Everybody likes free stuff, right? Who wouldn’t like free food, free clothes, free college or free hugs? What about free music? Imagine getting a new U2 album free of charge from iTunes. That would never happen, though, because Apple charges for everything from apps to songs to movies and more. Except this exact thing did happen. In fact, on every iTunes account in the world, the new U2 album Songs of Innocence was placed into the music library for nothing. That is a good thing. Or maybe not.
During Apple’s latest tech unveiling, in which they revealed their new smart watch and the iPhone 6, the company also gave away half a billion free U2 albums, making U2 the most popular band in the world … again. This may be an overstatement, because, while U2 may be the most talked about band right now, they are possibly the most unpopular band among iTunes users.
The last album U2 released, No Line on the Horizon, did not sell well. This recent release is an attempt to get people, especially young people, more interested in their music.
“People who haven’t heard our music, or weren’t remotely interested, might play us for the first time because we’re in their library,” he writes. “And for the people out there who have no interest in checking us out, look at it this way … the blood, sweat and tears of some Irish guys are in your junk mail.”
U2 has partnered with Apple before to sell products, but never quite like this. The goal? To revive the music industry, an outcome that will benefit both parties. And, even if it’s too early to tell who or what has been saved, the release nevertheless made history.
Five hundred million “sales” dramatically trumps the now-runner-up, Michael Jackson’s Thriller, which has roughly thirty million sales to date.
Also, apparently, people are particular about what they put in their music libraries. Some people don’t want to mix Bono with Jay-Z, you know? The real problem wasn’t that people got a free album, but rather, the fact that they couldn’t delete it. After a barrage of complaints, Apple finally broke down and programmed a tool specifically for deleting the U2 album. Bono felt wonderful after that, I’m sure.
The late Steve Jobs said, “People don’t know what they want until you show it to them.” Apple and U2 have shown the people an album. But do they really want it?
The answer is complicated. Let’s face it: U2 has been washed up since the 90s. The only reason they sell is because of their unbelievable success as a rock band in the 80s. It is difficult to remember this as the same band that performed “Sunday Bloody Sunday” and “With or Without You.”
Times change, and so does music. Rock isn’t as popular as it used to be. We saw the same thing with Van Halen in the 90s. Both bands threw away the nastiness and texture rock music used to be about in the 70s and 80s, and transitioned to a half rock, half pop sound that did not strike a nerve with the public.
Songs of Innocence attempts to bring a certain level of rock back by incorporating louder, rougher bass and guitar parts into the songs, and for the most part, it succeeds. Nevertheless, it will never live up to their signature “I Will Follow,” which arguably made U2 the band beloved by rockers all over the world. Also, while the texture of these new songs may be a recall to rock and roll, the voice is still somewhat preachy in the first part of the album. The second half is certainly the stronger and more powerful blast of pure, unbridled rock that the first half failed to capture, which is worthy of applaud.
The album is, simply, the story of Bono’s life as he grew up in a turbulent Ireland. The first song, “The Miracle (of Joey Ramone),” is a tribute to the Ramones impact on Bono, and how they made him realize he could take the world on. In “Iris (Hold me Close),” Bono is singing to his deceased mom.
In “Raised by Wolves,” Bono references a car bomb that exploded in Dublin one night in the 70s, singing, “There’s a man in the corner in a pool of misery/I’m in a white van as a red sea covers the ground/Metal crash, I can’t tell what it is/But I take a look and now I’m sorry I did/5:30 on a Friday night/ 33 good people cut down.”
The album is an honest recording of his efforts to to make it out alive, and to make a difference. Like all rock music, it is a quest to be heard. And, especially after this most recent release, Bono has been heard.
The powerful chords in the album are phenomenal. All parts are meant to be powerful, hard, and emotional. “Sleep Like a Baby Tonight” is a perfect example, bringing first a dramatic, steady beat and then building up to a climactic guitar solo and a spooky, ghost-like overtone, eventually fading back to Bono, exposed except for the beat. The entire attitude of the album is portrayed here, the grit of a difficult battle to emerge and to blow the roof off the world, and to do so through the revival of rock music.
Through Songs of Innocence, U2 wants to return to the sacred halls of rock and roll, and wants as many people as possible to go with them. If the essence of rock n’ roll is what U2 truly wished to accomplish with this album, they have succeeded.