Saturday, September 13, 2014

U2: Songs of Innocence; an unsettled Review by Kirk

Artist:  U2
Album: Songs of Innocence
Genre:  Indie Pop /Rock laced with techno dallies
Release: September 10, 2014

JUST a NOTE   I have considered erasing this review.  My thoughts about the music have changed over a week of listening.   I now very much like this album as a sonic product, even as I find myself ill at ease in promoting U2.  But that would take a bit to explain.   So I am just leaving my initial review and an addendum, in all of its unsettled glory.


Fun Fact:  I hear kids under 20 are wondering about the U2 Virus that showed up in their I-tunes account.   How do I get rid of this U2?

Quick Spin.  In case you haven't heard, U2  -- in collusion with Apple Computer (Iphone 6/the Iwatch and Itunes) has just unleashed its 13th studio no cost to consumers.  You can find the album ready for listen in your Itunes Purchase file, uploaded ready to roll.

As for sound, in comparison to other works by U2- this work seems to lack certain edge.   Literally. I mean, it seems that the role of Edge, U2's jagged guitarist has been toned down.  Plenty of thumps and blats, but not so much chisel.  What we get instead is energy and rainbows.   Indeed....Pulsing, soaring, splitting, splashing liquid color.  And while I will admit, I am beginning to dig the sound, I find this recording rich in sonics, lean in soul.


I have an enigmatic relationship with U2.  I have never fully recovered from my first listen to WAR. Startling, bombastic, nervy and fused with spiritual intensity.   Since that time I have listened to U2 with lurching ears.  I love them. I like them. I don't always trust them.  They are spiritual, They are carnal.  They rage against the machine, even as they are the machine.

I am drawn most fully to War,  Boy and The Incredible Fire; I eat piecemeal of other works.
When U2 speaks with the voice of Christian mysticism, I am intrigued.   When they speak as high decibel pagans - I check my heart (lest I too go running naked through the woods) and when they speak with the voice of corporate/spiritual syncretists... I am cautious.  very very cautious.

I have just looked the gift horse in the mouth and find it wanting. 

My little review is all over the map, kind of like my thoughts about this album.

Over the years I have made an interesting discovery.  The greater the number of people who listen to any given artist, the fewer the people who read my reviews of the same.    When I write a review of an obscure singer (Like Mo Leverett), I get thousands of “hits” – When I cover a famous act I find that I am just one small voice in the din.  So when it comes to reviewing U2, I am inclined to think… why bother.

First, whatever anybody's response to this album, it will never, never, never, measure up to another album of similar name (Knowledge and Innocence) by Terry Scott Taylor.   From what I read, Terry T. and Bono both draw inspiration from each other…. And William Blake… But Terry Taylor's album is one of finest albums of this history of the world, while this must rank somewhere in the top 10,000.

It’’s only a couple of hours old (as I write this) but Rolling Stone has just released their review of U2's Songs of Innocence, giving it its big 5 out of 5 stars… to which I reply.  Really?

And the kickback is pretty immediate too.   Consensus,  Good, not great.….give it 3.5.
But what does that mean, and why the push back?

Were I to review this album for just its sounds,  ---  I too might give it a pretty high mark…. But I find, when it comes to something that stays with me, lives in me, jars me at the inmost being, I remain un-jarred.

So, now I am trying to decide…. Am I depressed, or does this music simply lack soul?

Have you ever had this experience?-- The world is a living color wheel, spitting out wonders right and left; You see the colors but they don’t seem to register with any emotive force?
I have just listed to “Songs of Innocence through some three or four times.  I am hearing all kinds of ear candy.  

I take in the sonic landscape, the experiments, the singing munchkins...  all those rainbow colors, the big rubber band base, but without the edge.

 My ears are happy (in a kind of generic way) even as my soul absorbs the sticker price. Free.  Hmmm.   Something is missing.  And I think Bono feels it too.

And I am a long long way from your hill on Calvary,
And I am a long way from where I was and where I need to be.
(Song for Someone)

Perhaps it is a case of “the Medium is the Message” but when one of America's richest companies, using one of Americas most popular music services dumps a free album on the public, following a highly anticipated corporate announcement, featuring beautiful, but unnecessary gadgets ... well, 
it all feels kind of fake and corporate.

Content at this point is secondary.  The very medium (or method of delivery) is part of the package…. And I am receiving this, feeling like a pawn in a corporate game.  Don't get me wrong, I love my Mac, and lean Apple design. I don't even mind that idea that U2 would play a song used in an Apple commercial... but something here crosses a comfort line.

I like the Bible.  I like the American flag.  Wrap the two together and I get nervous.

I like Apple... I like U2.... but suddenly when music, the language of transcendence, is linked in such a wholesale way to the language of gadget sales, I feel like something more vital has been sold.


I used to think that the end of the age might be characterized by a fervent rejection of religion.  I am now thinking it more likely that religion, consumerism, science and art will dance in one seamless whole.

Songs of Innocence may speak to childhood, but it does not speak to innocence.


Addendum (One week later)

For whatever reasons, I cannot stop writing.   Turns out the "free but but not chosen" feature of the Itunes download has not played well.  Seems people like free.. but not imposed.

Outcry has been such that I tunes has offered a removal tool.      Strangely comical.   A company gives out a free product, then must scurry to come up with a way for non-fans to rid themselves of the unwanted freeness.

As for the sound I agree with my former self that this recording is somewhat less ragged, less live, less fragile than earlier works.   Btu I must disagree that this music lacks  passion or "umph."    Think instead of rock thrown in a tumbler.   Not to the point of liquid polish, but  some of the edges are worn off, but what we get instead are luminosity, layers and depth.  I have now grown to fully love some of these tunes... Most decidedly, Iris, Volcano, and Sleep like a Baby.

I am too taken by several of the lyrics.  (Some are so esoteric or personal that I cannot do much with them...but I am intrigued by the theological components Song for Someone, but also wonder, does the song (to be continued.)

Truth is, my soul seems to be a wrestling match.   Is this music I should like?   I am sure this next line of thinking will not connect with some who read this...but I see my heart as a temple, a place where God should fully make his home.   Is this a music that makes for good communion?

I am not afraid of the physicality of this music.  Our God has made a physical creation, and I accept the idea that music can be loud, pulsing, jarring and holy.  Even so, I  know when I listen much to U2, I feel a spirit of worldliness setting in.   Into my soul.

I will leave it at that.   I can like the aural power of this music, but when it comes to what I recommend....I know of better food.