Titles are everything and U2 references William Blake to reflect on their own past as they point a way to their future on Songs of Innocence.
The Danger Mouse (Brian Burton)-produced album is a confident and emotional drive through U2 land as they reflect and interpret inspirations.
Some tracks are mysterious like California (There is No End to Love) with its pseudo Beach Boys intro, while Volcano is a tough update of the band’s New Wave roots.
U2 has a vast catalogue of songs, sounds and eras and going back to go forward is the reason for Songs of Innocence.
A direct autobiographical account of youthful inspiration is the choppy The Miracle (of Joey Ramone). The song is a pacesetter and the tracks that follow are filtered through the clear-eyed collective lens of the band – they keep groove and atmosphere sealed together.
Bono isn’t preachy or pontificating and his reflective stance reveals how strong and endearing his vocal is. He and the band are locked in and it stirs emotions to hear that familiar sound like an interesting old friend that you’ve always felt comfortable with. But the comfort isn’t complacency. There aren’t any epic anthems, and The Edge’s guitar sound (the stamp of U2) has shifted from ringing echoes to terse overdrive and fuzz.
Iris (Hold Me Close) is straight ahead rock that reaches back to Achtung Baby but updates that dense atmosphere. The hallmarks are there: driving beat, ringing harmonies and the urgent thrum of the music. Yeah, they still gaze skyward and use minor chords.
Danger Mouse has shone a light on Bono’s voice and clarified the reverb-heavy murk around it. U2 is a band that requires significant consideration during production and Mouse and his team clean up.
The band checks in with their alter-ego techno side on experimental tracks Sleep Like a Baby Tonight and This is Where You Can Reach Me Now. Bono sounds mellow, even introspective and the group leaves angst behind as they go for texture and mood. The Edge’s masterful use of sound effects is taken to a sparse, raw zone that colours the songs with a new vocabulary. It’s their “blue period.”
Songs of Innocence is an inspired walk through U2’s reason for being a band. Nothing’s blatantly obvious but the signposts are there. The group looked at their past and the observations freed them to make a propulsive album that has a panoramic surface. They sound passionate, interested and they transcend trends.
– Dean Gordon-Smith is a Vernon-based musician who reviews new releases for The Morning Star every Friday.