Haters gonna hate. Plenty are on record, courtesy the un-edited, minimally reflective, pathologically non-insightful Internet Collective. I am old enough to remember when U2 was edgy; yesterday, they released their new album in the least edgy way possible, at a corporate shindig (it recalls the Rolling Stones playing Start Me Up at Microsoft’s Windows 95 rollout.) But c’mon. U2/Apple gave the new album away to something like 500 million people. They wouldn’t have sold that many, but they could have sold a lot. The only rational complaint here might come from those who prefer to steal the music they want, instead of having it deposited on their computers against their will.
With that said, Songs of Innocence is a boring album. Bono says the band started with strong melodic structures, which they turned over to something like a hundred producers, none of whom use their given names. Flood, Danger Mouse, etc. have taken those “strong melodic structures” and made them entirely generic, and at least to my ear, soporific. U2 now sounds like the analogue of the corporate entity that sponsored this rollout – professional, polished, two steps behind ‘edgy’ (i.e. ‘safe.’)
You can’t deny their chops, or what they’ve accomplished. War (1983) is an angry masterpiece, The Joshua Tree (1987) is fabulous pop, and Achtung Baby (1991) put them in the stratosphere. I loved How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb (2004), but they were already repeating themselves. Still, their concert spectacles are first rate (U2360 At the Rose Bowl (2010) is astonishing, and also kind of boring.) And Songs of Innocence is anything but (innocent). As corporate theater, it’s in the same league as Cats – not worth the energy to despise, but also not worth the time of anyone who cares about music.