Perhaps you heard. U2 has a new album. You can download it from iTunes for free right now. Go. I'll wait. It's free.
Yes, free. This is what has my mind spinning right now. Bono wrote:
"It’s also free to everyone on iTunes thanks to Apple. To celebrate the ten year anniversary of our iPod commercial, they bought it as a gift to give to all their music customers."
So, free to us thanks to the largesse of Apple. Why would that be? Well:
"We’re collaborating with Apple on some cool stuff over the next couple of years, innovations that will transform the way music is listened to and viewed. We’ll keep you posted. If you like Songs of Innocence, stay with us for Songs of Experience. It should be ready soon enough … although I know I’ve said that before …"
Yesterday's barrage of downloads actually gummed up the works at iTunes. Who knew that it would test the bandwidth like that? It almost crashed the Apple website. Another band I follow, Carbonleaf, suffered the inconvenience of the negative effects on their crowdfunding project with humor. On Facebook they posted, "Due to U2 hogging all of the bandwidth, there was a technical glitch that crashed our pledge site prematurely. IT IS NOW BACK ONLINE TIL MIDNIGHT AND READY FOR LAST MINUTE PLEDGES. Eat it U2."
Welcome to the new musical economy ... or something. One band gives their music away — a corporation payed for it; we subscribers to that corporation's product enjoy the new music for free — while another's crowdfunding efforts are delayed because of the strain on the digital infrastructure.
U2 and Apple are teaming up. They are out to "transform the way music is listened to and viewed." I've a professional stake in this particular proclamation. We'll see what happens. My advice: listen to this album with this statement in mind. Download it with this statement in mind.
U2's hit their stride. The album is a aural sampling of what they do best. It is a nostalgic reflective bit of lyricism. It is spiritual but not religious. It is precisely what four guys in their fifties who are masters of their craft should put out into the world. They aren't inventing or re-inventing. They are perfecting.
I'm not the first to suggest this. Like The Edge's love of reverb, these little reviews are echoing all over one another online. "DOO - Doo - doo. DEE - Dee - dee," Greg Blosser offered his thoughts. Rolling Stone is on it, of course, as are other larger news outlets.
The Guardian: " But the initial impression is that this album sees the band not so much still looking for something that they haven’t yet found, but rather treading old ground without much of a sense of how to move forward."
The Wall Street Journal: "'Songs of Innocence' reveals itself as a pleasing, subtly adventurous work by a great band that knows how to tweak formula and manage risk."
I love the album. U2 has offered up their usual rich soundscape, but harkening back to their post-Punk roots, it's clean, almost stark compared to an album like Achtung Baby.
What they were working on with Dismantling an Atomic Bomb and No Line on The Horizon, they have truly perfected in this offering. Bono's voice is in full display. Larry and Adam are holding down the rhythm with their usual autodidact bravado. The Edge is more restrained. As Greg stated, you hear actual guitars on this album, wood and steel. It's quite beautiful.
Lyrically, Bono and The Edge are doing precisely what they claim. They are sharing the band's past, their memories, their inspirations. The first track is a eulogy to Joey Ramone. With their usual spiritualizing habit, the call the sound of The Ramones to be a miracle.
Some will find this quotidian spirituality to be trite. Others will find it profound. Nothing is new here. Bono writes:
"I hope after listening to our new long player a few times, you’ll understand why it took so long. We really went there … it’s a very, very personal album. Apologies if that gets excruciating… actually, I take that back. No apologies if it gets excruciating. What’s the point in being in U2 if you can’t go there? There is no end to LOVE."
This is the thing about this album. There is nothing new here. If that's what you were hoping for, brace yourself to be disappointed. But if you were looking for something that demonstrates how four guys who have been in the business for 35 years have perfected their craft, then this is the album for you. What's the point of being in U2 if you can't be U2?
To make this all come together, they partnered with veteran producers: "The album was recorded in Dublin, Los Angeles, and New York, and was produced by Danger Mouse, as previously reported, as well as Paul Epworth, Ryan Tedder, Declan Gaffney and Flood."
The gents know precisely what they are doing. They aren't 20-year-old risk takers because they don't need to be.
Personally, I find it beautiful. It's a glorious album. But don't let the music distract you from what they are trying to do with it.
That's the real news. Pay attention to the transformation.
Tripp Hudgins is a doctoral student in liturgical studies at the Graduate Theological Unionin Berkeley, Calif., and is Director of Admissions at American Baptist Seminary of The West. You can read more of his writings on his longtime blog, "Conjectural Navel Gazing; Jesus in Lint Form" at AngloBaptist.org. Follow Tripp on Twitter @AngloBaptist.