Another look at U2’s brand new album, which has finally come out (via a free download on iTunes). This review comes from Jon Parales in The New York Times, Sept. 10th…
With Songs of Innocence, U2 Recasts Its Youth
Memories are a blast on Songs of Innocence, the album that U2 released on Tuesday afternoon as a worldwide giveaway. With a title that echoes William Blake, the album is a blast of discoveries, hopes, losses, fears and newfound resolve in lyrics that are openly autobiographical. It’s also a blast of unapologetic arena rock and cathedral-scale production, equally gigantic and detailed, in the music that carries them.
The immediate news was that Songs of Innocence (Interscope) can be downloaded free until Oct. 13 by everyone with an iTunes Store account: half a billion people in 119 countries. (Physical and digital versions of the album go on sale Oct. 14.) The giveaway is a dream scenario for U2, a band that has always wanted everyone to feel its choruses and sing along. Apple has made distribution the easy part; the bigger challenge for U2 is to make people care about a new statement from a familiar band.
During its five years between albums, U2, which released its first recording in 1979, publicly pondered how to stay relevant. Its solution, on Songs of Innocence, is to reimagine its young, retrospectively innocent selves and recall what fired them up: family, neighbors, lovers, street action and of course, music. Liner notes by Bono, the band’s lead singer and main lyricist, fill in many of the back stories, describing the songs as “first journeys.”
There are tributes to Joey Ramone, whose example showed Bono how to sing melodically but feel punk, and to Joe Strummer of the Clash, whose social consciousness inspired U2. In other songs, traumas are as significant as joys. Songs of Innocence includes “Raised by Wolves,” about a terrorist car bombing in Dublin in 1974 and its aftermath; “Sleep Like a Baby Tonight,” a prettily sinister depiction of a pedophile priest; and a nostalgia-defying song about “Cedarwood Road,” the Dublin street where Bono grew up. In the song he calls it “a war zone in my teens.”
The music on Songs of Innocence doesn’t hark back to the open spaces of early U2; it exults in multitrack possibilities. But it connects emotionally to a time when, as Bono sings in “The Miracle (of Joey Ramone),” “I wanted to be the melody/Above the noise, above the hurt/I was young/Not dumb.”
As U2 worked on the album, producers came and went, including some now-vanished flirtations with dance-music hitmakers and the back-to-basics guru Rick Rubin. Of U2’s longtime production brain trust—Brian Eno, Daniel Lanois, Steve Lillywhite, Flood—only Flood has a few credits on Songs of Innocence. Instead, the album credits Danger Mouse (Gnarls Barkley, Broken Bells) as overall producer, with frequent collaborations from Paul Epworth (Adele) and Ryan Tedder (OneRepublic). And U2 sticks decisively to rock.
Clearly determined to compete for radio play with the many younger rockers who studiously emulate U2, most of the album puts a higher gloss, and sometimes a heavier fuzz tone, on the band’s instantly recognizable sound. The music is still defined by Bono’s buttonholing vocals, the Edge’s echoing guitars, Adam Clayton’s brawny bass lines and the steadfast march beats of Larry Mullen Jr. on drums. But there’s a newly eruptive sense of dynamics in these tracks; when the band assembles a celestial vocal choir or a gorgeous swirl of guitars and keyboards, a pummel or a distorted roar is rarely far behind.
U2 also makes clear its sense of history. The first verse of the Joe Strummer tribute, “This Is Where You Can Reach Me Now,” looks back to the Rolling Stones’ “Gimme Shelter” before switching to a Clash beat. An homage to the Beach Boys—a chorale of vocal harmonies and then a surf-tinged beat—runs through “California (There Is No End to Love),” a song about U2’s first visit to Los Angeles and broader thoughts. “There’s no end to grief,” Bono sings. “That’s how I know/And why I need to know there is no end to love.”
The songs ground philosophical musings and high-flown imagery in concrete reminiscences and events. “The star that gives us light has been gone a while/But it’s not an illusion,” Bono declares in “Iris (Hold Me Close),” which memorializes Bono’s mother, Iris Hewson, who died in 1974. It has the album’s most poignant chorus: “Hold me close,” he sings, “I’ve got your light inside of me.”
Conscious of mortality and tied to personal stories, most of U2’s new songs don’t sell themselves to teenagers like the generalized pop anthems of current U2 imitators (including Mr. Tedder’s OneRepublic) or, for that matter, the 1980s U2 that came up with songs like “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For.” Even the album’s two most direct songs about romance, with sturdy melodies and straightforward buildups—“Song for Someone,” about meeting a soul mate, and “Every Breaking Wave,” about a looming breakup—are tinged with misgivings and ambivalences. U2 can’t return to innocence, and knows it.
The album’s closing song, “The Troubles,” moves abruptly away from glimpses of volatile youthful aspirations to envision lingering adult disillusion. The arrangement moves U2 considerably closer to Danger Mouse’s songs with Broken Bells. Over minor chords backed by a string section, a guest vocal by the Swedish pop singer Lykke Li warns, “Somebody stepped inside your soul,” and Bono follows up: “You think it’s easier to put your finger on the trouble/When the trouble is you.” It’s a dark postscript, a reminder that growing up doesn’t resolve youth’s contradictions; it brings sorrows of its own.
A first look at U2’s new album, which was, surprisingly, sprung on an unsuspecting public (via a free download on iTunes) last night (physical release comes mid-October). This review comes from Neil McCormick of The Daily Telegraph, Sept. 9th…
U2 have announced the release of their 13th studio album, Songs of Innocence, available now and free to all iTunes customers. And, after several years’ gestation, five producers, ever-shifting release dates and Bono publicly fretting that the biggest band in the world was on the verge of irrelevance, fans will be relieved to hear that it sounds a lot like U2.
It is an album of big, colourful, attacking rock with fluid melodies, bright anthemic choruses and bold lyrical ideas. Perhaps the most surprising thing is that, despite apparently being created in a spirit of self-doubt, it sounds fresh and cohesive, bouncing out of the speakers with a youthful spring in its step.
On first impressions, Songs of Innocence is not an attempt to create a grand masterpiece that redefines the band, but rather, as the title suggests, to reconnect them with an elusive pop elixir of youthful energy and passion. Lyrically, it reflects on the past, on their origins as a band and as individuals, which is unusual territory for the usually forward-looking Bono and The Edge (who share lyrical duties). Lead single and opening track, “The Miracle (of Joey Ramone)” sets the confident tone, with its “oh-way-oh” choral chant, glam rock stomping rhythm and surges of grungy guitar. Lyrically, it is a celebration of the transformative power of music, and in particular the effect on the young U2 of hearing The Ramones, and in that spirit it keeps things simple and direct. There are songs about growing up on the north side of Dublin (the fierce and strange “Raised by Wolves” and the dense, somewhat ungainly “Cedarwood Road”), memories of Bono’s late mother (the chiming disco driving “Iris [Hold Me Close]”) and appreciations of musical inspirations (the loose, groovy “This Is Where You Can Reach Me Now” is dedicated to Joe Strummer, and celebrates the Clash spirit of passion and purposefulness).
Each track seems very defined in itself, opening with a trio of songs aimed directly at American radio (“The Miracle,” “Every Breaking Wave” and “California [There Is No End to Love]”), packed with chiming guitars, synth hooks and epic choruses. It sounds like U2 taking on such young stadium rock pretenders as Snow Patrol and The Killers, intent on beating them at the game U2 themselves invented.
An immediate standout track is “Volcano,” a thrilling, thumping yet delightfully quirky celebration of the power of rock and roll that sounds a bit like Franz Ferdinand on steroids. The Ryan Tedder-produced ballad “Song for Someone” is probably the track that will have fans holding their phones aloft in stadiums, a mid-tempo ballad that builds from plucked acoustic intimacy to heart-bursting emotion. It is one of the songs that hints at ideas and feelings in the deeper currents of an album made up of dazzling surfaces.
It clearly hasn’t been an easy album to make. It is six years since No Line on the Horizon (itself widely deemed a flawed album) and three years since they completed their record breaking 360° tour. There were long sessions with cool American producer Brian Burton, aka Danger Mouse, who started working with the band in 2010. The album was first mooted for release at the beginning of 2014 (hence the release of a one-off single, “Invisible,” in February), but since then there have been sessions with Paul Epworth (British producer for Adele, Coldplay and Florence and the Machine) and Ryan Tedder (top songwriting collaborator with the likes of Adele, Taylor Swift and Beyonce), both highly commercial producers who bring some contemporary sheen. Long-time collaborator Mark Ellis, aka Flood, is also involved, although, in the end, it appears to have been U2’s engineer Declan Gaffney who has put in the long hours to tie it all together (leading to promotion to a full production credit).
With the album’s October release only confirmed at the very last moment (with the pressure of the Apple iPhone launch looming), I have the sense that it was plucked from the band’s grasp in the mastering suite, probably with The Edge protesting that he’s not finished yet and there’s one more echoing guitar note to be added.
For me, on first contact, it is the Danger Mouse tracks that hold the most interest, and perhaps hint at directions U2 might have rewardingly explored if they had stayed their original course and weren’t quite so intent on maintaining massive stadium-level success. Touching synth ballad “Sleep Like a Baby Tonight” and dreamy, sinister album closer “The Troubles” (with a perfectly pitched vocal chant from Swedish singer Lykke Li) are the kind of strange pop songs that can really get under your skin.
Lyrically, here and elsewhere, hints emerge that these reminiscences of the past are not quite as innocent as they first appear, and that this is an album laced with guilt, working towards self-forgiveness and redemption. “I’m a long way from where I was and where I need to be,” Bono croons on “Song for Someone,” suggesting that there is perhaps more experience at work in this album than there is innocence.
It is, at heart, a highly personal set of songs. There are no flag waving anthems, no big social causes. If there is a moral, it appears in the coda of “Cedarwood Road”: “a heart that is broken is a heart that is open.”
As a long time U2 fan and supporter (in the interests of full disclosure, I should point out that I am thanked in the album credits, albeit with my name misspelled), I wouldn’t put it on a par with their greatest work – Boy, The Joshua Tree, Achtung Baby or even the seamless songs of All That You Can’t Leave Behind. At times it does sound like it is trying a bit too hard to please. But it’s more pop than Pop ever was, and it certainly does the job it apparently sets out to do, delivering addictive pop rock with hooks, energy, substance and ideas that linger in the mind after you’ve heard them.
This song was produced by Bono and released on U2’s own Mother Records imprint…
A Boston Globe review of the U2/Brian Eno Passengers side project, from Nov. 7, 1995 and written by Jim Sullivan…
Eno, U2 Make an Original
The five guys who put together Original Soundtracks 1 (Island) refer to themselves as Passengers, and that’s fair enough: They’re not trading on their star status, not publicly or ostentatiously, anyway. That is, they’re not billed as U2 and Brian Eno, and no one should misconstrue this album as being the latest U2 opus.
As to Eno fans? Well, they might automatically, and justifiably, perk up their ears, but they’re a more limited group, as Eno has never sold more than 100,000 copies of any one album.
Eno – Roxy Music cofounder, U2’s frequent producer, David Bowie’s on-and-off collaborator and a long-term progressive solo artist of high regard – is a wizard in many ways. This disc, in stores today, very much bears his sonic imprint. Fans of Eno’s Another Green World and his ambient work will be enchanted.
Original Soundtracks 1 also features the voice of Luciano Pavarotti singing “Miss Sarajevo” with Bono. Before your knee-jerk reaction kicks in – yet another incongruous, showboating Bono duet! – let me state that’s it’s a sad, emotionally wrenching gem. Read the rest of this entry »
A short March 9, 1981 concert review by Stephen Holden, taken from The New York Times, of when U2 were first making themselves known in America. Interesting to see what critics thought at the beginning of their career (making note of their real names), with only one album to their credit, at that point…
The Irish rock quartet U2, which has received extravagant critical praise in the British press, made a strong showing at the Ritz on Saturday. For such an accomplished band, U2 is unusually young.
Ranging in age from 18 to 20, its members met three years ago at a Dublin secondary school. Yet their sound, and eclectic hard rock with a mystically romantic strain, makes them one of the most harmonically sophisticated rock bands to emerge in recent years.
U2’s musical focus is its gifted guitarist, ”The Edge” Evans, whose extended lyrical guitar flights have a muscularity and an exotic flavor similar to Tom Verlaine. Mr. Evans knows exactly how far to push his mysticism Read the rest of this entry »
This review of U2 and Brian Eno’s somewhat forgotten side project from 1995, was written by Jim Sullivan for the Nov. 7, 1995 issue of The Boston Globe. Whether there was ever meant to be a volume 2 or not, I’m not sure, but this album is definitely worth a listen — just don’t expect a normal U2 album. It even features the late Pavarotti…
Eno, U2 Make an Original
The five guys who put together Original Soundtracks 1 (Island) refer to themselves as Passengers, and that’s fair enough: They’re not trading on their star status, not publicly or ostentatiously, anyway. That is, they’re not billed as U2 and Brian Eno, and no one should misconstrue this album as being the latest U2 opus. Read the rest of this entry »
David Fricke’s recent review of the new U2 album, which seems to have fans somewhat divided. I don’t think it’s their best, but there are certainly enough good songs on it for me to recommend it to anyone out there.
This comes from Rolling Stone (issue #1073), March 5, 2009…
“I was born to sing for you/I didn’t have a choice but to lift you up,” Bono declares early on this album, in a song called “Magnificent.” He does it in an oddly low register, a heated hush just above the shimmer of The Edge’s guitar and the iron-horse roll of bassist Adam Clayton and drummer Larry Mullen Jr. Bono is soon up in thin air with those familiar rodeo yells, on his way to the chorus, which ends with him just singing the word “magnificent,” repeating it with relish, stretching the syllables.
But he does it not in self-congratulation, more like wonder and respect, as if in middle age, on his band’s 11th studio album, he still can’t believe his gift — and luck. Bono knows he was born with a good weapon for making the right kind of trouble: the clean gleam and rocket’s arc of that voice. “It was one dull morning/I woke the world with bawling,” he boasted in “Out of Control,” written by Bono on his 18th birthday and issued on U2’s Irish debut EP.
He is still singing about singing, all over No Line on the Horizon, U2’s first album in nearly five years and their best, in its textural exploration and tenacious melodic grip, since 1991’s Achtung Baby. “Shout for joy if you get the chance,” Bono commands, in a text-message cadence and drill sergeant’s bark, in “Unknown Caller.” He leads by example in the ham-with-wry pop of “I’ll Go Crazy If I Don’t Go Crazy Tonight” — “Listen for me/I’ll be shouting/Shouting to the darkness” — then demands his piece of the din in the glam-fuzz shindig “Get on Your Boots”: “Let me in the sound!…Meet me in the sound!” God, guilt, love, sin, terrorism and transcendence — Bono juggles them all here, with the usual cracks at his own hubris. (“Stand up to rock stars,” he warns in “Stand Up Comedy.” “Be careful of small men with big ideas.”)
Bono also keeps coming back to the sheer power and pleasure of a long high note and the salvation you can feel in being heard. “I’m running down the road like loose electricity,” he jabbers, with some of that nasal acid of the ’66 Bob Dylan, through the hard-rock clatter of “Breathe,” “while the band in my head plays a striptease.”
It is a strange thing to sing on a record that more often reveals itself in tempered gestures, at a measured pace. (The main exception, the outright frivolity of “Get on Your Boots,” comes right in the middle, as if the band thought it needed some kind of zany halftime.) Most of the great — and biggest-selling — U2 albums have been confrontational successes: the dramatic entrance on 1980’s Boy; the spiritual-pilgrim reach of 1987’s The Joshua Tree; the electro-Weimar whirl of Achtung Baby; the return to basics on 2004’s How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb. Produced by the now-standard trio of Brian Eno, Daniel Lanois and Steve Lillywhite, No Line on the Horizon is closer to the transitional risks — the Irish-gothic spell of 1984’s The Unforgettable Fire, the techno-rock jet lag of 1993’s Zooropa — but with a consistent persuasion in the guitar hooks, rhythms and vocal lines.
In “No Line on the Horizon,” it is the combination of garage-organ drone, fat guitar distortion and Mullen’s parade-ground drumming, the last so sharp and hard all the way through that it’s difficult to tell how much is him and how much is looping (that is a compliment). The Edge takes one of his few extended guitar solos at the end of “Unknown Caller,” a straightforward, elegiac break with a worn, notched edge to his treble tone. “White as Snow” is mostly alpine quiet — guitar, keyboard, Bono and harmonies, like the Doors’ “The Crystal Ship” crossed with an Appalachian ballad. “Cedars of Lebanon” ends the album much as “The Wanderer” did on Zooropa, a triumph of bare minimums (this time it’s Bono going in circles, through wreckage, instead of Johnny Cash, who sang “The Wanderer”) with limpid guitar and electronics suggesting a Jimi Hendrix love song, had he lived into the digital age.
“Fez — Being Born” is the least linear song on this album (no small achievement), a highway ride in flashback images dotted with Bono’s wordless yelps and the descending ring of The Edge’s guitar. The last lines actually tell you plenty about U2’s songwriting priorities: “Head first, then foot/Then heart sets sail.” The big irony: Their singer is one of the most insecure frontmen in the business. Bono knows exactly what a lot of you think of his social activism and flamboyant freelance diplomacy. But the flip side of that bravado, in “I’ll Go Crazy…” — “The right to appear ridiculous is something I hold dear” — is a running doubt in Bono’s lyrics, that he always goes too far (“Stand Up Comedy”) and will never be as good as his ideals. The rising-falling effect of the harmony voices around Bono in the long space-walk “Moment of Surrender” is a perfect picture of where he really wants to be, when he gets to the line about “vision over visibility.”
And he’s sure he’ll never get there on his own. “We are people borne of sound/The songs are in our eyes/Gonna wear them like a crown,” Bono crows, next to The Edge’s fevered-staccato guitar, near the end of “Breathe” — a grateful description of what it’s like to be in a great rock & roll band, specifically this one. Bono knows he was born with a voice. He also knows that without Mullen, Clayton and The Edge, he’d be just another big mouth.
elvis son of tupelo.
elvis mama’s boy.
elvis the twin brother of Jesse who died at birth and was buried in a shoe box.
elvis drove a truck.
elvis was recorded at sun studios by the musical diviner sam phillips.
elvis was managed by colonel tom parker, an ex-carnie barker whose last act was a singing canary.
elvis was the most famous singer in the world since king david.
elvis lived on his own street.
elvis liked to play speed cop.
elvis had a monkey named scatter before anyone.
elvis wore a cape at the white house when he was presenting nixon with two silver pistols.
elvis was a member of the drug squad.
elvis wore eye make up, just hangin’ out.
elvis wore a gold nudie suit and trained his lip to curl.
elvis was macho, but could sing like a girl.
elvis was not a big talker.
elvis was articulate in every other way.
elvis dyed his hair black to look like valentino.
elvis held a microphone the way valentino held nitanaldi in blood and sand.
elvis dressed black long before he dressed in black.
elvis sang black except in lower registers where he was a student of dean martin.
elvis admired mario lanza.
elvis delivered the world from crooning.
elvis was a great crooner.
elvis had a voice that could explain the sexuality of america.
elvis was influenced by jim morrison in his choice of black leather for the ’68 comeback special.
elvis invented the beatles.
elvis achieved world domination from a small town.
elvis was conscious of myth.
elvis had pharoah-like potential.
elvis was made by america, so america could remake itself.
elvis had good manners.
elvis was a bass, a baritone, and a tenor.
elvis sang his heart out at the end.
elvis the opera singer.
elvis the soap opera.
elvis loved america, God, the bible, firearms, the movies, the office of presidency, junk food, drugs, cars, family,television, jewellery, straight talkin’, dirty talkin’ gameshows, uniforms, and self-help books.
elvis like america, wanted to improve himself.
elvis like america, started out loving but later turned on himself.
elvis body could not stop moving.
elvis is alive, we’re dead.
elvis the charismatic.
elvis the ecstatic.
elvis the plastic, elvis the elastic with a spastic dance that might explain the energy of america.
elvis fusion and confusion.
elvis earth rod in a southern dorm.
elvis shaking up an electrical storm.
elvis in hollywood his voice gone to ground.
elvis in las vegas with a big brassy sound.
elvis the first rock’n’roll star with scotty moore, bill black, and dj fontana.
elvis with james burton and ronnie tutt.
elvis the movie star made three good films: viva las vegas, flaming star, and jailhouse rock.
elvis the hillbilly brought rhythm to the white race, blues to pop, and rock’n’roll to where ever rock’n’roll is.
elvis the pelvis, swung from africa to europe, which is the idea of america.
elvis the kung fu would come later.
elvis built a theme park he later called Graceland.
elvis woke up to whispers.
elvis thought of himself as a backslider.
elvis knew guilt like a twin brother.
elvis called God every morning then left the phone off the hook.
elvis turned las vegas into a church when he sang “love me tender”.
elvis turned america into a church when he sang “the trilogy”.
elvis was harangued by choice; flesh vs spirit, God vs rock’n’roll mother vs lover, father vs the colonel.
elvis grew sideburns as a protest against tom jones’ hairy chest.
elvis would have a president named after him.
elvis was one of the boys.
elvis was not one of the boys.
elvis had an acute intelligence disguised as talent.
elvis broke priscilla’s heart.
elvis broke lisa marie’s heart.
elvis woke up my heart.
elvis white trash.
elvis the memphis flash.
elvis didn’t smoke hash and woulda been a sissy without johnny cash.
elvis didn’t dodge the draft.
elvis had his own aircraft.
elvis having a laugh on the lisa marie in a colour photograph.
elvis under the hood.
elvis cadillac blood.
elvis darling bud flowered and returned to the mississippi mud.
elvis ain’t gonna rot.
elvis in a memphis plot.
elvis didn’t hear the shot but the king died just across the lot from.
elvis vanilla ice cream.
elvis girls of 14.
elvis memphis spleen shooting at the tv reading corinthians 13.
elvis with God on his knees.
elvis on three tvs.
elvis here come the killer bees head full of honey, potato chips and cheese.
elvis the bumper stickers.
elvis the white knickers.
elvis the white nigger ate at burger king and just kept getting bigger.
elvis sang to win.
elvis the battle to be slim.
elvis ate america before america ate him.
elvis stamps, elvis necromance.
elvis fans, elvis sychophants.
elvis the public enemy.
elvis don’t mean shit to chuck d.
elvis changed the centre of gravity.
elvis made it slippy.
elvis hitler, elvis nixon, elvis christ, elvis mishima.
elvis marcus, elvis jackson, elvis the pelvis.
elvis the psalmist, elvis the genius, elvis the generous.
elvis forgive us.
elvis pray for us
elvis aaron presley (1935-1977)