U2’s Songs of Innocence: more than corporate noise?

U2 has provided a musical and spiritual environment for me - and millions of people like me – in which to process global, political, interpersonal, emotional, ethical and theological issues together, in an aesthetic way. They’ve been so much more than just another rock band. Against all odds and inspired by a uniquely passionate and ecumenical faith in Jesus, they set out to change the world and did. Ever since word of a new project – rumored to be named after Psalms 120 through 134, the Songs of Ascent - started to spread during their 360 Tour I have been eagerly anticipating their next release.

This week my favorite band both thrilled and disappointed me at exactly the same time. I’m dizzy. I need to sit down.

This week U2 released an album entitled Songs of Innocence for “free” - with Apple Inc. picking up the tab. In fact, the band appeared at Apple’s new product announcement to unveil that their new album was already available on my computer or iPhone, ready for me to download. I was shocked. I was excited. I was bothered. They put an album on my computer without my permission? I’m glad Kanye West didn’t know that was an option!

Is this a watershed moment in modern music history? Is the era of paying for music over? Is there a new privacy permission switch I need to turn off on my phone? What is going on here?

Actually, I don’t think this particular move is revolutionary or generous. I’m happy to be listening to new music by U2, but I’m troubled. It’s not the “free” part that bugs me, though. It’s the Apple part. Big albums are released every week through Spotify or Beats for “free.” The only difference here is that you have to have an Apple account, a Beats account or a membership to U2.com to get Songs of Innocence prior to its normal release next month. This sponsorship by Apple is about marketing the slagging iTunes store, giving Beats (now owned by Apple) an advantage over Spotify for a month and using a stunt to get people’s attention. This may have been the only way for U2 to achieve the kind of cultural domination to which they have become accustomed. It’s too bad, though, because the music is actually quite good. Giving a project of this emotional and spiritual depth to Apple feels like throwing pearls before swine.

For the most part the songs here reflect on the band’s formative years musically, politically and spiritually. They riff on the artists that inspired them as kids and ruminate on tragedies such as Irish violence and the loss of Bono’s mother when he was a teen. “Song for Someone” is a beautiful love ballad; “California (There Is No End to Love)” does its best to shimmer like a Beach Boys song. “Raised By Wolves” and “Volcano” turn up the heat and the volume and “Sleep Like a Baby Tonight” gets all ambient and electro. The sonic palette is mostly core U2: expansive, hooky and enthusiastic. The tones are flawless and Bono’s wonderfully imperfect voice is in fine form. The lyrics are interesting, challenging, poetic and sincere - just like we expect. The bottom line is that U2 is still a great band and Songs of Innocence is a strong album. This is why it is so disappointing that it feels like little more than a “value add” for a new iPhone.

To Apple, music is just the stuff that makes people want better gadgets. To U2, music has been much more. The deeper spiritual truths are pulsing throughout this collection, but it’s hard not to feel like my heroes just became “content” for Apple and blockers for Beats. I’m sure the iPhone 6 and the Apple Watch are cool, but Songs Of Innocence is art! Right? With all of the madness in the world right now we need a great U2 record. Don’t we?

The dizziness is coming back.

As beautiful as this collection is, I’m having a hard time hearing it through the corporate noise. I’m holding out hope that over time these songs will transcend the cheap way they were presented to me. I’ve never had a problem combining the Gospel with rock and roll. But with Apple?

I wish it could be enough for U2 to be one of the best bands in the world, instead of needing to remain one of the biggest bands too. If they can’t dominate without corporate sponsorships maybe they should just go back to playing clubs. I’d be there.

Comments (13)

Leave a Comment

U2 is the biggest band on the planet. They have always pushed the envelop be it technology, live shows, religion, culture or genre’s.  They should sold 500M copies of their album before it releases on 10/13.  Apple bought it as a gift to their customers to kick off their new devices. I would rather buy the LP and have a download card where I could choose iTunes or another format. 

The internet, not Apple or Napster changed the landscape for music format and brought a whole new generation on board with music new and old.  I remember Radiohead gave away their album for donation only a couple years back.

The rumor is that Apple paid $30M to U2. That would be 6 cents per album if my math holds. It’s not a gift, it’s a marketing ploy. You have to use the iTunes store to get it - or have a Beats account. We’ll get a chance to buy it next month - with more songs added.

Even before the internet - COMPUTERS changed music. Once they figured out how to turn analog sounds into zeros and ones it was only a matter of time. It’s not just music, either. Photos? Video? Movies? it’s all just “content” for the computer companies and the bandwidth providers. Even our friendships and conversations and ideas and prayer requests are all fodder for the machine. It seems OK now - but I don’t like where this is heading. I fear we have entrusted too much of our lives to these corporations and we will pay a price.

The medium is the message.

It was ironic when U2 lampooned our corporate culture on the Zoo TV tour. It’s not ironic anymore and they aren’t lampooning it. They’re at risk of becoming the very fodder they once mocked. The most frustrating part is that the songs here demonstrate that they are STILL better than this.

I am flat broke, and going through lots of crazy stuff right now. I am just excited to be getting new music from my favorite band for free. I don’t care who paid for it, or what their motives are.

While I am less concerned with the methods of delivery (God can use anyone/anything for His purposes, though my opinion of Apple is about on par with yours), your last paragraph nails it for me. I am not sure why Bono has often hinted that U2 would fold if they were (in their own estimation) no longer relevant or the biggest band in the world. This “all or nothing” approach in worldly terms has been the one thorn in my side when it comes to embracing U2 and all that it does and represents. Better to keep going and giving it to those who want to hear your music rather than cease just because the numbers of those doing so are no longer a plurality. I realize U2 are not a ministry but so much of what they do does minister to people. Pulling the plug because of public indifference, perceived or actual, seems silly when the initial reason for doing what they do was to make music in objection to the indifference that existed due to their not being known. I am probably not wording this as well as I intend because it is more an emotional argument for me than a logical one. I guess I would ask Bono (& The Edge, Larry, & Adam, if they feel the same way) what he’s doing “it” for anymore.

“flagging itunes store” - not sure where you get that idea. Last year music of all format types fell. And Apple’s sales fell a bit too. But Apple increased its share of the total music market selling 46% of all albums. So it is hard to think that the basic idea of the article, that U2 was a way to prop up a dying market, is actually real.

Instead this is more like, the world’s most popular music store can actually afford to pay the world’s most popular band to create an album to give away to its customers in celebration of its market dominance.

No snark: I genuinely don’t understand this.

Is this somehow “more corporate” than distributing music the ol’ fashioned way, like Mariah Carey or Nickelback or Foreigner used to? Sony, MTV, or Tower Records, or Walmart? How so?

And I love John Thompson, from back in the days of True Tunes News. But it struck me, reading the Washington Post critic’s rant on this yesterday (this giveaway is “dystopian”, etc.) that these music reviewers get THEIR music for free. I’m sure John’s gotten hundreds of CD’s sent to him over the years.

The Washington Post guy doesn’t pay for his music, likely EVER. But when WE get free music well… chaos. Awful. Dystopia. Let us eat cake, I guess.

I don’t feel terribly violated by getting access to the cloud to download this. I still have to opt-in. I don’t understand the “It’s on my computer without my permission”-type complaints. It actually occupies 0 MB on my phone, for example, unless I download it, just like any other album i might not want. So what’s the problem, again…?

Too many people invited to the free party?

The article reads like a typical bash the corporation - down with capitalism post that’s quite popular these days.

My feeling on listening to the album was quite the opposite. I love U2, I admire Apple and was simply quite joyful they both wanted to let me own the album for free.

Whether Apple really paid or not and what they paid is irrelevant. U2 made a business transaction with Apple that both parties were happy with.

Would it be any different if I paid for 500m copies & gave them away?

Did Apple make it a marketing ploy? Maybe, but the only reason it’s marketing because most people will react positively to it - which the aim of a good campaign.

In terms of iTunes the album is not automatically on your device, is in no way invading privacy and you have total choice to accept a free gift or not.

Personally don’t get why any of this is an issue.

Thanks Brant. I do think it’s different in one critical way (at least.) Music companies, at least theoretically, are primarily about creating, promoting, and selling music. Apple is a computer company and music is simply fodder for their true products. While there is certainly a lot of music out there these days that is not worth worrying about, U2 has always had a certain gravitas and value for me. My concern is that this stunt has inadvertently cheapened music itself and has reinforced the tech companies long-term mantra that “music should be free.” I know Bono has spoken to that in some interviews - which tells me he at least realizes the potential too - but the stunt is still louder and that is what I was reacting to. It feels like the Art Vs. Commerce balance tilted in the wrong direction this week.

Also - it’s not the “free” part that bothers me per se. Millions of albums are available for “free” every week through Spotify and Beats and YouTube. I completely understand the evolving model of fans paying for access over ownership. I actually think that is pretty exciting. This isn’t about that, though. It’s about art - which has an intrinsic value of its own - being reduced to a loss-leader or marketing gimmick in the service of another product. It is also about my frustration with U2’s need to be HUGE instead of just excellent. This is certainly not the first example of that - just the most bothersome. They are big enough to use this to their advantage, but the lingering implications might make it more difficult for the next generation of potentially world-changing artists to get any traction. If Apple or Comcast or Doritos or GM become the record companies of the future we will not be well served artistically or spiritually.

The more I listen to Songs of Innocence the more I like it - and the more I feel disappointed that the circus around it might cheapen it. Sure - 500 Million people have access to it. If it turns out that only 5 million bother to listen to it does that make it a failure? It shouldn’t - but with $100M stakes it will. I have loved U2 since I was 12 years old - back when none of my friends at school knew who they were or cared. I love the impact they have on the world. I love the passion they have consistently modeled for social justice and Gospel thinking. I’m still rooting for them - but this week disappointed me. I don’t think they need Apple or anyone else to prop them up. And if they do - that is a whole other problem. I just wish the story could be about them being the BEST band in the world and not just the biggest. BIG is over-rated. It’s also a myth.

Their ambition has always been a part of who they are. They wanted, and want, to be the biggest rock band in the world and they are unapologetic about it. It’s part of what I admire about them…no false pretense. There is no “corporate noise” here. They found a way to get paid as a musician in a day and age when it is increasingly hard to do so. The fact that they did so while still producing great art is a testament to their musical talent and business savvy. Where is it written that the two have to be exclusive?

Ever since the invention of devices able to record voice and music, there have been new and innovative ways to market it. Remember the latest Archies or Monkees song you had to cut out from the back of your Sugar Puffs or Apple Jacks cereal box? Yeah, I do. I will say this John, if this were the latest album by The Violet Burning, 77s Starflyer, etc I would be rejoicing in this merger and potential audience reached and I think so would you. So what was the problem again with the art? lol

Loading More Comments


Leave a comment, Guest

You are welcome to leave a comment, guest. Please note, all comments are moderated by our staff. Your name and email address are required fields.
You are encouraged to create an account for additional benefits.

Why create an account?
* denotes required field.
Image Type: jpg, gif, or png.
Max file size: 50kb. Max dimensions: 100px by 100px.

See the latest in: