Last Updated: December 21, 2017, 3:53 pm

Album Analysis: U2’s free iTunes release meets some, not all, expectations


You and the Album Analyzer probably share something: immediate access to U2’s latest album.

U2 partnered with Apple to release its 13th studio album, “Songs of Innocence,” free to anyone with an iTunes account until Oct. 13. Aside from the controversy about giving more than 500 million people a digital copy without their consent, the album’s content itself should be widely debated — containing both some of the band’s best and worst work.

“Songs of Innocence” lambasts listeners in sections: its worst songs at the beginning, best in the middle, and most questionable toward the tail end. “The Miracle (Of Joey Ramone)” ushers in the project, and despite anthemic chanting before the first verse and sludgy power chords throughout, the track fails to eclipse the idea, more generic than what a tribute to The Ramones’ late singer should sound like.

“Every Breaking Wave,” “California (There is no End to Love)” and “Song For Someone,” songs two through four, find U2 at its most aimless.

“Every Breaking Wave” sounds like U2’s late-‘80s classic “With or Without You” — if lead singer Bono went into the studio with a terrible Taylor Swift track (so any of them, basically) stuck in his head. “California (There is no End to Love)” takes listeners on a westward trip but not like the band’s 1987 album “The Joshua Tree” did. A predictable instrumental makes the journey less memorable this time around, like a quick trip to Los Angeles for a crumby family reunion.

“Songs of Innocence” lacks a defining moment by track five. Rather than the groundbreaking project U2’s name and legacy carries, nothing at the album’s beginning seems appealing to the act’s fan base, let alone 500 million people.

But then “Iris (Hold Me Close)” ensues, and “Songs of Innocence” matches a portion of its hype.  

“Iris (Hold Me Close)” features an infectious riff, and all of the song’s parts — intro, verse, chorus and instrumental break — build off of guitarist The Edge’s six-string genius. The bass and drum kicks seem to thud together, causing ruckus; Bono croons with anecdotes that must mean a great deal to him; and alas, U2 has a signature track five songs in.

From here on, it’s all experimental, and the risks U2 takes lead to fascinating snippets. The three-minute “Volcano,” simplistic for such a full-scale band, exerts raw energy comparable to early REM albums. And if “Iris (Hold Me Close)” and “Volcano” set a firm foundation of grooves that songs one through five lacked, then “Raised by Wolves” and “Cedarwood Road” make for two of U2’s best recent songs.

They hit one after the other. “Raised by Wolves” holds enough emotion to transform “The Miracle (Of Joey Ramone)” or “California (There is no End to Love)” into tearjerkers. And “Cedarwood Break’s” rhythm sounds “Django Unchained” soundtrack meets Arctic Monkeys, funk-infused and psychedelic at the same time.

The three tracks that follow “Raised by Wolves” and “Cedarwood Breaks” have mixed effectiveness.

“Sleep Like a Baby Tonight” is U2’s most repetitive song ever, “This is Where You Can Reach Me Now” builds on “Cedarwood Break’s” funkiness, and “The Troubles,” the album’s last song, is noteworthy because Lykke Li makes a guest appearance — rare for a U2 album. Her melodies add a catchy touch, though, and send “Songs of Innocence” out with a heavy string accompaniment.

When essentially forcing millions of people to own your album, you must match that action with an unforgettable collection of songs. U2 doesn’t have that here, but “Songs of Innocence” excels at providing fans with decent material until the band bolsters its legacy with more headlining tours and humanitarian work.     

Final Rating: Three out of Five Suns