Published by JB on Sept 21, 2014
Is it worth the 5-year wait, and the dilemma of the middle-aged rock star
If you close your eyes during your first listen to Songs of Innocence and imagine that this is the debut album of a new group called U2, you’re pretty much blown away. Wow, WHO are THESE guys? A unique guitar sound, a killer lead singer, melodic tunes – the full package!
Comparing it though to their landmark work of the late 80’s and early 90’s is the inevetiable truth for anyone who watched U2 do what they did back then. They completely redefined their sound over two decades ago – and with unparalleled success. Since then the times have been changing. When you’re competing against your own work from more than two decades prior you’re undergoing a battle you can’t win. U2 is smart enough to know that. No band in the history of rock or pop has ever peaked in their late 20’s/early 30’s and then returned to the mountain top 20+ years later. So with U2, you need to appreciate what you got – whenever you finally get it. Zoo TV is gone, but Apple is still here. If Bono thought the world was distracted during the Zoo TV days then he could never have imagined the world of cell phone zombies we have cloned.
Getting new music, this time, comes in the form of a mandatory product on your Apple device. After the tiny backlash fades away history will go back to the impromptu delivery date and the quality of the 11 new tracks. Now when a 54-year old Bono croons to “hold me close” on ‘Iris (Hold Me Close)’, he loses me a bit. Not that hugging a middle-aged Bono isn’t a decent thought, but it’s not what I’m wanting to hear from him almost four decades into his career. But when I hear the band riff at the opening of ‘Cedarwood Road’ or swerve through the beautiful classic-U2 ‘Every Breaking Wave’ I’m completely sold. The latter reminds us that U2 can still package up greatness in four minutes or less. For me, there just aren’t enough of those moments to make me believe five years was worth it, but Bono is a busy man and we have dozens of bands that U2 influenced to pass the time. All is good in the U2 universe for a couple more years.
My iTunes library is sorted in some strange manner in that as soon as the final chords of ‘The Troubles’ ends it jumps to my next U2 record – which happens to be the beautiful and sublime ‘Stay (Faraway So Close)’. It was a slap in the face reminder of the difficulty that aging bands have in finding beautiful melodies for their songs. ‘Stay’, while being obscure against the backdrop of U2’s Achtung Baby was their final stroke of greatness before the mid-90’s arrived and U2 lost ground to Pearl Jam, Nirvana, Radiohead, the Smashing Pumpkins and even bands like Oasis that were peaking at the time. Their recovery included extremely fine albums over the past 15 years while they crested with the title of the biggest Rock Band in the World. That’s a lot of weight on a band’s shoulders and this album only lets them dig their heels in a little deeper.