U2: Songs of Innocence – A Review of Several Tracks


Appreciating Talented Men Who Are Not Afraid To Challenge And Push The Envelope

U2-THE-FORUM-5-27-15-13I have been a fan of U2, since I first heard Gloria back in 1981, from the October album. I heard about them being Irish, and I wondered “what kind of ‘Irish’?”  If you knew me then, and even now, you would know that question is somewhat like responding to “He’s Canadian”.  I would ask the same question, “What kind of ‘Canadian’?”  Both nations, and both founding peoples are a blend of ethnic and linguistic and cultural and religious influences.  My own kind of “Irish” made me a most suitable “Canadian” in 1967, when I a “Irish Brit” came to Canada, transplanted via a decade spent in France, to live in Montreal, Quebec.  My language, cultural, and religious distinctions, made me a unique fit in La Belle Province of the late 1960’s.

u2_2099455aFor me, U2 has and continues to push the envelope, as individuals, as a band with a unique sound, and as people who are trying to make a difference in the world.  They certainly pushed my buttons early on and still know how to provoke and engage, not for the sake of provoking, but to actually engage, converse, and call on others to partner and work together to make our world a better place.

The Transcendence Of U2 And Their Worldview And Ethic

U2_OctoberSo, I think down deep, back in 1981, when I started to listen to U2, it reflected my own “divided soul”, the anguish of two parts, the dichotomy that seemed irreconcilable, being a lad born in Ulster, but “Irish” and Protestant, and seemed to never have the possibility of coming to a peaceful co-existence and acceptance of one and the other.  I know as I listened to and read about the lads from Dublin, the mixture of Catholic and Protestant, and the mix of both sub-cultures, even in mixed marriage, revealed to me that there were those who could not only co-exist, but also thrive, and live as “life changers”.  Over the years it was that “transcendence” over and above the troubled times that wooed me to the depth of character, and the music and passion for social justice and change that was part of the U2 DNA.

bonoI will be the first to admit, that U2 was at first both a threat to my understanding of my ethnic identify, diversity and my values and beliefs.  Over time they won me over by their constancy and vibrancy in living out a worldview of acceptance and understanding and respect, and working toward peaceful solutions for peace and social justice in Ireland, Northern Ireland and the world, especially the Third World.  They modeled what it was to be both a “Christ follower” and “world changers”. They were raw, and they were real, flesh and blood, and no syrupy religious tones, but an explicit declaration of a love for Jesus Christ, that reflected the character of Jesus, in embracing and loving and helping the people of the world.  That was, and that is, my “kind of Christianity”.  So, I became a more devoted “Jesus follower” and also a more dedicated fan of the band as it attempted to bring healing to the world.

Songs of Innocence:  The Hoopla Over Songs of Innocence And It’s Magical Appearance In My iTunes Account

U2_Songs_of_Innocence_coverThe hoopla and fury caused by the release of their latest album, Songs of Innocence, as an Apple Music “free” download, to all Apple hardware owners, even if they didn’t ask for the album, they got it downloaded in their iTunes account, really was both a master stroke of publicity for U2, but also filled with controversy and derision because of it.  Now it seems to have died down a bit, and thankfully so.

When that album appeared in my iTunes, I could not figure out how it got there.  In the midst of all the noise and racket from all the naysayers and all the critics, just made me not take notice and it put me off from listening to the album.  I put it off for some time.  Then one day I put some songs on my iPad and iPod, and I hit that proverbial “sync”, and all of a sudden, Song of Innocence appeared as an album on both the iPod and iPad.  I still did not listen to it right away, but it peaked my interest.  I do have ALL of their albums, the British ones, the Irish ones, and the North American ones.  Too many albums to count.  But I have them and I usually pick a selection of albums or create a particular U2 playlist that I want to listen to and off I go with it.  This time, all I had was Songs of Innocence.  So, if I wanted that U2 sound, that would be the album I would have to listen to.

So here are some of my thoughts on some of the tracks on the album.

ramonesTRACK #1:  The Miracle (Of Joey Ramone). Many of the critics of U2 have said that the band has rested on its laurels and easy formula for success and when you listen to the first track, “The Miracle (of Joey Ramone)”, you get the feeling that maybe they have.  But knowing the hard work and the way that U2 puts a thematic album together, and the importance of it all fitting together in the presentation and sound, you can understand why U2 did what they did.  In a big way it is a tribute to one of their greatest influences, The Ramones, and it is there on the very first track, which speaks volumes about the heart and attitude of U2.  They know who they are and where they come from, and they know the people and bands that have influenced them, and for them it was a time of “innocence” before being plunged into the world of popular music.  The song it in its tested, tried and true form, with all the appropriate “U2 sounds” and “effects” and the lyrics are lined up and laced the same way. True, it is the same “formula” but it is U2 after all.  I can’t be critical of the song, I know what it is, and what it means to the band, and that is good enough for me.  The lyrical and musical development of the song is a catchy song for the first song of the album.  The opening vocals evoke that “U2 brand” and identifying markers.  But for me the lyrical content and expression is solid and the chorus of the song is one that could apply to those who are journeying a journey of “faith” of “discovery” of the bigger questions of life, and Bono’s words evokes his own memories of his journey.  I can relate and identify with that sense of “life as pilgrimage” in these words:

I was young, not dumb
Just wishing to be blinded
By you, brand new
And we were pilgrims on our way

THE MIRACLE OF JOEY RAMONE

I was chasing down the days of fear
Chasing down a dream before it disappeared
I was aching to be somewhere near
Your voice was all I heard

I was shaking from a storm in me
Haunted by the spectres that we had to see
Yeah, I wanted to be the melody
Above the noise, above the hurt

I was young, not dumb
Just wishing to be blinded
By you, brand new
And we were pilgrims on our way

I woke up at the moment
When the miracle occurred
Heard a song that made some sense
Out of the world
Everything I ever lost
Now has been returned
In the most beautiful sound I’d ever heard

We got language so we can’t communicate
Religion so I can love and hate
Music so I can exaggerate my pain
And give it a name

I was young, not dumb
Just wishing to be blinded
By you, brand new
And we were pilgrims on our way

I woke up at the moment
When the miracle occurred
Heard a song that made some sense
Out of the world
Everything I ever lost
Now has been returned
In the most beautiful sound I’d ever heard

We can hear you, hear you
We can year you
We can hear you, hear you

I woke up at the moment
When the miracle occurred
I get so many things I don’t deserve
All the stolen voices
Will someday be returned
The most beautiful sound I’d ever heard

Your voices will be heard
Your voices will be heard

SONGWRITERS
CLAYTON, ADAM / EVANS, DAVE / HEWSON, PAUL DAVID / MULLEN, LARRY

U2-Song-California-There-Is-No-End-To-Love-Santa-Barbara-Mission-At-Rocking-Gods-House1-300x180TRACK #3 California (There is No End To Love).  When you have been doing something a long time, you become what they like to call a “craftsman” at what you do.  When it comes to the creative arts, be it music or fine arts, that is at the core of being the best you can be at what you do.  U2 has been defining itself by being the best at what they are and what they do, and the blend of the lyrical content, the vocals, harmonies, and instrumentation, all come together under the guidance of the producer, you know you have crafted what only you can craft. I found this track, track number 3, perfectly positioned on the song list, as it seems to be one of those “bridge songs” that lends itself well to the rest of the journey through the album.  “California (There is No Other Love) has some great guitar parts where the Edge does what only the Edge can do, and it all seems a tad of stretch for the usual type of guitar work, but it does work.  It is  punchy and comes at you.  The synthesizers complements the song and are just gorgeous to listen to.  The rhythm section is in its proper place and complements the other parts of the track.  It all fits and blends well together.  Bono is his usual self with the vocals, and does not overdo it, and is just right for this song and its sound and message. When I first heard the song it startled me for its “new sound” impact it has on me.  I guess I have bene conditioned to think in that proverbial “U2 category” of song, and this song breaks that idea, and this unique song really is a well put together song, where all those years of crafting their craft, U2 really comes together and delivers a great song.

California (There is No End To Love)

Santa Barbara, Santa Barbara
Barbara, Santa Barbara
Barbara, Santa Barbara
Barbara, Santa Barbara
Barbara, Santa Barbara
Barbara, Santa Barbara
Barbara, Santa Barbara
Barbara, Santa Barbara
Barbara, Santa Barbara
Barbara, Santa Barbara

California
Then we fell into the shiny sea
The weight that drags your heart down
Well, that’s what took me
Where I need to be
Which is here, out on Zuma
Watching you cry like a baby
California, at the dawn
You thought would never come
But it did like it always does

All I know
And all I need to know
Is there is no
Yeah there is no end to love

I didn’t call you
Words can scare a thought away
Everyone’s a star in our town
It’s just your light gets dimmer
If you have to stay
In your bedroom, in a mirror
Watching yourself cry like a baby
California, blood orange sunset
Brings you to your knees
I’ve seen for myself
There’s no end to grief
That’s how I know

That’s how I know
And why I need to know
That there is no
Yeah, there is no end to love
All I know and all I need to know
Is there is no
Yeah, there is no end to love

Barbara, Barbara
There is no end to love

Oh oh-oh all I know and all I need to know
Is there is no
Yeah, there is no end to love, whoa oh oh oh
We come and go
But stolen days you don’t give back
Stolen days are just enough

SONGWRITERS
CLAYTON, ADAM / EVANS, DAVE / HEWSON, PAUL DAVID / MULLEN, LARRY

everybreakingwaveTRACK #2 Every Breaking Wave.  Perhaps the song that is “most like U2” is “Every Breaking Wave”, and in my opinion it is worth the creation and marketing of this whole Songs of Innocence album.  The lyrics are among the best, and they evoke a response deep within you.  The way the song is sung is soft and gentle and soothing, and yet pulls you along into it.  The lyrics sway you and draw you in.  I find the lyrics to these U2 songs are so rich and full of meaning, and this one is no different.  Songs can be so spiritually alive and this one is no different.  It really brings you to that place of asking yourself that proverbial question, “Is it all worth the risk?” Is it worth the risk to love, to break free and try again.  A great theme and a great song that tugs at your heart and emotions and your will and desire. The song really works well and I find myself hitting the repeat button, especially when driving in my car, with the iPod plugged it.  The whole track is a master production wise and it is very much an anthem  in the proto-typical U2 genre, and it did evoke other great U2 anthems of the past, like “When Love Comes to Town”, “One”, “With or Without You” and “Where the Streets Have No Name”.  I think this song will become one of those kinds of “U2 classics”.

EVERY BREAKING WAVE

Every breaking wave on the shore
Tells the next one there’ll be one more
And every gambler knows that to lose
Is what you’re really there for

Summer I was fearless
Now I speak into an answer phone
Like every fallen leaf on the breeze
Winter wouldn’t leave it alone
Alone

If you go
If you go your way and I go mine
Are we so
Are we so helpless against the tide
Baby, every dog on the street
Knows that we’re in love with defeat
Are we ready to be swept off our feet
And stop chasing every breaking wave

Every sailor knows that the sea
Is a friend made enemy
And every shipwrecked soul knows what it is
To live without intimacy

I thought I heard the captain’s voice
But it’s hard to listen while you preach
Like every broken wave on the shore
This is as far as I could reach

If you go
If you go your way and I go mine
Are we so
Are we so helpless against the tide
Baby, every dog on the street
Knows that we’re in love with defeat
Are we ready to be swept off our feet
And stop chasing every breaking wave

The sea knows where are the rocks
And drowning is no sin
You know where my heart is
The same place that yours has been
And we know that we fear to win
And so we end before we begin
Before we begin

If you go
If you go your way and I go mine
Are we so
Are we so helpless against the tide
Baby, every dog on the street
Knows that we’re in love with defeat
Are we ready to be swept off our feet
And stop chasing every breaking wave

SONGWRITERS
CLAYTON, ADAM / EVANS, DAVE / HEWSON, PAUL DAVID / MULLEN, LARRY

u2-5-iris-hold-me-closeTRACK #5 Iris (Hold Me Close).  Maybe the song that I find most riveting is the song “Iris (Hold Me Close)”, which had all the essentials of what would for me be considered a masterpiece musically, lyrically and emotionally.  This is Bono’s song about his mother, Iris, who passed away when he was 14.  This song really reveals the talent in lyrical content and musical development, as the song writing is superb.  It is riveting because it is so intensely personal and it is “out there” provoking our own emotional responses to its theme.  I know for all of us who have lost a loved one, it will be all the more reminiscent and evoking of those emotions and our broken hearts at losing one that was and still remains so dear to our hearts.  Bono here evokes those same emotions.   When Bono starts with that guttural voice, there is no hope in it.  It really evokes the depth of loss and despair.   Bono has the aptitude and vocal strength and range to change the whole atmosphere of a line with his vocals, and the inflections of his voice.  He does that here.  He moves to a place of greater light and hope as he comes out of the despair, seeing a memory or a vision of his departed Iris.  The rest of the band complements where Bono is going with this part of the song. The next part of the track, Bono, in his own unique style and sound, manages to make this grown man cry.  Yes, I cried.  Bono’s voice becomes anguished in his sorrow and grief, and you feel it down deep inside of you.  I recalled the agony and grief of my own loss, of losing our daughter Carragh.  I felt that pain in my soul when Bono sang that lyric, “Hold me close, hold me close and don’t let me go.”  The lyrics in this song show that healing takes time, and we can all have a measure of healing, but there is still the anguish and disappointment of having lost a love one.  I know that from my own loss, and I see it here in how Bono longs for his mother. The song picks up and lifts all of us up with it, even in the midst of remembering a tragic loss like this.  The lyrics are melancholic but they are filled with a hope, as Bono recalls the vision of his mother as a boy.  Another element of this song that powerfully impacts is Bono’s deep personal inward world being exposed for all to see, including his own sense of guilt at Iris’ passing, and if her death was his fault.  Bono shows himself to be a man with a troubled and injured soul, but men as they age become more soulful and reflective of their lives and the impact of their life on the lives of those most precious to them.  I can identify with this part of a man’s journey, and this too is perhaps why I readily identify with this album and this song in particular.  There is a lot going on in this song and I will be frequently going back to it again and again, and I will likely tear up each time.

IRIS (HOLD ME CLOSE)

The star that gives us light
Has been gone a while
But it’s not an illusion
The ache in my heart
Is so much a part of who I am

Something in your eyes
Took a thousand years to get here
Something in your eyes
Took a thousand years, a thousand years

Hold me close
Hold me close and don’t let me 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

Iris, Iris

Once we are born
We begin to forget
The very reason we came
But you I’m sure I’ve met
Long before the night
The stars went out
We’re meeting up again

Hold me close
Hold me close and don’t let me 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

Iris, Iris

The stars are bright
But do they know
The universe is beautiful but cold
You took me by the hand
I thought that I was leading you
But it was you made me your man
Machine, I dream where you are
Iris standing in the hall
She tells me I can do it all
Iris wakes to my nightmares
Don’t fear the world
It isn’t there

Iris playing on the Strand
She buries the boy beneath the sand
Iris says that I will be the death of her
It was not me

Iris, Iris
She said free yourself to be yourself
If only you could see yourself
Free yourself to be yourself
If only you could see

SONGWRITERS
CLAYTON, ADAM / EVANS, DAVE / HEWSON, PAUL DAVID / MULLEN, LARRY

Concluding Remarks.  If you are a casual U2 fan, give it a listen.  Don’t go by the critics initial reaction to the “free” album “forced on people” on iTunes.   These are my thoughts and insights and opinions, and I am the first to admit that I am a biased U2 fan.  These particular songs on Songs of Innocence are the ones that for me stand out and the reasons why.   I may do a review of the remainder of the album at a later time.

~ Sam, a lad from Belfast, transplanted and living in Waterloo, Canada.

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About Sam Buick

A lover and disciple of Jesus Christ. Married to my best friend, Lori-Anne. Father to 3 incredible daughters, Carragh, Caitlin and Erinn, and sons-in-law Alex, and Stephen Davis. An avid reader, a Droid user, a Mac addict, a lover of footy ball and football (there is a difference), and hockey. Once a soldier. Once a youth worker. Once an ordained minister. Once a claims adjuster. Once a charismatic, now a pacifist. A disciple of Christ, Gospel of grace proclaimer, pursuing union with Christ. There is only one way to God, and that is through Jesus Christ. Jesus unites, dogma divides.
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