Well now, that escalated quickly.
It wasn’t even a year ago when we as a nation, let alone an entire world, were still at least cool with U2. They won a Golden Globe for their song “Ordinary Love,” which appeared in Mandela:Long Walk to Freedom. That was cool. “Ordinary Love” is a good song. Then they were the first musical guest on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, playing a song on the roof of 30 Rock and then an acoustic version of “Ordinary Love.” To which we responded, cool. Because at that point, U2 were still at least kind of cool.
Now, less than a year later, U2 is a punch-line, a threat to our way of life, a band that no one is cool with! It’s not just because their new album, Songs of Innocence, is supposedly not that good. But because it forcefully invaded our iTunes our account. They snuck into our cloud while we were sleeping! Our cloud! That’s where we keep…things! And now one of those things is this effin’ new U2 album. It’d be one thing if it were this new Taylor Swift jawn coming down the pike. But U2? They still exist? Bastards.
U2- the biggest rock ‘n band in world. – people, a few years ago.
U2- dicks. – people, a few days ago.
How the hell did this happen? How did we turn on the band so fast? Was it really because of the whole sneaky album drop thing? People do sneaky shit all the time and we don’t get all that fired up about it. Someone is probably doing something sneaky right now and you could care less. But this sneaky, clandestine organization was U2 and frankly, we had had enough. Enough of Bono’s lectures! Enough of The Edge’s quietness! Enough of those two other dudes who have the audacity to not even have nicknames! Yeah, U2 used to be cool. But so did fanny packs and MySpace. Times change and so had our nation’s opinion on U2.
Let’s get this out of the way- the whole stealth album drop is not their fault. If it’s anyone’s fault, it’s Apple for thinking that A) a U2 album was still an eagerly anticipated thing and B) we’d be okay with a blatant invasion of our privacy. It was Apple and not U2 who had seemed to ignore the fact that any recent conversations about the Cloud involved Jennifer’s Lawrence’s boobies and it was Apple who didn’t realize that everyone being able to see said boobs meant that Cloud security, or lack there of, was a thing. If the security of something is an issue, then the last thing that should happen is the stewards of this security flaunt the flimsiness of that security. Apple is at fault here. Not U2. They were just the ones who answered Apple’s call first. If U2 had passed, whose to say the album in question wouldn’t have belonged to Taylor Swift or someone else. The artist is just a patsy. Our collective rage is mis-directed.
However, U2 have been flirting with irrelevance for awhile now. Prior to Songs of Innocence, their last album was 2009’s No Line on the Horizon, which was a blip on the radar if it was even that. “Ordinary Love” was a good song, but it wasn’t the kind of song that made people long for more U2, as much as it was a song that made people want to reminisce about U2, find their old copy of Achtung Baby and blast “Mysterious Ways.” This is because whether they want to admit or not, U2 had graduated to the Nostalgia Act phase of their career. And there is no shame in that. U2 released their first album, Boy, in 1980. 1980 was 34 years ago! 34 years! I’d say that’s a decent enough career. I’d say 10 years is a decent enough career. U2 staying together for that long is an accomplishment in it’s own right. It’s enough of an accomplishment that they can get by on it, still get free drinks because of it and most importantly, don’t really need to trouble themselves with the young band’s arduous task of releasing new material. Let the kids toil away in the studio, U2. You guys should be touring selectively, a month or so here, a month or so there, selling out stadiums, playing “intimate” theater shows, being considered for the Super Bowl Half Time show and if you are looking to spend some time in front of a computer, going through your archives and selecting recordings of live shows to be released as live albums. A new album isn’t necessary. It’s not necessary for you to record, for us to enjoy, for the charts to ignore. U2 is at the stage of the game where new material has the ability to hurt a career much more so than help a career.* Songs of Innocence isn’t a bummer because it’s a potentially bad album or landed in our possession sans our permission. It’s a bummer because no asked for it, no one needed it and ultimately, no one really wanted it.
* Take note Red Hot Chili Peppers, Bruce Springsteen, Pearl Jam, Weezer and Green Day. Your time is coming, if it hasn’t already.
The dust up that was caused by Songs of Innocence’s release was not a victimless crime by any means. Of the victims brought down by this calamity, U2’s legacy might have taken the biggest hit. We very much live in the present now and history is just that, history. I feel like our collective recall stretches all the way back to a week ago and anything before that can only be harkened back to with the assistance of Facebook and/or Instagram. U2 went from legendary rock band with a decorated history to old has been’s in an afternoon. Let’s be honest- that’s kind of unfair. Thirty years of awesomeness and occasional almost awesomeness and only brief bouts of insufferably shouldn’t be totally swept under the mat just because of one unfortunate mis-step. U2 used to be the shit, man! We can’t have forgotten that! They released three landmark rock albums- The Joshua Tree, Achtung Baby and All That You Can’t Leave Behind– each one representing a re-boot of sorts for the band. Most bands can’t even put together one landmark album, let alone three. U2 are one of those bands that you can’t ignore on classic rock radio and their songs will always be ones you can sing-a-long too. Calling them The Biggest Band in the World wasn’t an understatement; it wasn’t a joke. It was effin’ true.
I was lucky enough to see U2 once. It was during their Pop Mart tour and was at Foxboro Stadium, due south of Boston and where the Patriots played before it was torn down and replaced with Gillette Stadium. To this day it was the Best Big Time Concert I have ever seen and I don’t think any show will knock it from that spot in the rankings. There was a forty foot lemon for crying out loud! And at one point, it moved to the center of the floor seats, opened up and U2 emerged to play a few tunes. The sheer spectacle of it is something I’ll never forget. I remember I saw Dave Matthews Band at the same stadium a year or so later and it paled in comparison. U2 just did stadiums better than Matthews could ever dream. And the crazy thing was that it didn’t even matter that Pop was one of the band’s shittiest albums! It was U2! That’s all that mattered. Bad dance songs be damned, Bono’s in the house with a giant lemon, one of the largest video screens ever up to that point and a catalog of some of the most memorable songs ever recorded. Now, when I think of U2, I think of that show. I think of the feeling, the excitement, the awe. You were in the presence of greatness. The feeling was unmatchable.
And that’s what U2 have done over their thirty year career- create memories. The big, important bands do that. They stick with you. They provide the soundtracks to benchmarks in your life. Think back, could any band effectively capture and then raise the mood after 9/11 like U2 did during halftime of that year’s Super Bowl?
U2 was an important band before that performance, but they became the important band after.
In the wake of the Songs of Innocence Debacle of 2014, U2’s history cannot be forgotten, overlooked or cheapened. A big part of the outrage that came from the whole fiasco was that a band as big as U2 was involved. They made the story bigger than it really was. Their presence also created an interesting subplot- especially in light of past album releases by fellow big-timers like Jay Z and Beyonce, artists who have skewed the traditional form and path of releasing albums. Jay Z’s went straight to your phone. Just imagine where Kanye’s next album will go? (space, yo.) No one is buying albums anymore and as a result, new methods of releasing albums, especially the big ones, are being employed. U2 were also able to dodge any potential negative press if they did release their album traditionally and it bombed. They dipped out on U2 is dead headlines and willingly took U2 are annoying assholes headlines instead. Not a bad trade off when you think about it.
A year from now, no one will remember any of this happened. They won’t remember the iPhone 6 because there will be an iPhone 7. They won’t remember Songs of Innocence, cloud controversies, or anything else. We’ll all have moved on to something else, someone else, somebody else. We won’t remember any of this.
But we will remember U2.
We’ll remember “Sunday, Bloody Sunday” and The Unforgettable Fire and lesser known songs like “In a Little While” and “Sweetest Thing.” We’ll remember Bono, The Edge, and the other two dudes (I’m just kidding- Larry Mullen, Jr and Adam Clayton.) We’ll remember that halftime show and the giant lemon and the video of “Where The Streets Have No Name.”
We’ll remember because U2 always made us remember. We’ll remember because dude, it’s U2. And U2 was one of the biggest and best rock bands ever.
Giddy Up America’s Hey, U2 is Great Playlist
Even Better than the Real Thing
Stuck in a Moment You Can’t Get Out of
Two Hearts Beat as One
Who’s Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses
City of Blinding Lights
Pride (In the Name of Love)
Bullet the Blue Sky
Love and Peace or Else
When Love Comes to Town (f. BB King)
In a Little While
Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me
Sunday Bloody Sunday
New Year’s Day
Angel of Harlem
Sometimes You Can’t Make It On Your Own
Staring at the Sun
Moment of Surrender
Satellite of Love