A couple of weeks ago, my wife walked in the door from work; as usual, I was cooking dinner. What was not usual was that I was listening to the new U2 album, Songs of Innocence. Now, it's not unusual for me to be listening to U2, but, you know, Innocence was a surprise, and she only knew about it because I had emailed her, more than slightly excitedly, about the fact that U2 had given it away! I'd been saying that there was a good chance that the next U2 album would be the last CD I ever bought (I'm pretty sure I haven't bought any CDs since their last album, No Line on the Horizon) but, instead of having to go out and buy it, U2 gave it to me! Although I might still have to buy the CD when it's released so that I can take it with me in the car.
But I digress...
So she walked in the door and said, "How is it?"
And I said, "Well, I'm not sure. I'm still getting used to it."
And she, completely understanding what I meant, said, "Ah, yeah. Because it's U2."
I want to make a point here: With other bands, when they release something new, you don't have to "get used to it." You may not know the specific songs, but the sound is almost always the same. This is seldom the case with U2.
Let's flashback to the summer of 1993 and the release of Zooropa. People were pissed. That was not the U2 they were looking for. And that wasn't the first time that had happened. I knew people who had liked pre-Joshua Tree U2 who swore them off when that album came out, people protested the new material on Rattle and Hum because what they'd really wanted was just more of The Joshua Tree. But the reaction to Zooropa was probably the worst. People just hated it.
Well... The worst until now. Which, you know, astounds me. I mean, people are actually offended that U2 gave away Songs of Innocence. Like it physically hurt them in some way. And, of course, the critics and reviewers are ripping it to shreds. And the thing that made me think of all this is because I was reading a review of the album (from Newsweek, I think) in which the reviewer was talking about all of the great things U2 did with Zooropa and Pop and, then, All That You Can't Leave Behind and how, in relation to those albums, how much of a disappointment Songs of Innocence is (including belittling Bono for writing a song about his mother). Of course, my reaction was, "Dude, I was there when Zooropa came out, and I know how much people hated it." Except me and this one friend of mine who I gamed with. We'd listen to it before everyone else got there (he loved "Lemon" and would crank it up and sing it... poorly) and have to listen to them complain as they arrived: "Turn that shit off." So, yeah, I know what people thought of Zooropa at the time and it wasn't that it was a great anything other than, maybe, a steaming turd on the cold ground.
It seems that it has aged well.
Which makes me wonder how people will feel about this one in a couple of years once they've adjusted to another change in U2's sound. As for me, I knew it had won me over the next morning when I got up with one of the songs running through my head. Not that I knew what the song was; I just had this song, the music, in my head. As I busied myself with making breakfast, I started trying to push it out and started humming it trying to figure out what it was. It only took a few minutes for me to realize it was a song from Innocence, so I put it on. Since then, I've had probably half a dozen of the songs from the album bubble up in my head when I'm doing other things, so I know I like it. A lot. There are great lyrics on this album.
Here's the breakdown so far:
My top pick -- "Every Breaking Wave"
It's actually, probably, my #2 song, but it's my wife's favorite, which bumps it to the #1 spot, because it's a very close #2 for me. Favorite line -- "I thought I heard the Captain's voice, but it's hard to listen while you preach."
The close second -- "Song for Someone"
This was the song running through my head that morning. This one starts out with a startling line that I love and just keeps building: "You got a face not spoiled by beauty." I wish I had thought of that line. But my favorite line: "...I'm a long way from where I was and where I need to be."
But the song that really lingers with me a lot the more I listen (though it's still at third) -- "Iris (Hold Me Close)," the song Bono wrote about his mother, which I think is pretty great, but that one reviewer finds offensive that Bono would dare to write a personal song.
My favorite line: "Free yourself to be yourself. If only you could see yourself."
Currently at fourth, because my daughter loves this one -- "Raised By Wolves"
I'm just assuming for the moment that this song is about all the conflict in Ireland when U2 were teens. That's what makes sense to me. Favorite line: "The worst things in the world are justified by belief."
There are some other of the songs vying for attention in my head, too, so it's possible that that list could change. There's a great group of lines, for instance, in "The Miracle (Of Joey Ramone)": "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." This is a great song with which to lead off this album. It's all about how music, how a song, can change your life. That one song that catches in you and changes the way you view the world. For me, that song came from U2. I remember where I was, the very moment I first heard "With Or Without You." I'd never heard a song like that before. And thing is, I wasn't even really listening to the music that was playing. It was just a friend's car stereo that was on as background noise while a bunch of us were hanging out. But that song came on and caught me.
U2 is still catching me. Even when they change their sound, I still come away with their words and their music running through my head. So the reviewers and critics can bash them all they want (and complain about how intrusive it is to be given something completely free (seriously, what the heck?)), but my bet is that once people get over being all irate and offended and actually listen to the album that they will also find songs running in their heads. And at some point, when U2 has changed their sound yet again, some reviewer will be hearkening back to the great Songs of Innocence and wondering why U2 can't do it that way again.