Wednesday 16 January 2019

Some songs of nostalgia and experience from U2

U2 Songs of Innocence (Island)

"Yeah it's a mighty long way down rock'n'roll

From the Liverpool Docks to the Hollywood Bowl.

You climb the mountains and you fall down the holes..."

It was Mott the Hoople's Ian Hunter who first drew attention to the vagaries of pop stardom.

Following a lifetime in Cuban heels, Bono spectacularly confirms Hunter's re-working of John Lydgate's adage "You can't please all of the people all of the time..."

Thirty-eight years creating sparks at the point where adulation collides with disparagement has not diminished U2's ability to generate a bush fire in a blizzard.

This week by creating the most spectacular mail drop in history, with half a billion computer users getting this album for free, whether they like it or not, U2 have whipped up a whole new maelstrom of, on the one hand, giddiness, and on the other, revulsion.

"Spam," bleat the haters. "Junk mail."

"Work of unparalleled genius," trills the sodality.


At a stroke, the band have rendered the very concept of an album review as useful sales aid nugatory, given that over half a billion people will possibly have already heard and formed their opinion by the time this page ends up wrapping your fish'n'chip supper.

Nevertheless, in a week which sees Ireland also celebrate Guinness Book of Records endorsements for Ray Darcy, Hurricane Fly and pupils in Castleknock (the largest gathering of people dressed as Saint Patrick), I'll join in the jollifications and wave a flag for another sensational first.

With the record industry in free-fall, artists have struggled to figure out ways of getting paid for their albums. Prince tried doing a deal with newspapers. Radiohead said, "Pay what you like." But it took U2 to devise their perfect scheme. Apple fork out. They're quids in. And new tunes are always welcome.

Before his death, George Harrison started a trend for veteran rockers to view their past with nostalgic affection. Unfortunately, the sorry When We Were Fab failed to echo the drama or elation of Beatlemania.

Luckily U2 aren't trapped in a similar cocoon of complacency. They've hired new producers. So Danger Mouse, Adele's Paul Epworth and Ryan Tedder (OneRepublic) are probably to blame for a sound that, at times, feels unnecessarily trivial.

Every Breaking Wave is a reminder of how much Coldplay owe U2. The familiar thrum of Adam's bass and Larry's military precision adds reassurance to the heartfelt yearning on Iris.

The band channel their inner Gavin Friday on Raised By Wolves, a narrative about the Dublin bombings of 1974.

Closing track, the ruminative The Troubles, an orchestral-synth groove with guest Lykke Li signposts a potentially creative vein for future exploration.More familiar than strange, these tracks of innocence and experience will comfort fans.


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