September 9 marked the seventh anniversary of the release of U2’s “Songs of Innocence,” an album that had a unique release plan. The Irish rock band teamed with Apple in a move that saw the album placed into the “purchased” section of iTunes libraries. A reported 81 million people downloaded the album, but that did not mean everyone was happy with the move. New York Magazine compiled social media reactions that included: “My disdain for the band U2 is making me contemplate switching to a Samsung Galaxy phone.” While it can be argued that the release plan for the album was invasive, “Songs of Innocence” is one of the band’s most unique albums.
“Songs of Innocence” is the closest U2 has come making to a concept album. It’s a semi-autobiographical album, mainly focusing on the childhood of lead singer Bono. It balances throwbacks to the early days of U2, such as the opening song, “The Miracle (Of Joey Ramone),” an ode to the late lead singer of The Ramones. “I woke up at the moment when the miracle occurred,” belts Bono in the chorus of the song. The song brings the band back to their punk-rock early days in a tribute to one of the biggest punk bands ever. “Song for Someone” is a tender love song for Bono’s wife Ali, and “Iris (Hold Me Close)” is a touching tribute to the singer’s mother who passed away in his teenage years.
It wouldn’t be a U2 album without some politics, and there are references to the politics of Ireland in the 1970’s, as seen in heavy-hitting songs such as “The Troubles” and “Raised By Wolves.” The latter of which being about the car bombings in Ireland. “Cedarwood Road” takes listeners to Bono’s neighborhood and has a dedication to Bono’s childhood friend Guggi in the official lyrics. It opens with the lines: “I was running down the road/The fear was all I knew/I was looking for a soul that’s real/Then I ran into you.” The intensity of the song builds to a crashing crescendo where Bono croons “Sometimes fear is the only place we can call our home/Cedarwood Road.”
“Every Breaking Wave” serves as this generation’s “With or Without You,” as a twisted love song about the metaphorical waves that serve as the troubles in any relationship. The band had a particularly emotional stripped-down rendition at the 2014 MTV EMA’s that is a must-watch.
Another standout from “Songs of Innocence” comes on the deluxe edition as a bonus track. “The Crystal Ballroom” features a thumping bass line that is a cross between The Beatles’ “Day Tripper” and the theme from “The Munsters.” The song serves as a way to transport us to an old nightclub in Dublin. While it did not make the final album, it was played twice live.
Let’s face it, U2 is far from the days of being “cool.” After all, their lead singer wears sunglass everywhere he goes and the guitarist wears a black beanie, but “Songs of Innocence” is one of U2’s most mature projects to date, and spawned one of their biggest tours, the “iNNOCENCE + eXPERIENCE Tour.” U2 once again pioneered a concept in the music industry with the idea of telling a narrative in their shows. Just look at what Bruce Springsteen did with “Springsteen on Broadway.” The journey that the band has been on for the last seven years can be traced back to that tumultuous Apple release. “Songs of Innocence” may not always resonate with all fans of music, but it was an attempt to branch out their fanbase to a younger generation. Perhaps it is worth a listen, as maybe a miracle will occur.
Sources: Billboard, New York Magazine, Setlist.fm, The Verge, U2.com