I, for one was excited, having spent the past year stifling laughs in public listening to Scott Aukerman and Adam Scott's 'U Talkin' U2 To Me?' podcast on my iPod. Amongst the podcast's completely irrelevant tangents and weird bits, it does, in fact, have some interesting nuggets of information about the band and admittedly had me replaying my U2 Greatest Hits CD. I'd also heard that the album would be produced by Dangermouse, whose latest album with Broken Bells is one of the best released this year.
The album starts off very well with the band singing a high 'ohs' over a drum rim rhythm followed by huge dirty power chords from The Edge. It works as a great start to an album. Unfortunately 'The Miracle (of Joey Ramone)' slightly loses this momentum with an awkward transition between the verses and chorus. The track's lyrics, however, are very good. The song is about a Ramones concert that the Irish quartet sneaked into as kids and how the band wouldn't be around were it not for that experience. The lyrics don't name check Joey Ramone in the song and it feels slightly hacky that they have him in the video and in the title of the song.
While the album doesn't really have an overall sound like 'Achtung Baby' or 'All That You Can't Leave Behind', the album does display each producer at their best. For example 'Every Breaking Wave' and 'California (There is No End to Love)' have huge choruses backed by lush production typical to Tedder songs like 'Halo' and 'Counting Stars' and Epworth produced tracks like 'Rolling in the Deep' and 'Rabbit Heart (Raise It Up)', whereas brooding electro ballad 'Sleep Like A Baby Tonight' perfectly displays Dangermouse's production at its best with sleek synth tracks and a haunting falsetto verse.
While musically disparate, the album is held together lyrically by the theme of youth, present throughout the tracks. Bono has said that 'Songs of Innocence' is their most personal album which is exemplified with 'Song for Someone', a very sweet love about meeting his wife at 12, and 'Iris (Hold Me Close)' a song about his Mum dying at a young age.
While lyrically quite stunning, 'Iris (Hold Me Close) comes across as another filler U2 track complete with The Edge's overused delay effect. Other unremarkable tracks are 'Cedarwood Road' and 'This Is Where You Reach Me'. The worst track on the album is Volcano, a faux sexy jam with cringeworthy spoken word sections and a really boring and annoying chorus.
Luckily, it is followed by, best track on the album, 'Raised by Wolves', an incredibly atmospheric track telling the story of a car bombing in Dublin that was witnessed by one of Bono's friends. The track performs the cool trick of building to something, dying down and then building up again. By the time the first chorus plays, so much tension has been built so when it finally does play, it's fucking great. A very prominent doubler effect is put on Bono as he wails the track's title over tribal-esque drums from Larry Mullen Jnr.
The album closes with 'The Troubles' a eery duet with Swedish indie starlet, Lykke Li The quiet ballad has Bono looking back and saying 'You're not my troubles, any more'. It works very well as a closer as it puts a lid on traumatic events discussed within the album.
U2 have said they'd follow 'Songs of Innocence' with 'Songs of Experience'. If they can encapsulate their later years with the honesty and fantastic production utilized in portraying their youth, this can only be good news. They may need to find a less hate-inspiring way of releasing it and less embarrassing album artwork.