We will all remember the distressful day when we opened our iTunes libraries to find a strange new U2 album sitting right at the bottom of it. Apple is making a huge deal out of the fact that it's giving away U2's Songs of Innocence to over 500 million people, but the actual reaction has — much like the reaction to U2's past several albums — been mixed, at best. Apple could have just put Achtung Baby in our libraries and been done with it, but instead we all woke up to a U2 shaped problem that a lot of people say isn't worth listening to. Here's a few words from the critics:
U2 is the first band I ever loved. To this day, I enjoy even its bad albums. Songs of Innocence isn’t a bad album, exactly, but it’s among U2’s bottom five records. [...] It justifies its own existence, but just barely.
[L]ike a rail replacement bus service, the weaker tracks seem to last fucking forever and go absolutely nowhere.
[T]he songs are predictable exercises in stadium rock, all chants and big choruses that rise up like bully pulpits. There are glimpses of the mooted old influences, a Kraftwerk-style electronic melody here, some bristling New Order-like basslines there. None is developed.
The only person who’d agree with Cook’s suggestion that "The Miracle (of Joey Ramone)" amounts to "the most incredible single you’ve ever heard" is someone who hasn’t heard many singles.
The release will go down as by far the most surprising thing about Songs of Innocence. With few exceptions, it sounds exactly like you’d expect a U2 album to sound in 2014: expensively glistening, perpetually awestruck, and often (though not always!) bloodless.
If only the band had managed to come up with some fucking choruses. What happened to these guys? They used to be capable of melodies that could swallow up the world. But there’s not one single chorus on Songs Of Innocence that I could hum at gunpoint, even after keeping the thing on repeat since it came out.
[T]his is average-grade stuff with a couple essential songs. It's filled with your typical Bono buzzwords — some so overused, like "light," "stars" and "dream" — that you start to think U2 is messing with us, or, more likely, need to expand their themes.
Now, we'll admit, this list is somewhat cherry picked — the album does have its fans, including Rolling Stone, Spin, The Wall Street Journal, and the Associated Press (which is good news if you happen to share their taste in music). Overall, it sounds like Songs of Innocence isn't actively bad so much as it's deeply uninspiring, especially compared to U2 of the past. That doesn't sound like something 500 million people are going to — or should — get excited over suddenly having in their library. And it sounds like most people aren't. So thanks for the album, Apple. I guess.