Like a thunderclap from the clear blue sky it appeared: U2's first album in five years. In what surely rates as one of the entertainment industry surprises of 2014, the band announced 'Songs Of Innocence' was being made available immediately for free download to Apple's iTunes subscribers, after they had performed their new single 'The Miracle (Of Joey Ramone)' at the Apple launch in California.
The tens of thousands who rushed straight to their computers to listen to the record will be glad they took the time. 'Songs Of Innocence' sees the group going back, with palpable confidence, to what they are best at: uncomplicated rock anthems with vast, uplifting choruses and guitars that shoot for the moon.
Indeed, at moments, it almost feels as if U2 are ticking off a check-list of signature tics and tropes. Earnest vocal overreach from Bono, glittering Edge solos, mid-tempo ballads that hum with spiritual yearning - devotees may be pleased to know U2 have dived into their wardrobe of cliches and emerged with arms full. Not since 2000's 'All That You Can't Leave Behind' have U2 sounded so comfortable with the idea of being U2.
U2 were rumoured to have pulled the album's release date in March, fearful the project lacked a knockout hit. They appear to have remedied that issue by hooking up with producer and songwriter Ryan Tedder on 'Song For Someone', a brash, buoyant radio clarion call that, as it achieves escape velocity, explodes from the subwoofer.
U2 returned to tried and trusted collaborators such as Mark Ellis (aka Flood) and engineer Declan Gaffney as well as Adele producer Paul Epworth. Recoiling from the monochrome bombast of 'No Line On The Horizon', U2's 13th album is their most unrestrained in quite a while - it may well be one of their finest too.