U2's 'Songs of Innocence'? Yawn
Give the long-running Irish rockers this: U2 continues to force us to grapple with their new product, years (decades?) past the point when the reaction any new offering merits as art is: “Yeah? So what?” But given the tawdry tie-in with the announcement of their 13th studio album and the unveiling of Apple’s latest sucker-bait gizmos, to say nothing of its automatic appearance in all of our iTunes queues, grapple we must.
Now as reactions go, it would be impossible to top either Sasha Frere-Jones’ savage evisceration for The New Yorker.com or David Fricke’s what-the-hell-is-he-smoking shameless five-star fellation in Rolling Stone. But again, the only reaction really warranted is, “So what?” And maybe: “Yawn.”
To me, the only thing that really rankles in the superstar corporate executives’ flashback to Boy-era sounds and lyrical celebrations of the powers and mysteries of music are these fellows pretending they’ve ever really heard much less been inspired by the Ramones—neither “The Miracle (of Joey Ramone)” nor any of the other 10, mostly Danger Mouse-produced tracks have a hint of the melodic or minimalist powers of da brudders from Queens, while there is zero trace of a sense of humor—and the Clash (dedicated to Joe Strummer, “This Is Where You Can Reach Me Now” has an anemic hint of reggae to it, but not an ounce of the political fury that Joe and the boys showed on their first four albums, and no, Bono crooning, “Soldier, soldier/We signed our lives away,” does not count or come close to holding a candle to, say, “Career Opportunities” or “Spanish Bombs”).
While some of his outings have been more successful than others, this really is the first stunningly flat mediocrity of Brian Burton’s stellar career, but U2 have run roughshod over otherwise strong and visionary producers before, including, in the post-Achtung Baby period, Brian Eno. The corporation pays lip service to exploring new territory by hiring producers who might actually challenge the board of directors, then the members of the star chamber make the sounds the corporation is best known for making, the better to sell them at top dollar. (And hey, just because you didn’t pay for this album doesn’t mean there wasn’t a huge check from Apple, or another one coming from the partnership with Live Nation on the inevitable summer stadium tour.)
Anyway, there isn’t an emotive vocal howl, soaring Edge guitar line, arena-shaking rhythm, or hackneyed faux-anthemic lyric here that we haven’t heard from U2 two, three, four dozen times in the past. Is life really long enough for anyone to waste another minute on this band when so much other music is so much more worthy of our time? “Now like a mighty wind they raise to heaven the voice of song,” William Blake writes in Songs of Innocence, the titular and to some extent thematic inspiration here. “Cherish pity, lest you drive an angel from your door.”
Sorry, ain’t no angels ringing my bell. Just some annoying peddlers selling some crap I don’t want or need.
U2, Songs of Innocence (Island)
Rating on the four-star scale: 1 star.