U2: Songs of Innocence review – The Great Return?

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U2: Songs of Innocence review

Read this article about U2’s latest album, and answer the questions. Remember:

  • Listen to the text by pressing the ‘PLAY’ button at the end.
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Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “U2: Songs of Innocence review – listenable, but not the grand return they clearly crave” was written by Alexis Petridis, for The Guardian on Thursday 11th September 2014 14.24 UTC

Even in an age in which we’ve grown accustomed to artists giving away their albums for free or suddenly unleashing them without warning, the arrival of U2’s Songs of Innocence feels slightly curious. It was announced, minutes before its release, at Apple’s Keynote Presentations: Bono and the company’s CEO, Tim Cook, indulging in some scripted “hey-why-don’t-we-do-the-show-right-here” banter so teeth-gritting it seems a miracle no one in the audience of assembled geeks tried to bludgeon themselves into insensibility with an iPad before its end. U2 and Apple – the latter footing the bill – don’t seem to have released the album so much as foisted it upon half-a-billion people: if you have an iTunes account, it is there in your “purchased” folder.

Whether this amounts to an act of great munificence, or the musical equivalent of a unsolicited email offering safe and fast penis enlargement, is a moot point: a cynical voice might read Bono waxing lyrical on U2’s website about the album winging its way unbidden to Africa and east Asia and suggest that Songs of Innocence amounts to payback for all those spam messages from Barrister Joseph Obagana and Mr Wong Du, South Korean banker, concerning million-dollar inheritances. Indeed, your attitude to the album’s arrival on your computer might depend on your attitude to U2, or at least the U2 of the past 10 years, a troubled and confused period in the band’s history. Having deconstructed their sound and image to vast success in the 90s, U2 have spent much of the intervening period looking like they can’t find the instructions to put themselves back together again. So record-breaking tours and hit singles have been interspersed with albums that band members openly criticised – Bono would subsequently claim that 2004’s How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb “fucking annoys me” – and commercially underperformed, or at least commercially underperformed by U2 standards: the worldwide sales of 2009’s No Line on the Horizon slumped to a meagre 5m copies.

For all the grandiosity of its launch and Blakean title – and indeed for all the talk of it as a concept album based on the band’s Dublin childhoods – Songs of Innocence is audibly a product of that confusion. It took years to make, involving five different producers, who between them seem to have covered every base. Brian “Danger Mouse” Burton hints at dance dabbling of the kind U2 indulged in on 1997’s Pop; Declan Gaffney worked on the experimental No Line on the Horizon; Paul Epworth – who graduated from hip indie producer to chart blockbuster by way of Adele’s 21 – and Beyoncé collaborator Ryan Tedder suggest a lunge for vast commercial success; and fans of classic U2 might be reassured that Flood’s name first appeared in the credits of The Joshua Tree. You might detect a certain whiff of desperation in the fact that parts of the album sound distinctly like Coldplay – literally the first thing you hear is the kind of massed woah-oh vocals with which Chris Martin reliably rouses the world’s stadiums, while the guitar line on Every Breaking Wave carries an echo of Paradise’s melody – or, even more startling, Emile Sandé, whose Read All About It seems to have informed the tune of Song for Someone. Bono has claimed that Where You Can Reach Me Now is influenced by the Clash’s disco experiments on Sandinista!. Listening to the taut guitar line and disco drums you can just about hear what he means, but the song feels pallid and tentative, the work of a band who have had the wind knocked out of them.

Nevertheless, Songs of Innocence isn’t a bad album as such. The only person who’d agree with Cook’s suggestion that The Miracle (of Joey Ramone) amounts to “the most incredible single you’ve ever heard” is someone who hasn’t heard many singles. Detached from that excitable assessment, however, it’s actually a really good exploration of adolescence, alternately sardonic – “I’ve got music so I can exaggerate my pain,” notes Bono at one point – bullish and uneasy. The guitars crunch stridently over drums that keep threatening to resolve into a glam stomp, but never quite do, hovering somewhere more fidgety instead. Elsewhere, the best moments usually involve Danger Mouse: the lulling synth pulse of Sleep Like a Baby Tonight, and Raised By Wolves’ potent, smarting evocation of the 1974 Dublin and Mognahan bombings. Anyone who feels their sphincter involuntarily tightening at the thought of a U2 song called The Troubles might be surprised to learn that it doesn’t seem to have much to do with ethno-nationalist conflict. Presumably taking heed of the wry self-portrait in the lyrics of Every Breaking Wave – “I thought I had the captain’s voice,” he sings, “but it’s hard to listen while you preach” – Bono spends most of Songs of Innocence avoiding grandstanding in favour of personal recollection.

In his introductory piece on the U2 website, Bono refers to Songs of Innocence as the first instalment of a two-album set – “if you like Songs of Innocence,” he wrote, “stay with us for Songs of Experience, it should be ready soon enough” – which makes it sound suspiciously like an interstitial release, with an album proper, that you presumably have to pay for, to follow. That would make sense in light of the music it contains. As a free sample, it’s fine: it has its moments among the longeurs, enough of them to suggest U2 aren’t a spent force. But what Songs of Innocence isn’t is the grand return the band obviously crave. Perhaps that’s to come.

guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010

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Let’s see what you’ve understood…..

1. According to the reviewer, this album is:
A- disappointing
B- feels overstated
C- a return to their former style and energy
D- a hint that the group may still have something better ahead

2. U2 have announced that:
A- this is a free preview for another forthcoming album
B- the next album will not be free of charge
C- the album is only free for those with an iTunes account
D- ‘Songs of Innocence’ is sent randomly to people’s emails

3. Which of these sentences are not true?:
A- The band has criticized some of their own albums in the last 15 years
B- The writer notices similarities in style with other groups
C- Their relative decline was due to a change of style and image
D- The writer states that since the Nineties the group has not had the same success

4. Find words or phrases that mean:

– embarrasing (1st paragraph)

– pay (1st paragraph)

– talking in a poetic way (2nd paragraph)

– do not have the same energy or enthusiasm (3rd paragraph)

And as a writing exercise, write a review of your own. If it isn’t an album, it could be a group or singer, actor/actress, a museum exhibition (films , books and plays we’ll do in another article)

Get your answers here. Leave your name and email to get the answers. You will also receive a free e-book and a chance to have a free Skype class with me. Click here for more information 

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And your comments- Have you been to a U2 concert? Is music in decline? Which group are the heirs to U2’s pop/rock crown?