Young, not dumb: I quizzed my college students on the Songs Of Innocence cover

October 14, 2014 |  by  |  Design, Songs Of Innocence

Pop Quiz: Songs Of InnocenceI was curious what non-fans and U2 laymen think of the album art for U2’s “Songs Of Innocence.” My fanatic knowledge of the band frustrates any attempt to read the cover objectively. I was interested to hear interpretations that didn’t rely on a context created by years of fanhood or by the band themselves (revealing that the two figures are Larry Mullen Jr. and his son).  I showed my college graphic design students (the ultimate detached-from-U2 focus group) the cover and asked what they thought the album was about and what might be the relationship of the two people in the image. U2 did not include their name or title on the cover, so I did not reveal either to the class. 

 “At first glance, I feel like they would be in a romantic relationship, but looking at it closer, I feel it is a father and son. I feel like they have a rough relationship because the younger/standing man is very uptight and emotionless while the older/crouching man looks sad. The older man is also crouched and clutching the younger one, which makes me feel like he wants to be forgiven.”

“I think that they are lovers. One is wearing a cross, which tells of religious aspects, though homosexuality is seen as a sin.”

“There definitely seems to be a little bit of a homoerotic context, due to the shirtless state of both males. The facial expressions are difficult to read, so whether or not its representing an expression of love is difficult to determine.There is a hint of religious context with the cross necklace visible. I would presume it is some kind of rock album.”

“Homosexuality among homosexual Catholics/Christians and how they balance/deal with that.”

“I would assume the relationship between the two people would be loved ones, whether it be father and son and/or lovers. I think I go towards an intimate relationship because of the closeness of the two men. The embrace of the one man makes you think there is some sort of relationship between the two.”

“I think this image displays a pair of lovers or a couple. Neither has on a shirt, one is seeking comfort from another. However, I’m not sure it’s a healthy relationship. One figure stands casually, as if he is unfazed by this interaction. There seems to be a difference in power between the two figures.”

“It could be a father and son. When I really ready into it, it may be a father holding a (soon to be) deceased son or friend. The cross may signify heaven. Also, the half face makes it feel as though there is an impending distance.”

“Rage against the church (homosexuality and cross necklace). Rebellion? Or love—true love regardless of outside opinion.”

“Two men, someone being able to get pregnant? Possibly wanting to have a child, a couple that is not able to procreate wanting to give the gift of life. Possibly someone with a fatal disease of the abdomen area and the brother of the person is giving him a hug.”

“I feel like this could be a comment about holding on. Like the man without the face may be sick or something is happening to him and the other guy is trying to keep him grounded. But visually it looks like a pose that fathers have with expectant wives. This also could be a social message for same-sex relationships. Either way, there is a visible connection between them.”

“I have no idea what CD this could be for. Maybe a new Christian rock CD? Christian comes from the cross presented and rock because of the tattoo? I don’t see this as a play on sexuality because the expressions on the men’s faces aren’t of sexual nature but of sadness. Not sure why they don’t have shirts on.”

“Something to do with acceptance? (Two men hugging.) Father and son?”

“It’s not the image that comes to mind when thinking on the word “relationship” in the usual contexts. After some consideration, I think the photo as a whole could symbolize vulnerability or the reliance on someone or something at the possible risk of letting dignity collapse.”

“The people are half nude so I think there is a sexual relationship. Passion, because it looks like the bigger guy is listening to the other guy’s belly, as if suggesting the idea of a child. Could also be a funny photo shoot depicting a series of black and white photos that expecting parents do where the father is leaned up against the mother’s pregnant belly.”

“I’m pretty sure it’s a U2 album (the new one). My first thought was father and son … not sure why I didn’t think gay couple, but it doesn’t seem sexual to me. It seems intimate but in a relationship that isn’t romantic.”

1 Comment

  1. Wow! How interesting! I missed this follow-up when I read your piece. Your students seem to be very bright and insightful. :-)

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