U2 gave about five seconds of warning before releasing their long awaited and many times postponed album Songs of Innocence for free (that’s right, ladies and gentlemen, absolutely free) on iTunes. Named for William Blake’s collection of poems from 1789 about childhood, the age at which great discoveries are made. As their first album in five years, bandmates Bono, Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen Jr. took their sweet time walking down memory lane for this one, but it was oh-so worth it.
“The Miracle (of Joey Ramone)” is referring to the voice that inspired U2 (especially Bono) to become a musician and get the hell outta dodge (er, Dublin). It also offers a helpful promise to those U2s of the next generation. “We can hear you / Your voices will be heard.”
“Every Breaking Wave” has a steady, four-on-the-floor kickdrum beat with electric guitars soaring above. “Every breaking wave on the shore / Tells the next one that there will be one more,” and “I thought I heard the Captain’s voice” sings Bono is this sun-kissed nostalgic-for-summer tune.
“California (There Is No End to Love)” pays homage to the Beach Boys with this swooping ode to Cali. It even opens with Beach Boys-y “Ba-ba-barbaras” leading in to the synth-filled anthem. “Blood orange sunset brings you to your knees” – if the state isn’t using this song as the theme for their tourism-promoting commercials, they’re doing it wrong.
“Song for Someone” brings it down for a bit, opening with soft acoustic guitar plucking, and twinkling effects, while Bono softly sings, “If there is a light / You can always see / And there is a world / we can always be,” reassuring someone, anyone who listens.
“Iris (Hold Me Close)” is a song for Bono’s mother, who died when he was fourteen. He sings to her, with as aching a yearning and fond memory as John Lennon sings “Mother.” The song has lyrics reminiscent of Donna Lewis’ “You Are My Mother” as he sings over a chugging rhythm of Clayton’s disco-style bass, and Mullen’s cymbal-packed drums and swooshing keyboards. “Hold me close and don’t ever let go / hold me close like I’m someone you might know / Who we are / I’ve got your life inside of me.”
“Volcano” is a thick, dense 80’s style production, with low wide bass lines, and as someone who just moved from Hawaii, Bono might well be singing to any volcanic island native. “Been out in the wild / Been out in the night / Been out of your mind / Do you live here or is this a vacation?” He’s definitely visited at least.
“Raised by Wolves” is a tense metronomic with growling whispers leading in to a tale of carnage that actually happened; the lyrics “There’s a man in a pool of misery / a red sea covers the ground,” refer to a series of rather bloody car bombs in Dublin in the 70’s.
“Cedarwood Road” is titled after a street Bono lived on. The memory lane for this track is a tad fearful and angry – which leads talented young men to form bands and write songs in an attempt to redirect said fear and anger. If it’s not sports, it’s art. “I’m standing on that street / Still need an enemy,” he sings over the equally enraged rhythm section.
“Sleep Like a Baby Tonight” is a strange, 80’s synth-filled lullaby with a dark twist, Bono’s lyrics swooping, “You’re gonna sleep like a baby tonight / In your dreams, everything is alright / Tomorrow dawns like a suicide / But you’re gonna sleep like a baby tonight.”
“This Is Where You Can Reach Me Now” opens with a jungal-y sound courtesy of keyboards and drums and tropical bird sounds. Dedicated to Joe Strummer, as the song pays tribute to Clash. “Old man knows that I never listen / So how could I have something to say / Old man knows how to cheat ambition / You don’t lose if you don’t play,” Bono sings over a driving disco beat.
“The Troubles” closes out the album with a slower groove, advising troublemakers to watch it. The chorus fully throws it back to childhood, as it’s sung by child-like voices. “Somebody stepped inside your soul / Somebody stepped inside your soul / Little by little they robbed and stole / Til someone else was in control.”