Sunday, October 05, 2014

Ravi & Mark Vs. Songs Of Innocence

Consider the first chat Ravi and I had about "Songs Of Innocence" to just be the opening act.  Now we're diving into the album track-by-track!

Mark: The Miracle....I dig it a lot.

Ravi: It's clearly an arena opener, caters to the classic U2 fan, sets the stage for the whole "why does one join the circus?" motif

Mark: It's a song that's about how great it is to hear a great song.  Not a stretch to say that the feelings the guys felt about the Ramones is the way you, me and millions of others felt when they first heard U2.

Ravi: Yep. I like it - solid track to kickstart things

Mark: This is the high-energy rocker they like as a first single, and needless to say, it's way better than Get On Your Boots

Ravi: Yeah - in all respects: I know what it's about, the drum part is classic Mullen hammering away at 16th notes, and Edge actually plays his guitar (Adam presumably does something also)

Mark: According to the liner notes, Adam Clayton is U2's bass guitarist.  Fun fact!

Ravi: Haha poor Adam. Every time I hear him talk all I can think of is The Simpsons ("Can I come?" ... "No")

Mark: Apparently after that episode, Adam said he had tons of fans giving him spoons for his "collection," even though that was just a joke.

Ravi: Well, at least it provided him with some notoriety in his post sobriety incarnation

Mark: Bit of a step down from "the guy who's engaged to Naomi Campbell" to "the guy with the spoon collection"

Ravi: Or "the one guy who has ever missed a U2 gig"

Mark: That's how you know you're ultimately the fourth wheel.  Methinks the show wouldn't have gone on if Bono, Edge, or even Larry had been sidelined like that

Ravi: No kidding.  So once we get past track 1, I am pretty indifferent on Every Breaking Wave or California.  I mean, they're no absolutely horrendous - but there is nothing special about them

Mark: Oh, I beg to differ.  California is one of my favourite tracks on the album.  I love the lyrics, the chorus, the vocal bridge near the end of the song....everything about it is great.  Incredible song to listen to while driving.  EBW is also a good song.  I like how they beefed it up and made it a bit poppier, the original version from 360 was a bit too spare.  (Of course, this can also backfire, as the poppier version of Mercy was lousy.)

Ravi: I mean, I won't turn it off ... but I just see those songs as being in the template that 100s of bands could have produced.

Mark: You're not wrong.  One review described California as 'the best Killers song of all time,' which is fine since I like the Killers.  In a way, it's good to know that U2 can still deliver as good a pop/rock track as anyone without it sounding too cheesy or forced, i.e. not Get On Your Boots.

Ravi: Yeah. Like I said, they're fine songs but it's really in the back half of the album where I began to feel like "OK - this was worth a zillion year hiatus to put together"
(though in reality making the front half "poppier" likely led to some of the more recent delays).  In my view, it's the darker tracks that make this album worth the listen

Mark: True. btw, this seems like a good point to discuss that the production on this album is really good. Everything sounds tight, layered, with a lot of interesting musical stuff going on. Kudos to Tedder, Epworth, Danger Mouse, Gaffney and whomever else chipped in.  It wasn't disjointed, like the multiple producers on HTDAAB

Ravi: The back half, starting around Volcano onwards is where the album really interests me.

Mark: Let's get to Song For Someone first, which is nice but probably my least-favourite track on the album.

Ravi: Again, it's fine. Bono's voice sounds great ... but it almost sounds like U2 parodying a U2 song.  See 1:32 onwards: fabulous U2 parody.

Mark: That's pretty funny, the Roots are awesome.  The physical version of SOI has several acoustic tracks, including one of Song For Someone...I suspect the acoustic mix may bring this one to life

Ravi: You raise an interesting point.  Edge made a passing comment earlier this year how a song is no good if you can't play it on acoustic guitar. Adam has talked about the band putting on "2 different types of shows" ... Additionally, a lot of acoustic covers for SOI have appeared on YouTube and sound great. This all leads me to wonder whether we'll be seeing some acoustic style shows.

Mark: The Stones did a tour a few years ago where they played multiple shows at different venues in certain cities....a laid-back rarities setlist in small theatres, a bigger arena show and then the huge stadium show with all the hits.  U2 certainly has the ability to do something like that, it'd be crazy.  Imagine seeing U2 in a 1000-seat venue and they're busting out random songs like Promenade, or Rejoice, or So Cruel....that would blow my mind.

Ravi: People keep asking how to follow up 360 - seems like a way they could do so and make a splash. Also as we said certain songs work better acoustically. Even Breathe was better acoustically.

Mark: Would Adam or Larry even need to show up to an acoustic show?

Ravi: Larry would cuz it's "his band."  As with Jimmy Fallon, Adam would get a token guitar to hold and pretend to play.

Mark: Man, poor Adam is taking it on the chin here. For all we know, the guy came up with half the melodies on SOI and here we are just ripping him.

Ravi: Haha poor guy. Well, not 'poor' per se ...

Mark: Laughing all the way to the bank!  So, onto Iris, another pretty song that seems very Unforgettable Fire-era

Ravi: Yes - good track. Going back to his mom ... ten years or so after writing a track about his dad.

Mark: Iris, Lemon, Tomorrow, Mofo....U2 has a long tradition of quality songs about Bono's mom.

Ravi: About here the album starts to get interesting.  Til here the standard u2 blueprint is more or less followed ... with some added polish

Mark: While I like the first half a lot more than you, I generally agree....the back half of the album really takes off, whereas most U2 back halves really peter out (ATYCLB) or have just one solid track amidst the petering out (Breathe on No Line, Please on Pop, OOTS on Bomb)

Ravi: Yes I was just about to say the same thing. Normally they come out swinging but here as it goes on the songs get interesting ... for all their rock/pop ballads I think some of U2's finest work comes on their darker tracks, which to me the second half features.  First half is good to me ... just nothing on there that reaaaally wows me to the level of 'greatness' promised.

Mark: This being said, I'm not crazy about's an okay song, but seems a bit thin. I feel like Edge had to re-use the old 'Glastonbury' riff just to pad the thing out.  Put it this way....over the last month, every song on the record has gotten stuck in my head to the point where I find myself humming a track for almost an entire day. This has been true of every song except Volcano. It doesn't have as natural a melody as the other 10 tracks.  It's no "Volcano Girls" by Veruca Salt.......annnnnd, I'm showing my age now.

Ravi: Yeah they tried out a 'rock song you can dance to' ... and clearly the way 'Vol-ca-no" is sung it was made for arenas ... I think its legacy will be cemented based on how it is received live.  This raises an interesting point ... every track is capable of being played live, which is promising.

Mark: Indeed, unlike half of NLOTH, which you could tell just from the record that U2 would never bust a lot of these songs out

Ravi: And two different shows would allow them to play all the album's songs but over two shows .... thus giving fans the hits they expect at a u2 show as well

Mark: I don't think U2 has ever had an album where they've played literally every song live at some point.....SOI could be it

Ravi: Hmmm ... I don't think so either.  Even Joshua Tree I don't think they played "Trip Through Your Wires"

Mark: They played that one semi-regularly on tour, but for JT it was 'Red Hill Mining Town' that never got a live performance. Bono couldn't sing it without wrecking his voice.

Ravi: Yeah you're right.  Acrobat never got played live I believe

Mark: That was the only AB track never played live, which is weird since that song is awesome.

Ravi: We'll see - maybe I won't go crazy on this two show format theory, but it makes sense if they want to play the entirety of their album and do something to make their shows stand out ... they've literally done everything else (simple stage, huge arenas, Zoo TV/Popmart set ups etc)

Mark: Presuming 'Songs Of Experience' is out sometime within the next year (before the tour is over), the two-shows format also leads itself to a natural way to put those songs into the setlist. By that time, they can move some of the better-known SOI tracks into the 'classics' pile

Ravi: Yeah that adds another layer of intrigue

Mark: Anyway, speaking of the live experience, let's move onto a track that feels like it'll absolutely kill at a concert....Raised By Wolves

Ravi: Yes for sure.  THIS is what I have been waiting for.  Fire, passion, Bono screeching, Edge murdering the guitar ... even some noticeable bass!

Mark: Listening to it the first time, I literally said "Holy shit!" when Bono's screech for the chorus intro burst in.

Ravi: This is a track that will unquestionably work well live but also is great just in your apartment

Mark: Not that I've played it while singing and dancing around my apartment. Uh....

Ravi: The song is "different" but not in a clumsy sort of way you alluded that Volcano is "different."

Mark: Volcano sounded like U2 was consciously trying to replicate their Boy/October sound and it didn't quite work.  Raised By Wolves, however, nails that idea completely and feels much more natural

Ravi: Which is why I like this track, Cedarwood Road and SLBT - tracks that on first listen really struck me.  They took what U2 is good at and added some touches from Danger Mouse to take the songs to a new level

Mark: Great point. This is what we were all hoping for from the U2/Danger Mouse collaboration. 

Ravi: You can just see Raised By Wolves in the middle of U2's "political" part of its setlist ... mashed next to Sunday Bloody Sunday, or beforehand.

Mark: Or part of a "Peter Rowan's life" set next to Bad. 

Ravi: Cedarwood Road starts with a nice "The Fly" type feel before moving into the track which I really enjoy.

Mark: Cedarwood Road, great straight-ahead rock song in the tradition of Gone or (a much better) Crumbs From Your Table.  We touched on this during our last chat, but SOI is so greatly enhanced by having a clear narrative and story for the album. Every track is about a specific time in U2's early days....seeing the Ramones, Bono's mom's death, Bono's childhood home, etc.

Ravi: Likely a conscious decision. Their last album was so unfocused I think giving the album(s) a theme really enhanced the quality

Mark: Looking forward to the b-side "Spoons," which is about Adam beginning his collection.  But seriously, the lyrics are much more powerful when they're about these specific incidents rather than the basic universal lyrics about 'love' or 'soul' that have permeated the last several albums

Ravi: As the guys have alluded to - they have umpteen songs on those other topics ... giving the fans more focused tracks gives the album more intrigue.

Mark: There's also universality to be found within those specific topics. Like as we said about Miracle, it's really about the experience of hearing your favourite band no matter who it is, not just the Ramones.

Ravi: Have the boys ever done a track like Sleep Like A Baby? What a tune, and a very provocative topic for U2 - especially with how religious their background is

Mark: It's a great track, it gives you the chills.

Ravi: Also, Bono's voice seems to be in stellar form.  I wonder if he tries those high notes live.

Mark: This is the only one where I could see it *not* being played live because of the vocal demands and because it's such a show-stopper. What would you follow it up with?

Ravi: Unless you ended on this pre encore?

Mark: What a dark ending to the set. I guess you could go SLABT into Until The End Of The World or something.

Ravi: Or if they go real ballsy and END their shows with this song ... they do like their slow tracks to end a concert. But like you said - hella dark ending.  OR if you put this mid set list and follow up with an acoustic of a classic like Desire (to switch it up)

Mark: Wait, so you want to put a song about the church sexually abusing children next to a song called Desire? Um....

Ravi: Oops…perhaps a different song, then.  But yes, your point is very well taken. It's such a powerful tune I think it'd be a shame not to see it live.

Mark: Fun fact: our mutual friend Dave recently (and without prompting) mentioned how much he enjoyed the new album. This is where the iTunes release strategy works, as Dave would've never bought on the album on his own volition.  I bring it up since he particularly enjoyed This Is Where You Can Reach Me Now

Ravi: Yeah - the strategy certainly had its pluses. And yes, that is a solid track.  It's again impressive in that its the 2nd last track and effort appears to have been put into it.

Mark: Definitely. SOI is so deep from top to bottom, it's wonderful.  And then we have The Troubles, which is maybe my favourite song on the album and a kind of song that U2 has never tried to make before.

Ravi: What I loved is that they collaborated with someone whom a large segment of their audience I imagine has never heard of.

Mark: It's cool. Apparently the big pre-release rumour was that there was a duet with Adele (due to the Epworth connection) on the record.

Ravi: Maybe that's been saved for SOE.  U2 love to end with a slow track.

Mark: The Troubles also sounds like the natural concert closer, to boot

Ravi: For sure. And to boot, it won't be an absolute snoozer like Moment of Surrender.

Mark: Bite your tongue! I love that song!

Ravi: It's alright. I just think it failed as a closer ... at least in the 360 setting

Mark: There's nowhere else in the set to put it but at the end, so I guess you're right, U2 was kind of locked into it. Still, I thought it was a great closer...NLOTH didn't have a natural concert-opening track, that was the real issue.

Ravi: There's a very clear opener and closing track for concerts on this record, going back to the idea that this album was much much more focused than NLOTH.  Really?  Breathe to start a show?

Mark: I get the sense that Invisible was going to be one of the first 2-3 tracks but maybe they made it the single since it didn't quite fit the theme as organically as the other songs.....Invisible sounds a bit too polished and 'modern U2' whereas the other ones have a bit of the old 70's/80's sound

Ravi: I sometimes wonder if they had 4-5 Invisible type tunes that were scrapped after reaction to the song, while not terrible, wasn't exactly amazing.

Mark: 'Invisible' is a real grower. I find myself singing it all the time now, whereas initially I thought it was only okay.

Ravi: Apparently Invisible is a secret track at the end of the record if you wait awhile

Mark: A secret track! I love it! How 90's!

Ravi: It's ... invisible, if you will

Mark: *rim shot*

Ravi: Again, Invisible is clearly made for singing live ("There is no them, there's onnnnnly us").  Overall a solid record and good showing from the Boys.

Mark: What's your ranking of the songs?

Ravi: Sleep Like A Baby Tonight, Raised By Wolves, Cedarwood Road, The Troubles, Miracle, This Is Where…, Iris, Volcano, Song For Someone, California, Every Breaking Wave

Mark: Ooh, some interesting crossover and disagreements!  I'd go...

Instant classics: The Troubles, Raised By Wolves, California

Very good: The Miracle, Sleep Like A Baby Tonight, There Is Where…, Iris, Cedarwood Road, Every Breaking Wave

Okay but nothing special: Volcano, Song For Someone

Ravi: Yeah I can live with that - dunno if California is an instant classic but who knows

Mark: I think it'll be terrific live. Now, admittedly it's still early and we'll need more time to let the record sink in, but where does SOI rank amongst U2's other albums for you?

Ravi: I still wrestle with this - top half for sure of the 13, though exactly where remains to be seen.

Mark: At the moment, I'd go far as to say it's top-five. Behind Achtung Baby, Joshua Tree, War and Pop, and that's it. (And I'm one of the few who'd rank Pop that highly on the list.)
Ravi: ATCLB will always make my top 3 even though it fades significantly just because the first 6 tracks are sooooo good.  JT, AB, ATCLB, UF, War currently ... though SOI can sneak up.

Mark: The top-to-bottom depth of SOI really helps it in regards to albums like Rattle & Hum, Unforgettable Fire or ATYCLB, which have a lot of filler alongside the classics.

Ravi: Yeah but man the songs that are good are being played decades later.  They're THAT good.

Mark: That's a very fair point. I can stomach a 'New York' if it means another Beautiful Day.

Ravi: Yeah, "Elvis Presley" is awful, but Bad gives me chills and it was made THIRTY years ago.

Mark: Imagine behind all hyped up to attend a U2 acoustic show, and Bono says "Ok, to start things off tonight, here's 'Elvis Presley & America,' enjoy!"

Ravi: I'd be heading to the beer line ASAP

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