U2’s ‘Songs of Innocence’: A Track-by-Track Guide

Rolling Stone (2014-09-09)

U2’s ‘Songs of Innocence’: A Track-by-Track Guide
Here’s what you need to know about the band’s most personal album ever

By Rolling Stone | September 9, 2014

U2 took the stage at Apple’s product-launch press conference in Cupertino today and surprise-released their new album Songs of Innocence with a mere five seconds of warning. The album, which was delivered free to all of Apple’s iTunes users (a half billion of them), is “very personal,” Bono tells Rolling Stone in an exclusive interview. Read his full interview here.

1. The Miracle (of Joey Ramone)
Produced by: Danger Mouse, Paul Epworth and Ryan Tedder
More than any U2 album before it, Songs of Innocence goes deep into Bono and the rest of bandmembers’ teenage years in Dublin in the Seventies. The first song captures the big bang of Bono’s musical awakening: the first time he heard the Ramones. “Everything I’ve ever lost now has been returned,” Bono sings. “The most beautiful sound I ever heard…We were pilgrims on our way.” It sounds like the band are very purposefully not trying to sound like the Ramones here, though – instead, the track starts with powerful, almost “Mysterious Ways”-like burst of guitar from the Edge, and is driven by a lilting Bono melody and an overdubbed vocal refrain.

2. “Every Breaking Wave”
Produced by: Danger Mouse and Ryan Tedder
The biggest classic-U2 ballad on Songs of Innocence. “Wave” was originally slated for Songs of Ascent (the abandoned follow-up to No Line on the Horizon); the band played a radically different, stripped-down version a few times in 2010. They’ve since fleshed it out dramatically, completely re-written the chorus and tinkered with some of the verses. Songs of Innocence isn’t a full-on concept record about the band’s youth – the lyrics to “Wave” appear to deal more adult concerns: a long-term relationship, distractions, and the struggles that come from both: “Are we ready to be swept off our feet?/And stop chasing/Every breaking wave”

3. California (There Is No End to Love)
Produced by: Declan Gaffney, Paul Epworth and Danger Mouse
A bright, mid tempo anthem that begins with layered backing vocals that sound like a homage to the Beach Boys. It’s about the group’s first trip to California in the early 1980s. “California, blood orange sunset brings you to your knees,” Bono sings. “I’ve seen for myself/There’s no end to grief.”

4. “Song for Someone”
Produced by: Ryan Tedder and Flood
A tender song of awkward first love that sounds like it’s about Bono’s wife Ali; the couple first met when Bono was 13 and Ali was 12. If there is a kiss I stole from your mouth,” he sings. “And if there is a light, don’t let it go out.” “Song For Someone” begins with gentle acoustic guitars before gradually building into a “Walk On”-style crescendo.

5. “Iris (Hold Me Close)”
Produced by: Paul Epworth and Ryan Tedder
The most emotionally raw song on the album, “Iris” confronts Bono’s loss of his mother, who passed away after collapsing at his grandfather’s funeral when he was only 14. Bono sings about “the ache in my heart” that “is so much part of who I am.” U2’s first hit “I Will Follow,” from 1980’s Boy, and “Tomorrow,” from 1981’s October, are also about Bono’s mother, Iris Hewson, but “Iris” is from the perspective of a man in his fifties looking back at a mother who has been gone for four decades, and how her loss has shaped his life. “Hold me close,” he sings. “I’ve got your life inside me.”

6. “Volcano”
Produced by: Declan Gaffney
The driving, bass-heavy “Volcano” could be about a young, angry Paul Hewson, wrestling with the death of his mother. “Something in you wants to blow,” Bono yelps. “You’re on a piece of ground above a volcano.”

7. “Raised by Wolves”
Produced by: Declan Gaffney and Danger Mouse
The only overtly political song on the record, this one tells the true story of a car-bombing in Dublin that hit close to home. “On any other Friday I would have been at this record shop, but I cycled to school that day,” says Bono. “The bomb tore apart the street. I escaped but one of my mates was around the corner with his father, and it was a very hard thing for him to witness and I’m not sure he really got over it.”

8. “Cedarwood Road”
Produced by: Danger Mouse and Paul Epworth
Bono grew up on 10 Cedarwood Road in Dublin alongside his friends Guggi Rowan and Gavin Friday, with whom he remains close to this day (“Road” is dedicated to Rowan). “You can’t return to where you never left,” Bono sings on this song about friendship and bittersweet memories, “It was a warzone in my teens/I’m still standing on that street.”

9. “Sleep Like a Baby Tonight”
Produced by: Danger Mouse
Bono briefly brings out his “Lemon”-era falsetto on this haunting song about an unhappy man whose eyes are “as red as Christmas” and who reads “about the politician’s lover” over his morning “toast, tea and sugar.”

10. “This Is Where You Can Reach Me”
Produced by: Danger Mouse
First mentioned by Bono as a contender for the album in a February interview with the L.A. Times, “This Is Where You Can Reach Me” is inspired by a Clash concert that U2 attended in 1977. “We signed our lives away,” Bono sings. “Complete surrender/The only weapon we know.”

11. “The Troubles”
Produced by: Danger Mouse
Another tune name-checked by Bono earlier this year, “The Troubles” was presumed to be another U2 song about the political situation in Northern Ireland, but it’s more about Bono learning to move on from his own problems. Guest singer Lykke Li repeats the refrain “somebody stepped inside your soul”, and Bono reflects on his own redemption: “I have a will for survival/So you can hurt me then hurt me some more/I can live with denial/But you’re not my troubles anymore”

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