The most surprising thing about the new U2 album "Songs of Innocence" (Island) wasn't its unusual release Tuesday -- given free to all of iTunes account holders worldwide after Apple's announcement of the iPhone 6 and the Apple Watch.
It wasn't that the much-delayed album, which has gone through a series of high-profile producers that included Rick Rubin and Danger Mouse, was finally finished.
No, the biggest surprise was that U2, after all its talk about wanting to stay relevant and current, their sound on "Songs of Innocence" is, well, old and uncharacteristically distant. (The album will be released in stores and other digital outlets on Oct. 14.)
Like 2009's oddly overwrought "No Line on the Horizon," much of "Songs of Innocence" features a layer of cool detachment where Bono's usually fiery vocals would be. When he sings of "the most beautiful sound I've ever heard" in the first single "The Miracle (Of Joey Ramone)," he doesn't really sound believable, which throws the entire band off balance.
There are moments of beauty here -- especially in the remarkably straightforward Edge-driven ballad "Song for Someone" and the sweet tribute to Bono's mother "Iris (Hold Me Close)."
But you can almost hear the weight on the band's shoulders on "This Is Where You Can Reach Me Now," U2's nod to The Clash that sounds about as punk as Maroon 5. Once again, the pressure seems to have gotten the best of the Rock and Roll Hall of Famers. And no fancy marketing plan can fix that.
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