- 09 Sep 14
There may have been rumours, but U2 still took the world by surprise with what is one of rock’s biggest ever coups...
Rumours about U2 and Apple that have been circulating for weeks were confirmed tonight with the remarkable news that their long-awaited new album Songs of Innocence would be distributed free through iTunes.
"About 10 years ago, we began a very deep collaboration with one of the greatest bands of all time,” Apple CEO Tim Cook said, before introducing U2.
The band played 'The Miracle (of Joey Ramone)’, the opening track and first single from the just finalised album – described by Tim Cook as “the greatest single of all time.”
The track, which pays tribute to the influence of the Ramones on the band’s early music, is just one from the new album which revisits the early days of the band and the spirit of Dublin during the late 1970s.
A discussion followed, which teased out the idea that Songs of Innocence could be made available at the touch of a button – and in front of an expectant audience following a 5-4-3-2-1 countdown, Tim Cook did indeed press the button making the album live – and free to iTunes customers across the world.
“You have just witnessed the largest album release of all time,” Tim Cook announced, stating that Songs of Innocence would be available straight away in 119 countries, from the iTunes library.
"It will only be with Apple until mid-October,” Cook said, “so if you want it from Apple, then make sure that you are signed up before then.”
Cook was described as the Zen Master of soft and hardware by Bono, who thanked Apple for their support in making the album available to the world.
"This is incredible for all of us and for our customers,” Cook said – and he was not wrong.
• When it comes to making an impact with the launch of their album, no one does it better than U2, writes Niall Stokes. They have pulled off an extraordinary coup, linking up with Apple to make their new album instantly available to fans all over the world. As it happens it is a great record, in which U2 look to their roots, exploring the time and the place that gave birth to the band, through a series of genuinely remarkable and often highly personal songs.
On an early listen, ‘Iris’ is the stand-out track, a wonderful emotional tour-de-force which is written by Bono as a tribute to his mother: it is hairs-on-the-back-of-the-neck brilliant. ‘Song for Someone’ is also outstanding. With Bono in superb voice, it is the kind of big ballad that will inevitably have people singing along at the band’s shows.
While they have worked with various producers during the album’s gestation, including Paul Epworth, Danger Mouse, Flood and more, Songs of Innocence is defiantly and totally a U2 record. With occasional exceptions, Bono’s vocals are well to the fore throughout; Edge piles on the big chords and twangs brilliantly where appropriate; and in the engine room, Larry and Adam anchor things powerfully, giving U2 their unique centre of gravity.
‘California (There is no End to Love)’ is a certain single: starting with an almost religious choral vocal, it is the most West Coast the band have ever sounded. There is a sense of rapture which marks it as a special moment in the U2 pantheon of great tracks.
‘Volcano’ is a monster: the album’s ‘Elevation’, it's a ball buster of a riff-based anthem that opens with a full-on Stranglers’ style bassline from Adam. Packed with raw, meaty guitar slashes and psychedelic, swelling backing vocals, it is another near-certain centre-piece for their live set.
There’s an urgent rhythmic intro to ‘Raised By Wolves’, a song that mixes a hip hop influence with more cut-glass guitar. Second track ‘Every Breaking Wave’ might be a sage reflection on the band and their music: it opens quietly but explodes into a huge chorus.
On ‘Cedarwood Road’, which is dedicated to Bono’s friend and fellow artist Guggi, U2 look back to the Dublin that shaped them. If it isn’t in the key of E it should be as Edge hits a big open bass string, revving things up for what is a huge rock track, with some brilliant unison vocals to lift the mood.
There’s a touch of Arcade Fire about ‘This Is Where You Can Reach Me Now’, but with some gorgeous bluesy guitar from Edge. The bass is downright funky and the keyboards whisper almost like a musical saw, achieving a haunting, cinematic quality.
The album officially closes with 'The Troubles', a song which sounds like it just might be Bono talking to himself. Modern urban pop, it is one of the more complicated tracks and features a guest vocal by Lykke Li.
Hot Press has also heard a ‘bonus' track that has yet to surface on iTunes. ‘Lucifer’s Hands’ deals with the idea of control – a theme which also crops up on the record. In 'Lucifer’s Hands’, the classic line from ‘Rejoice’ is turned on its head as Bono suggests “I can change the world, but I can’t change the world in me…” A big tough dirty rock track, it will make a fascinating coda to a record that rocks like a demon…
In Ireland the album can be downloaded here