U2’s surprise album ‘Songs of Innocence’ is almost as good as Bono thinks it is
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It’s not easy to make an anthem that doesn’t sound cliché. It’s here the bad boys of U2 are truly masters of their craft. They’ve been doing it for years, from the ‘80’s “Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking for,” to the ‘90’s “One,” to 2009’s “Moment of Surrender,” Bono and company have somehow managed to make countless anthems sound like the greatest songs ever recorded.
Not only have they put their secret skill on display once again in 2014 with Songs of Innocence, they’ve now expanded to somehow make an entire album of said anthems sound diverse, mystifying, and fresh all over again.
While it’s not quite the “reinvention” that Bono has declared it to be (he sure loves that word, doesn’t he?), Songs of Innocence is without a doubt something special. Drawing on childhood influences from his first favorite band, to the road upon which he resided in his youth, Bono has returned to his roots to deliver a record that resounds through the ages.
Not that this should come as a surprise. U2 aren’t exactly the new kids on the block. What sets them apart from other 80s survivors , though, is their mastership of the single, most-important ability that all great bands must master: harmony. From Bono’s spine-tingling yelps to The Edge’s multi-faceted strumming to Larry Mullen Jr.’s syncopated drumming, every masterpiece on the album is a team effort.
And what a team they are. Bono’s ability to seamlessly transition from his mid-range growl to his soul-wrenching falsetto is an innate skill within him that Chris Martin could only dream about, while each of The Edge’s fuzz-drenched chords carries within them decades of influence (just check out his mind-bending progression on album standout “This is Where You Can Reach Me Now”). Incredible on their own, they go even better together, a trait that all bands should treasure.
Amazingly, each of the 11 musical statements on Songs of Innocence brings something new to the table: From the jarring opener, “The Miracle (of Joey Ramone)” to the peacefully overwhelming closer, “The Troubles,” every song interconnects and tells the story of Bono’s journey to manhood, from his influences to his still-haunting trauma brought about by the death of his mother. Hell, these tracks don’t just relate, they try to out-do each other. “Every Breaking Wave’s” almost dance-y groove is deeply immersive, but it’s “Song for Someone’s” acoustic picking that sounds like it’s coming from across the ocean. Then, The Edge calls in an otherworldly solo on “Sleep like a Baby Tonight,” just in case you thought that was all he could do. Not that this should come as any surprise. It’s this constant attempt to top their previous work that makes U2 the legends that they are.
Though it’s damn-near perfect, Songs of Innocence does have its drawbacks. There isn’t quite enough innovation as the album nears its mid-point to keep the full-on electronica of “Iris (Hold me Close)” from running together with the Beach Boys-ode “California (There is No End to Love).” Even so, Bono’s fantastic delivery of lines like “It’s hard to listen while you preach,” and “I’m just waiting to be blinded… by you” ensure that there’s something to love on every track. It’s crazy how he can make a song about California sound disturbingly similar to a song about your ex-girlfriend’s bedroom.
Is Songs of Innocence a complete departure from the band’s spacey past? Not quite. But when Bono can still make songs like “Raised by Wolves” sound like “Razed by Wolves” and The Edge’s guitar can still turn out explosive statements like the ones heard on “Volcano,” you start to realize that they’re fine right where they are.