XXVII. The Boys Are Back In Town.

U2's Song's Of Innocence.

The Boys Are Back In Town.

U2 has released one of their best records ever for free, to a world that for the most part, doesn't care much anymore about such things. Which is a terrible shame.

Because Songs Of Innocence is the most relaxed, confident, personal and intimate offering this band has yet made.

The fact it's free signals in a rather desperate-feeling move, that the music industry as we know it is basically over, but as a fan, I can't deny what a cool feeling it is to receive such a generous gift from a band I have spent a significant amount of money on over the last 30 years.

But to the record at hand, which could be called BOY, Part 2.

It's got all the charm and energy of the early U2 filtered through the acquired wisdom and nerve of the Achtung, Baby U2. Echoes of both phases co-mingle to great effect throughout this album. It's a real trip down Memory Lane, Dublin, but also, because of expert production and engineering, it sounds totally fresh and modern.

My main man Bono is at the top of his voice, his melodic sense and his lyrics, turning in tremendous performance after performance and opening his heart through childhood remembrances in a way never before heard on a U2 album. It's damn near Joycean the way he recalls his boyhood Dublin. Hence, the knowing parallel to the first album, but this is Bono at 54, not 20, so he's got a lot more to think and say about it than he did in 1980. And this is a good thing.

The Edge, too, is at the top of his game, creating, as he always seems to do, the perfect setting for Bono to do his dance in. The guitar approach is at once subdued and aggressive, tasty and evocative, serving as a soulmate's musical foil to Bono's reverie. Edge's choir of background vocals is also highly emotional, digging even deeper into his lead singer's psyche and painting powerful landscapes of memory and longing behind Bono's literal and highly literate storytelling.

But perhaps the greatest achievement of this exceptional album belongs to the most underrated rhythm section in Rock. Both Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen, Jr. have turned in what could be the best ensemble playing of their careers. And thanks to Danger Mouse I presume, Larry is way upfront in the mix, his drums bashing and crashing around right where they belong. After years of being in the back, U2's not so secret weapon is beautifully now to the fore, propelling these sharply defined Rock and Roll gems like few other drummers can. When listening to this album and the very youthful approach that Adam and Larry took with it, I am reminded of what made U2 such a vitally rocking band in the first place. It's all here on Songs Of Innocence.

Every one of the 11 songs here is a standout, beautifully crafted with a parade, or rather, a barrage of hooks, both vocally and instrumentally. Unlike their last record, the lackluster No Line On The Horizon, but very much like their best work (War, The Joshua Tree, AchtungBaby, and All That You Can't Leave Behind) Songs Of Innocence richly rewards repeated listening, better and better the more familiar it becomes.

Honorable mention goes to the lead-off track, "The Miracle (Of Joey Ramone)," "Every Breaking Wave," "California (There Is No End To Love)," "Volcano," "Raised By Wolves," and "This Is Where You Can Reach Me Now." This stuff stands with the best of U2. 

For me, the most powerful track here, and each one of them carries a wallop, is Bono's achingly beautiful ode to his mother, "Iris (Hold Me Close)." Combining the youthful, ecstatic charge of Boy and October with the startling, non-flinching candor of ActhungBaby, U2 has allowed itself at this late hour to be the most openly vulnerable they've ever been and the effect is overwhelming. 

Bono sings directly to the mother he lost at 14 years old, the effects of which literally sent him out the front door at Cedarwood Road to try and throw his arms around the world. "The ache in my heart is such a part of who I am." Bravo. Later at the peak of the song, and of perhaps their entire catalog, Bono describes his mother by name as if looking at faded photographs for the first time in decades...

"Iris standing in the hall...She tells me I can do it all...Iris wakes to my nightmares...Don't fear the world, it isn't there...Iris playing on the strand...She buries the BOY beneath the sand...Iris says that I will be the death of her...It was not me..." 

Rarely has such a mainstream artist chosen to be so personally candid. I think of John Lennon, Joni Mitchell, Pete Townshend, Bruce Springsteen, Eddie Vedder and of course, Marshall Mathers, all of whom eviscerated their deepest personal feelings to share what they had found with the world...And the world is better for it.

I am reminded by U2 and Songs Of Innocence why so much of today's "Pop" Music leaves me so wanting. For me personally, if I'm going to dance, I want to think too. I want it ALL in a song. I'm thinking so does Bono and his brothers, because they're putting it ALL in there.

Five years is a long time to wait between records, but in some cases, it's clearly necessary for an artist to regroup and recharge their creative batteries. When the results are this good, it's more than worth the wait.

Heard a song that made some sense out of the world.