Had Apple not been readying the launch of its new iPhone 6, U2 might have had to invent the thing itself. In a bold move only this band could pull off, Bono and the gang hijacked the tech giant's Sept. 9 unveiling and announced the release -- free to all 500 million iTunes users -- of their 13th studio album, an 11-song set five years in the making. Songs of Innocence is a colossal-sounding record from rock's ultimate stadium wreckers, and a quick listen reveals why no other marketing strategy would have worked.
In interviews accompanying the surprise release, Bono and guitarist the Edge cited some of their boyhood heroes as major influences on the record. The opening track, a heavily processed rocker called "The Miracle (of Joey Ramone)," is an almost comically reverent tribute to the Ramones, while "This Is Where You Can Reach Me" is a kind of howling, skanking disco-punk homage to the Clash. If U2's hearts and minds are in the '70s, though, its instruments are plugged into whatever electronic doohickeys modern-day disciples (Imagine Dragons, Coldplay, the Killers, etc.) use to mimic their spacey grandiosity.
Not that anyone who's been following U2's trajectory for the last 30 years should have been expecting a return to the pointy post-punk of early albums like Boy (1980) and October (1981). Instead, the foursome saves the nostalgia for the lyrics. "California (There Is No End to Love)," a more blustery version of the synthed-out rock that producer Brian "Danger Mouse" Burton makes with his side project Broken Bells, deals with the band's first trip to Los Angeles. "Cedarwood Road" -- another Bells-y cut whose falsetto backing vocals might as well belong to that duo's singer, James Mercer -- is all about the Dublin street where Bono grew up.