My rule of thumb with U2 albums is that the ones that take longer to get into usually end up as favourites, with a couple of exceptions like The Joshua Tree which was stunning on first listening and still sends a shiver up my spine. I'll post a review once I've had a few listens to Songs of Innocence.
The reviews I've read so far have been positive and informative about the background to the tracks, however, one thing struck me as odd. In the New York Times review John Pareles lists what inspired U2 as musicians and songwriters in the first place:
During its five years between albums, U2, which released its first recording in 1979, publicly pondered how to stay relevant. Its solution, on “Songs of Innocence,” is to reimagine its young, retrospectively innocent selves and recall what fired them up: family, neighbors, lovers, street action and of course, music. Liner notes by Bono, the band’s lead singer and main lyricist, fill in many of the back stories, describing the songs as “first journeys.”All well and good but something was missing from the list of what fires U2 up and that something is Faith. Faith has always been there in U2's music either obliquely or explicitly and I don't think this album is any exception. Pareles draws attention to Bono's cover notes for the album but I wonder whether he read them carefully enough, or was there a particular reason he didn't want to reference this aspect of U2's influences? Bono is quite open in explaining the place of faith in his background. He writes about Cedarwood Road the subject of one of the tracks:
The Rowans at No.5 had a cherry blossom tree that was the most luxurious thing in the world to me. That family were like an old testament tribe. I learnt a lot from them. The depth and deep disclosures of the scriptures. In their company I saw some great preachers who opened up those scary black bibles and made the word of God dance for them, and us. Sometimes I would think it should be the other way round. One minute you're reading it, next minute you're in it. Lou Reed, God rest his soul, said you need a busload of faith to get by. That bus was full of Rowans and I was on it.And the lyrics are a bit of a give away. The Troubles:
God knows it's not easy, taking on the shape of someone else's pain. God now you can see me, I'm naked and I'm not afraid. My body's sacred and I'm not afraid.Or Song for Someone:
And I'm a long way from your Hill of Calvary. And I'm a long way from where I was and where I need to be...One of the strengths of Bono's writing is that faith doesn't get an easy ride in U2 songs, recognising the tensions and all too apparent failings confronting the individual and the church. Sleep Like A Baby Tonight takes on the appalling reality of child abuse in the church. And Bono slips in an uncomfortable line in Every Breaking Wave directed at himself but a challenge for those of us who preach:
I thought I heard the captain's voice, It's hard to listen while you preach...So a simple plea to reviewers. If you are going to explore U2's influences, don't leave out something which is clearly at the heart of their music, even if it does make you feel uncomfortable.