October 16, 2014

KIRSHNER | Remember U2

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By ELIE KIRSHNER

Last month, U2 released a new album, Songs of Innocence; it wasn’t very good. The tracks were unremarkable, and each song sounds incredibly similar to the one directly before it. Perhaps worse, the album was automatically added to your iTunes library thanks to a very lucrative deal between U2 and Apple. Many other reviewers who greeted the album with unchecked fury have detailed these observations at length, and thus I will not belabor them here. I do not share their rage, but at the same time, it is hard to disagree with the consensus view of the album. I understand the reasoning: Songs of Innocence is far from great, its production could be considered a sellout by the band, and its automatic “gift to you” addition to your library was almost certainly caused by “a drop of megalomania” (as Bono eloquently stated in a recent interview). In spite of this unfortunate reality, it is important that we don’t let a phenomenal musical career be sabotaged by an uninspired final stage.

Unfortunately, Apple’s senior vice president, Eddie Cue estimated in an interview with Billboard that “over 81 million Apple customers experienced Songs of Innocence,” and “prior to this, 14 million customers had purchased music from U2 since the opening of the iTunes Store in 2003.” If anything, don’t allow this album to be your only exposure to the band; it doesn’t do anyone justice.

So, go ahead, be mad, just purely annoyed or even feel betrayed by Songs of Innocence, but remember this is one album in an otherwise exceptional career filled with exceptional albums and unforgettable songs. Let’s take a moment to remember several U2 songs from the past few decades that, if they do not calm your rage, may at least remind you why you cared in the first place.

Early U2 favorites include “Sunday Bloody Sunday” and “New Year’s Day.” “Sunday” is one of Bono’s first forays into serious issues. He sings about the omnipresence of tragedy and hopes for a more peaceful future, calling out: How long/how long must we sing this song/ in his inimitable voice that always seems clear in your mind. “New Year’s Day” is a classic, with a chorus combining passionate vocals from Bono and lead guitarist, The Edge, whose signature guitar sound serves as the perfect complement.

It is difficult, even impossible, to choose favorites among the great songs of U2, but personally I have always been particularly moved by two songs: “Stuck In a Moment You Can’t Get Out Of” and “One.” “Stuck In a Moment,” a deceptively pained song with gospel influences that expresses deep regret over what Bono wishes he had said to a friend who had recently committed suicide.

And if the night runs over/And if the day won’t last/And if our way should falter/Along the stony pass/It’s just a moment, this time will pass.

“One,” a deeply emotional and uniting song, features Bono’s voice cutting through the darkness as he wails: One life/But we’re not the same/We get to/Carry each other/Carry each other/One life/One…/

The song ends with the final stretching, lasting, call of “one” to the audience, and Bono flashes a thumbs up to the crowd and walks away.

In addition to the quality of their songs and albums, U2 has always boasted energetic, emotional and passionate performances at their concerts. From the gripping emotive performances of “One,” “Kite” and “With or Without You,” to the jump-up-and-down-race-around-the-stage excitement of “Beautiful Day,” “Walk On” and “Where the Streets Have No Name.” U2 has never failed to touch and invigorate their audiences.

Remember these moments; remember those songs. Remember U2, not Songs of Innocence.

Elie Kirshner is a freshman in the College of Arts and Sciences. He may be reached at ek554@cornell.edu.