U2’s latest album brings group to digital age

by Mike Heral, Staff Writer

With Monday’s unexpected data dump of a new full-length album, “Songs of Innocence,” add U2 to the growing list of music acts releasing records online for free.  The album was “given” to apple users for free via iCloud, whether they wanted it or not. But unlike Beyoncé’s surprise release or Radiohead’s pay-what-you-want model, U2’s move signals how far the band has come in accepting digital music — for those who don’t know, U2 held out for almost a decade before allowing iTunes access to the band’s discography.

The move also feels like desperation. Not only are U2’s bandmates as old as a college student’s parents, they play a genre alien to them. It’s for that reason that fellow rock icon Gene Simmons told Esquire Magazine, “rock is dead.” So when lead singer Bono belts out “you are rock and roll” during “Volcano,” one can’t help but wonder if he is desperately trying to rally younger generations to give a guitar-and-drum-based band a chance in this era of laptop DJs.

Perhaps it’s the understanding that the band is nearing its end game that gives “Songs of Innocence” its soulful atmosphere. The album’s opening two songs — the uptempo “The Miracle of (Joey Ramone)” and the somber-fast-somber “Every Breaking Wave” — clue the listener that “Songs of Innocence” is sanctified by introspective moodiness. Guitarist The Edge mutes his sound, allowing synthesizers to soar and take the listener to church.

Every church is only as good as its preacher. Thankfully for its fans, preaching is precisely Bono’s specialty. He’s never shied from politics, but as with most aging lyricists, he’s now more concerned with interpersonal politics than trying to incite human rights protests — although, the latter is still around, most notably in the violence-weary track “Raised by Wolves.”

Despite encroaching mellowness, the sound is distinctly U2 even without Bono’s distinct voice. The Edge’s steady strumming remains occasionally mixed with staccato bursts, and bassist Adam Clayton rarely strays far from drummer Larry Mullen, Jr.

U2 isn’t the band to listen to when individual showmanship is desired. Instead, turn to U2 when it’s time to appreciate what a lot of bands used to be good at doing: complimentary craftsmanship from four kids who’ve spent an extraordinarily long time with each other.

So let’s enjoy “Songs of Innocence” for what it is because who knows when something like it comes back around.