“Somebody stepped inside your soul.” Lykke Li, The Troubles
“and there is a light, don’t let it go out.” Bono, Song for Somebody
When I left home last Tuesday, the big news on the radio (yes, I still listen to the radio sometimes, because I am elderly) was that scientists thought they found one of the ships of the doomed Franklin expedition, but by the end of the day the big discovery was that about half a billion people had access to a new U2 album. Boom! You’re welcome. (Or are you?)
Let’s look at this for a bit. There was one of those Apple product launch thingies in California, and the rumour ahead of time was that U2 would play a role in it. It’s not the first time that U2 and Apple have teamed up. You may remember way back in 2004 (when the Red Sox won the world series for the first time in 86 years) there was a series of Apple commercials for the iPod that featured silhouettes dancing around with the stark white ear-bud cables, and one the commercials featured U2 singing Vertigo. I thought that maybe this commercial was for the launch of the iPod, but a quick internet search revealed that the iPod has been around since 2001. (we like to keep things as accurate as possible here at MBM. Why speculate when you can google?) (apologies to Marc Maron).
So anyway, I was at work so I didn’t follow the product launch all that closely. Apparently there’s a new bigger iPhone that looks like a Samsung galaxy, and some kind of weird iPay thing, and a iWatch, which looks kind of like those plastic Swatches we used to wear in jr high. Is it just like an iPod nano but with a wrist band? I’m not even sure it’s called the iWatch. Maybe just Apple Watch? Sounds like a hashtag for someone about to make some backyard crabapple jelly. #applewatch2014 I suppose I could look it up, but we always say “why google when you can speculate?” around here, don’t we?
But I guess the biggest news is that U2 showed up and played a new song and there was some scripted banter where Apple CEO Tim Cook wondered aloud how they could get this new music out to the fans and the upshot was that a totally new U2 album, called Songs of Innocence was immediately made available for free to iTunes users. Apple and U2 went a step further and actually pushed the album out so it would automatically appear in people’s iTunes and on their various Apple devices. It was just sitting there, as cheeky as you’d like, amongst your Belles and Sebastians or your Death Cabs and Cuties, like some kind of benevolent malware.
It does feel like Apple crossed a line by sticking it in people’s iTunes, doesn’t it? I mean it would be one thing to say that the album would be available to download for free. I don’t know if there would be such a “no feeling” attached to the whole thing then. Oh, and incidentally, the album is apparently free until October 14th, when it hits stores (that’s such an old-fashioned concept, huh?) with more tracks and acoustic versions of existing ones. That’s how they getcha!
As it turned out, I didn’t want to wait for the album to appear on its own, so as soon as I got home from work I fired up the computer and clicked around until I was able to get the tracks to download. The last 4 tracks downloaded twice, so I don’t know what THAT was all about: maybe a combo of me downloading and iTunes trying to give it to me? I don’t know. As circumstances had it, I found myself alone at home that night (well, not quite alone. There was a MAN (a foreigner, even) in my kitchen doing his best to install a new sink and countertop), so I was left to my own devices and I was able to listen to the album all the way through twice.
First impressions: okay, before last Tuesday, I didn’t really expect a new U2 album this year. Did you know that it’s been so long since the last one came out that our daughter wasn’t even born yet? And it seems like she’s be around forever. I got used to the idea of no new U2 music, and I was okay with it. I was beginning to think that after almost 40 years and 12 albums I’d be okay with what we already had. Sure there was that song about Nelson Mandela over the winter that sounded just like that other “inter-album” effort Electrical Storm, and of course that new one in the early spring, Invisible which I thought sounded just the way you want a U2 song to sound, but aside from that, the dust seemed to settle on the fans’ hopes for anything new.
And I was okay with that. I mean, if I was feeling introspective, I’d listen to the Unforgettable Fire album, if I was pissed off, maybe a little Boy or War would fuel my mood, if I was feeling nostalgic: definitely it was time for The Joshua Tree and if I ever had the urge to listen to the BEST ALBUM EVER RECORDED BY ANYONE ANYWHERE I always had Achtung Baby ready to go. I would visit the post Achtung Baby albums less frequently. There was a time in 1997 when I would play the Pop album non-stop, and I still think of it as being the last best total album put out by them. From 2000’s All that you can’t leave behind, through 2005’s How to dismantle an Atomic bomb to 2009’s No Line on the Horizon, two things were clear: the album title’s got weirdly longer, and the albums themselves felt less cohesive. I suppose I could act like a musical Dr. Frankenstein and go through those last three albums and make an album length mix of the best stuff off of that, a super-cut of millennial U2. Maybe that’s the topic for another post? Back in 2011 when U2 came to town, one of our friends, let’s call her Sheebs, was coming to the concert but bravely admitted that she didn’t really know U2 all that well, so a group of us devoted fans set out to each make our ultimate mix so that she could familiarize herself with them before the concert. It was really fun, and that was probably the last time I ever made a U2 exclusive play list. Damn it, I’m getting excited to do this list now. I think I’ll call it U2000s. Stay tuned.
And as for Songs of Innocence? To paraphrase Stephen King: you’ve read this far, so why not read a little further? I think, early on, that it is a good album, maybe even a great album. Maybe even the best album since 1997’s Pop. Here’s my early review, track by track: one sentence per track.
- The Miracle (of Joey Ramone) This song is growing on me, and I think it would make a kick ass opener to any live concert THAT I PLAN ON ATTENDING NEXT YEAR.
- Every Breaking Wave My 2nd favourite off this album. It feels like one of those effortless songs like “So Cruel” that just seems to write itself. It was left off of “No Line on the Horizon” so I’m glad it finally gets its release here.
- California Kinda goofy opening, but listenable. U2 channels and plays homage to the Beach Boys? It doesn’t really work, does it?
- Song for Someone My favourite off of here. I know its sentimental and cheesy to talk about one’s belief in God, but this song sounds to me like the sound of someone reconnecting with his faith and it’s just lovely. So take that, haterz!
- Iris (Hold me Close) A loving tribute to Bono’s mom. A counterpoint to Pop’s MOFO (which happens to be my favourite off of THAT album if you’re keeping score, and would have been my baseball walk up music if it wasn’t for the infamous groin pull of 1995).
- Volcano It’s pretty much Vertigo style straight ahead rock and roll, tapping back into their Boy/War roots, and I’m down with it.
- Raised by Wolves A bit of weird barking or coughing amps the cheese level in this otherwise earnest and sincere look at a series of bombings in Dublin when the band were teens. Probably my least favourite on this album, but it may grow on me.
- Cedarwood Road Despite what I said about track 3 above, I generally like songs that reference geographical places, and this one is named after the street on which Bono grew up. A lovely answer to the b-side “North and South of the River”. Deep cuts!
- Sleep Like a Baby Tonight Is it crazy to think that this one sounds a little like the Black Keys? I think it does, and I’m OKAY WITH THAT. Also reminds me of that other famous b-side that no one ever talks about, Holy Joe. Whatever happened to Holy Joe after they played it in that K-Mart back in 1997? Nobody knows.
- This is where you can reach me now They say that Danger Mouse of Broken Bells fame produced some of this record, and of all the tracks on here, this one sounds the most Broken Bellsy of them all. Did I tell you guys I saw Broken Bells in concert last month? At least I think I did. I was so overcome with heat exhaustion I may have just imagined it. It was really great, in a feverish dream kind of way. I was sure glad I wore the seer-suck that night.
- The Troubles U2 went all the way to Sweden and forced Lykke Li onto a plane and brought her AGAINST HER WILL back to Dublin to record parts on this song, and I’m sure glad U2 committed such a brazen act of international kidnapping because this song is a perfect way to end things off. With a song called “The Troubles” you think it will be political, but SPOILER it seems to be about a relationship. When Lykke Li sings “Somebody stepped inside your soul” it sends shivers up my spine. But maybe they should have written “Somebody stepped inside your iTunes” amirite, everyone?
Gotta go work on my u2000s mixtape now! See ya suckers!