five years working with every trendy producer in the universe. I can't believe they needed Danger Mouse and the dude what worked with Adele to come up with... this. It doesn't often have the power to rock nor is it sonically textured enough to work as ambient or meditative experience.

There is a common thread when the band misses on a record. Their need to be loved causes them to forget what we love about them. They want to be everything to everyone when all we want is for them to be U2! Something happens in their collective psyche and being U2 isn't enough for them. They want to be something more, or something else. That ambition served them well with Achtung Baby but it's led them to Pop, How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb, and now Songs Of Innocence.

They remain one of the great rock bands of all time and our time. They aren't done. There are still ideas in their heads and passion in their heart so I remain hopeful and confident the introspection will help them when they return.