Sunday, October 5, 2014

Songs of Innocence, by U2 (Album of the Week)

U2 is big–time, through and through, and Songs of Innocence is a big-time album.  Bono is a rock star, a colossus, and his band takes itself seriously in a way that nobody else would dare.  Songs of Innocence is a big deal – an important  rock album.

First, look at the way this album was released.  500 million iTunes users woke up to find it in their “purchased music” folder.  Boom – instant universal presence, all over the world, accomplished with corporate wizardry that mass consumers like us can’t even make sense of.  You don’t have to listen to it if you don’t want to, but U2 is a part of your world, a part of your music library, a part of the zeitgeist.

There’s a line in “This is Where You Can Reach Me Now”, a song dedicated to the Clash’s Joe Strummer, that lays it out plainly – “If you won’t let us in your world/Your world just isn’t there.”  The same song features a reference to the fact that the album title is stolen from William Blake, my favorite 18th century poet’s book of poetry, Songs of Innocence and Experience (the link is to Project Gutenberg’s free book – go read and enjoy!) – “We’ve come to colonize your night/And steal your poetry.”

Audacious.  Grandiose.  Big-time. 

This is Bono, the guy who hangs out with the Dalai Lama, the Pope and Nelson Mandela.  He doesn’t play small ball. 

But it’s all meaningless if the album doesn’t deliver something with heart and authenticity.  It’s just celebrity self-parody if the album doesn’t live up to the huge place in the world it was born into.  Bono may have been Time’s Person of the Year, but he also gets quoted on George Clooney’s wedding in People Magazine.

I unabashedly love this album.  The songs are varied – so varied that it almost comes across as one of those tribute albums where different bands play covers of U2’s greatest hits.  Varied, but the album holds together, drawing cohesion from the personal focus of the songs.

The personal focus does not mean that this is a navel-gazing, self-absorbed wankfest, though.  These are songs with resounding, universal themes like love of a lost mother (Iris (Hold Me Close), the discovery of art that speaks to you [The Miracle (of Joey Ramone)] (definitely a Best 10 Songs of 2014), and looking back on your origins (Cedarwood Road).  U2 has an uncanny ability to connect, and it comes through on this album.

My favorite song on the album (yes, another Best 10 Songs of 2014) is Raised by Wolves – a horrifying glimpse into the mind of a friend of the band who witnessed the aftermath of a Christian terrorist attack in Dublin.  Bono sings out that “The worst things in the world are justified by belief” against a refrain of “I don’t believe anymore” and “If I open my eyes you disappear”.  It’s a message of hope amongst the bloodshed, and they released it to 500 million people for free.

U2's aforementioned ability to connect with anyone certainly includes Robin over at Deliberate Obfuscation.  Her appreciation didn't extend to my favorite song, but her perspective was skewed by an unfortunate, though funny, scatological misunderstanding.

Bono and U2 are big-time.  They could step back into the crowd and release an album of well-produced dance tunes.  Instead, they own it, and I admire them for it.

Next up:  Too Blessed to be Stressed, by Paul Thorn

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