Like the rest of the iTunes world, I got the new U2 album Songs of Innocence for free.  Of course I downloaded it to my iPhone as quick as I could.

I should back up a bit.  There are fans, and then there is me.  As regular readers here know I have an eclectic taste in music, ranging from Yo-Yo Ma to Johnny Cash to Led Zeppelin to the Cranberries.  But, for me, nothing comes close to U2.  It has been that way since I was a teenager and I heard “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” on the radio, and then that weekend bought The Joshua Tree cassette.  That’s right, it was a real cassette.  I wore it out within the first two months and had to buy another.  I think I bought about four copies of it on cassette.

So, I’m somewhat of an expert.

The most interesting thing about Songs is the free release to the public.  Some have mistakenly said that the album was free, but that is wrong.  It was bought by iTunes, and they are giving it away as a joint publicity for the iPhone 6 and iPhone watch release.  Trust me, U2 is getting paid.  They always get paid.

Now, to the music.  I assume that is why the one or two of you that have read this far are still with me.  Songs is a good album.  It is not great.  The first tune, “The Miracle (Of Joey Ramone)” gave me hope that the group might be going back to their punkish roots (think Boy or The Unforgettable Fire) or better yet the rock-n-roll feel of War or Rattle and Hum.

Sadly, that was not what I heard.  Songs sounds more popish to me.  I think they are trying to hit the great mix they achieved on How to Dismantle An Atomic Bomb between rhythm and blues, pop, and rock.  I don’t think they quite achieve that.  I do think it is a better album than No Line On The Horizon, which, for me, was not that great.  It’s not as good as Achtung Baby, which was a rock-n-roll album for the 90s.  It’s better than Zooropa.  But even Zooropa had one of my favorite U2 songs ever, “The First Time.”  If you don’t know that song, you need to.

The top three songs on the album are:  “The Miracle (Of Joey Ramone)”, “Raised by Wolves”, and “The Troubles”.  “Volcano” is also catchy.  Those are my stated favorites from the album, but the one I keep humming is the opening from “California (There is No End to . . .”

The bummer of this album is they worked on it for six years.  For that kind of investment, I’d expect something a little better, or more moving.  Even a bad U2 album, say, All That You Can’t Leave Behind, is still better than just about anything else going on.  I mean, All That You Can’t Leave Behind was a terrible album but it still had one of the best U2 singles ever in “Beautiful Day.”  I think “The Miracle (Of Joey Ramone)” might have a similar lifespan.

Apparently they are working on a follow up called Songs of Experience. I wonder if this album is really just a teaser, and the real juice will be on the next one.  That would be nice.

One thing about this record (I just dated myself with that word, didn’t I?) that I did like is that it did remind me of The Joshua Tree in that the latter songs are, as a whole, my favorites.  It is what we would have called the “B” side when I was a kid.  Has there ever been a “B” side as good as The Joshau Tree?

  • “Red Hill Mining Town”
  • “In God’s Country”
  • “Trip Through Your Wires”
  • “One Tree Hill”
  • “Exit”
  • “Mothers of the Disappeared”

No.  I’ll go ahead and answer that.  Songs reminds me of that because the last half of the album, from “Volcano” to “The Troubles” is darker, but more emotionally moving than the first half.

So that is my opinion.  Oh, I miss the 80s and 90s.

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