Last week, iconic rock band U2 did the unthinkable.
It was apparently quite a dastardly act. So despicable, in fact, and ruffled the feathers of so many so-called music lovers, that Apple had to create a special button on iTunes so people could undo what U2 had done.
What was this atrocity that evoked so much hatred?
They gave away their new album Songs of Innocence for free to half a billion people.
I know this is supposed to be an album review, and yes, I’ll get to that; but this needs to be said. Sometimes the Internet brings out the worst in people, because there’s a level of anonymity that makes people think they won’t be held to account for what they say or do. We sometimes call these people trolls because they seem to thrive on sucking the joy out of any good thing. They hate it when someone does something nice, and they’ll mock it. They’ll find some way to discount acts of generosity, and look for some way to reproach people simply because they’ve done nothing worth reproaching. I know this is just a record, but don’t think for a moment these forces aren’t at work. The trolls are riled up. And sadly, in some cases, this malady extends even to some of the critics who are supposed to be evaluating U2’s music on its own merit, not on how the album was delivered.
- We’re mad at U2 for presuming to give us their album without asking whether we wanted it.
- We’re mad at U2 for NOT actually giving it away. (This was reportedly part of a $100 million deal with Apple, so really, the folks at Apple are the bastards who gave it to us. But never mind that. NOW we’re mad at U2 for making money for their music even though we’re getting it for free—even though we didn’t really want it in the first place.)
- And of course—we hate the album itself. (After all, if it was free, it MUST suck.)
Well, allow me to provide a voice of reason among the stupidity out there: If you’re an iTunes user and you haven’t downloaded your free copy of Songs of Innocence yet, do it. Forget what the trolls and haters and snooty, self-righteous hypocrites on the Internet are saying about it. Listen to the record as though you had bought it, not as though it had been given to you. If you listen with a fresh set of ears and a clear, open mind, I think you’ll see this is actually some of the best stuff U2 has put out in years.
Indeed, from the first notes of the opening track “The Miracle (Of Joey Ramone),” you get the feeling that you’re experience yet another phase in U2’s ongoing evolution. Rolling Stone’s review of the album (one of the few critiques that actually “gets it”) opens with the line, “No other rock band does rebirth like U2,” and that’s a pretty accurate assessment. This band doesn’t have a flawless discography, but the biggest reason for their longevity is their ability to reinvent their sound, then reinvent it again. While other bands their age are coasting on their hits from 3 and 4 decades ago, U2 continues to push the envelope to the point that their new songs sound as relevant in the modern day as their early hits did in theirs. The songs on Innocence are fresh, revealing a sonic and lyrical quality that make us feel like U2 have just awakened refreshed from a five-year nap, taking in their fourth wind and ready to go for another ten years. You hear it in the unique blend of sampled percussive breaths and rock guitar riffs of “Raised By Wolves,” in the haunting electro of “Sleep Like a Baby Tonight,” in Adam Clayton’s driving bass lines in “Volcano”—the list goes on.
And yet, listening to the music, there’s enough of U2’s signature sounds (namely, The Edge’s effected guitar licks and Bono’s unmistakable voice) for us to be fully aware of who we’re listening to. The band rests comfortably in their signature vein for several tunes, as well, particularly “Iris (Hold Me Close)”, Bono’s tribute to his mother who passed away when he was a teenager. The result of all this is a fantastic blend of new and familiar, thanks in part to the skilled and sensitive production of Danger Mouse, Paul Epworth and Ryan Tedder, whose collective expertise brought a new breath of relevance to these songs without compromising the band’s timeless quality.
Different band mates (Bono the most vocal among them) have repeatedly stated they wanted to take their time on this record to make sure it was fresh, and right. When the band apparently went back to the drawing board last spring, bringing in two additional producers to help out, this was likely the reason. Songs of Innocence demonstrates this commitment to “getting it right.” I have no doubt that if U2 had just released the record in the traditional way, the public and the critics would have been a lot more forgiving, at the very least.
For me—I wasn’t offended that the album showed up for free in my iTunes. Rather, I was impressed. And when I heard the record, I was even more impressed, because I felt like it was good enough that I should have been asked to pay for it. Don’t waste your time on the haters, folks. If you haven’t downloaded your free copy of Songs of Innocence, go ahead and do it. And if you are truly, utterly offended at U2 and Apple’s audacity in giving you the album for free, push the little button on iTunes to get it removed from your library—then wait until October, and buy it.