The unforgivable freebie: U2’s new album is even more annoying once you hear it

Apple is now allowing users to delete the new U2 album, and odds are you’ll want to.

One and a half stars

U2 Songs of Innocence

In its attempt to stage the biggest-ever album release—by all but foisting its 13th studio effort, Songs of Innocence, upon 500 million iTunes users, announced during the recent Apple keynote presentation—U2 has managed to piss off nearly everyone outside of its fanbase.

I’ll gladly accept a free album download I can always delete. And let’s be real: If that largesse came in the form of a Radiohead or Daft Punk record, Reddit users would be chicken-pecking with delight. In fact, if the peanut gallery were truly being honest, it would disclose that its anger is fueled not so much by a supposed breach of its digital music collections than by its irritation with U2. You could rattle off the band’s transgressions—pomposity, a $100-million Faustian contract with Apple, a hubris-spewing lead singer—but the real abomination is the album itself.

For one, it sounds as phoned in as an order to Papa John’s. “Volcano” is The Edge regurgitating his bombastic riffs from 2004’s “Vertigo.” “Song for Someone” sees the band crapping out the sort of tepid ballad you’d expect with the lead singer of OneRepublic (Ryan Tedder) producing. Also, U2 perversely takes musical cues from acts it has famously influenced—namely Coldplay (“California”), The Killers (“Every Breaking Wave”) and Arcade Fire (“Sleep Like a Baby”). And if that’s not circular enough, Bono falls back on the same lyrical themes—violence in Ireland, the death of his mother, rock ’n’ roll as savior—but explores them so broadly and so vaguely, they lack compelling narratives.

Two participants try to save U2 from itself: producer Danger Mouse and bassist Adam Clayton, who infuse “This Is Where You Can Reach Me Now” with some disco-funk pluck. But when a band releases a collection as prosaic, superficial and test-marketed as this one—and hawks it with the entitlement of the cheerleading captain running for prom queen—it deserves whatever avalanche comes its way.

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