Sunday, September 14, 2014

I reviewed U2's “Songs of Innocence”, because eh

Oh, U2; how I have loved to hate you over the decades we have been on this planet together. I'll be honest: I've never really liked you. Even in the 80s, when you were ostensibly “good”, you always seemed like a caveman throwback to me. There were all the rest of the songs on the radio – the Michael Jacksons, the Queens, the a-Has and Spandau Ballets and Dead Or Alives – and then there were U2 songs, which would come blaring out of the speakers disjointedly. You were like the one nosepicking punk-rock kid at a socialite soiree. You probably thought that was cool. I always thought you should go home and find friends your own age.

It would have been fine if you'd just left it at that, though. But no, you insisted on being included regardless of how out of place and awkward you made everything. And you kept insisting, again, and again, for decades. You're still insisting now.

And we haven't even gotten to the really heinous shit you've done yet, like nearly suing Negativland – a genuinely refreshing, forward-thinking, and TRULY REVOLUTIONARY band – entirely out of existence, then shamelessly stealing the sampling-culture ethic they pioneered for your ZooTV tour, THE SAME YEAR. No wonder Aphex Twin refused to do a remix for you. You are and have always been the antithesis of the underground, a privileged major-label invention angling desperately for an audience they neither deserve nor have anything in common with.

What better way to market such a group than actually shoving their album down consumer's throats?

Apple has opened a real Pandora's box here: millions of people now own the new U2 album whether they want it or not. Odd Future's Tyler the Creator compared the experience to waking up with herpes, which is probably being generous, because at least with herpes you got laid the night before. This is more like waking up to a subpoena. Of course, if you aren't rich enough to have an iPhone and actually want the album, acquiring it from another source will get you the usual draconian measures from the RIAA. The future is FUCKING STUPID.

How does U2 defend this invasion of digital privacy? Here's a bona fide (Bono-fied?) quote: “People who haven’t heard our music, or weren’t remotely interested, might play us for the first time because we’re in their library. And for the people out there who have no interest in checking us out, look at it this way… the blood, sweat and tears of some Irish guys are in your junk mail.”

Great. Bono is literally comparing this album to SPAM. FAVORABLY.

So how does it sound?


It sounds like shit. Apple paid 100 million dollars for this? I would give you 75 cents if you included the artwork and a date with The Edge's ex-wife. Gene Simmons has gone on record lately claiming that rock music is dead; listening to this, he may be right, and that may be a good thing.


I'm going to guess that these songs were all constructed for the purpose of being included in movies starring Daniel Day Lewis. There's a mealy-mouth quality to them, a sort of weird formulaic structure that evokes something you've heard before that was also in a sort of weird formulaic structure, ad infinitum. It's like a fractal pop song, a holographic suck that when cut in half still contains the full measure of suck.

Are we so helpless against the tide? 

You tell me, asshole; you're the one who thinks he's still relevant. 


I feel I should note that I'm literally typing these reviews in real time with the album, and I finished Track 2 so quickly that I considered fast-forwarding to save time.

Oh great; just what we need, ANOTHER song about California. Fucking Red Hot Chili Peppers wasn't even remotely cool when they did this eight years ago. (Yep, Stadium Arcadium was EIGHT YEARS AGO. Feeling OLD yet?)

Whoa, oh, you know
And all I need to know is
There is no, yeah, there is no end
To love

There's no end to something, anyway. The average age of the members of U2 is 53, for the record. Who are they writing these songs for? Other pentagenarians? Teenagers? Just anyone who'll listen?



Here's something that needs to be said: this album is BORING. Danger Mouse probably got paid a lot of money to produce this rubbish, which is somehow both a tragedy and a mark of business genius. There's nothing of Danger Mouse anywhere on this album; it sounds just like any other U2 album, with nothing fresh or modern or notable. These songs could be time-traveled back to 1982 and released and no one would be the wiser.

And that's why they SUCK! You had access to Danger Mouse – the man behind The Grey Album, Gnarls Barkley, Danger Doom, countless projects and remixes – and THIS is what you ended up with? That's like having Gordon Ramsay at your house and handing him a box of Duncan Hines.


I want to stop here. This album isn't going to get any better. It's not going to excite me, it's not going to move me, it's not going to say anything U2 hasn't said a thousand times already which wasn't even all that interesting the first time. U2 keeps talking big game about remaining relevant, but really, has U2 ever been relevant? Did anyone really give a shit about Rattle and Hum? Or Boy, or Zooropa, or Pop? Their entire career has been about the fight for being recognized, a fight they lost by having it at all. Sure, a few decent tunes slipped through the cracks, but take away The Joshua Tree and Achtung Baby and what do you have left? Horseshit like this:

Hold me close, hold me close and don’t let go
Hold me close like I’m someone that you might know
Hold me close the darkness just lets us see
Who we are
I’ve got your life inside of me

This probably sounds deep and emotional if you're the lead singer of Creed, or a 12-year-old girl who just discovered what boys are good for. To everyone else it just sounds goofy and embarrassing.




Oh! Something remotely sonically interesting! If the album would have started with this track, I might have been fooled into thinking that U2 was serious about their desire for relevance. There always seems to be at least one redeemable track on albums like this; for the Robin Thicke album I reviewed it was “Too Little Too Late”. It's a weirdly specific thing – it's like you can hear that there was potential there, that maybe they seriously considered doing a whole album like this, that maybe under the surface of all the carefully constructed facade there was some genuine, soulful intention to be SOMETHING, god dammit.

And then the accountants came in and said “no no no, just make another 'Angel of Harlem' and we'll call it a day.”


And just as quickly we're back to whatever. These guitars are ANGRY! Or they're trying to convince me they are, anyway, and they're not really succeeding. It's a toothless dog with a truthless bark.

I was looking for a soul that’s real
Then I ran into you 

I laughed pretty hard at this realizing that Bono almost certainly did not intend the double meaning.


Might we get TWO interesting tracks? The opening synth arpeggio, harkening back to early Kraftwerk, is certainly unexpected and a bit more fresh than is usual for U2. But then Bono actually begins to sing and ruins it all. I really would like to hear more songs like “Numb” where Bono just becomes a sort of abstract vocal
texture in the background while The Edge sneeringly proses over the beat like some sort of sarcastic cross between Ken Nordine and Lyrics Born. In fact if U2 made songs like that all the time I'd probably forgive them for a lot of the horrible shit they've done.

Not the Negativland thing, though. They are never living that one down.


It really seems like they saved all the sonically interesting tracks for the end of the album. I'll bet if you listen to this disc in reverse order it sounds way better.

Soldier, soldier
We signed our lives away
Complete surrender
The only weapon we know

UH OH, IT'S A POLITICAL SONG. Except, no it's not. “Sunday Bloody Sunday” was about SOMETHING. This is just word jambalaya posing as Kony 2012. Also it's just way too upbeat for a political song. There is no such thing as political disco. The very concept of disco is antithetical to politics.


I'm not even going to poke fun at how U2 has never had anything remotely resembling “the troubles”, nor how this ham-handed reference to the Northern Ireland conflict smacks of class appropriation. Why bother? The evidence is clear: U2 believes their own bullshit. They genuinely think they are still a fresh, young, hip band with interesting things to say. There's not a trace of irony here, only delusion and denial in equal portions.

Getting old is terrifying. The world is constructed around the young, the energetic, and the creative, all of which are commodities that depreciate with time. U2 has lost their youth, and they were never that creative to start with; all they've ever really had was an astounding pool of energy. But who can keep that up at 54? Entropy takes us all; the body sags and stutters and refuses to do what it once did easily. U2 is dying, and like all Westerners they die not with peace and resolve, but with a last gasp for just one more moment of importance.

I've changed my mind. I don't hate U2. I pity them, and I understand now their drastic need for
a continued fantasy of unearned relevance. But God, I hope I die with a little more dignity.

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