To U2 or Not U2, That is the Question
The new U2 album. A very strong opinion by John Parker
I'm a U2 fan. Lots of people make fun of this band and a lot of people I respect consider them a total mockery representing everything that is commercial and wrong about music. I've defended them in the past. Then they shut down their concert in STL and did all of NOTHING to show support for the BLM movement while Bono flew a private jet to LA to have dinner with the rich and famous. Then I listened to their most recent album. I'm no longer a die hard U2 fan.
I was 10 years old when the first U2 album came out. It wasn't until Under A Blood Red Sky that I caught up. I had it on tape and listened to it with fascination. I had been to live music (Styx at the Checkerdome, Charlie Daniels at the VP Fair, The Go Go's and Flock of Seagulls at The Fox to name a few) but I had never heard or seen a live music performance like was given to us to listen to in Under a Blood Red Sky. It was groundbreaking for me. An incredible party of....some kind! I heard the rebellian and the fire that it created even if I didn't quite understand it. But I FELT it. And isn't that what music does? Allows to feel the message even if we don't necessarily understand all of it on paper. I understood what they meant when they asked, how long to sing this song? I felt the party, I felt the vibe, and it was incredible. I got caught up on past albums, loved The Unforgettable Fire and then Joshua Tree dropped. And boy, none of us were the same after Joshua Tree. The white kids in the suburbs had a rebel song they could cling to. We were suddenly riotous and had feeling. U2 gave us a little fire that was dimly lit in the souls of suburban kids. Rattle and Hum was an adequate follow up if not the same caliber. And then another perfect album dropped. Achtung Baby. To this day I consider Achtung Baby to be by far their best overall ALBUM. Their early rebel yell albums had spirit but were musically rough at times. Achtung married the two to perfection. U2 was officially on the map as a legitimate band in my book. I was listening to a lot of high end jazz at the time and was very snooty about music. U2 blew my mind. And then, they broke my heart. But who can blame them? In talking to a great musician recently he said the same thing happened to Jethro Tull. Sometimes musicians just run out of things to say right in the middle of a multi-album contract. I think that happened to U2 with Zooropa and Pop. All You Can't Leave Behind was saved by the big hits Beautiful Day and Elevation. But that album had some real filler material as well. How to Dismantle...was again saved by a couple hits. No Line had no real hits on it but I liked Get on Your Boots. It got to the point where I thought they were in a funk again akin to Zoopopa and Pop and didn't even look for their next album. And if Songs of Innocence is anything like Songs of Experience, I was right. (I just ordered Innocence and will listen to it....eventually.)
I got tickets to see this band despite their betrayal after the concert in St. Louis was cancelled. I went back on my word to never see them again. (I got the new album mailed to me because I bought tickets to the show.) You simply can't be a rebel band and not show up to help when a rebellion, one you have profited from by singing about, hits you right in the face. Those guys could have hit the streets with the people. They could have told all of their fans that BLACK LIVES MATTER but what they did was scribble on an iPad and hope for peace. Total and complete bullshit. U2 is not a rebel band. They are commercial sellouts too fat and comfortable to produce anything of meaning or feeling. They are more than likely done ever producing anything of value, but I hold out hope. Maybe they will, who knows? But this latest thing they released it totally forgettable. Remember The Unforgettable Fire? This is the forgettable album. Songs of Experience is a good U2 album to have if you have no other U2 albums and want a feel for what the group can do musically. But don't expect strong, lasting lyrics with a message. This album is a bunch of tricks that U2 has worn out. I get the feeling that The Edge is mailing it in and just isn't the guitar player that everyone wishes he were. He has a small bag of tricks and he has used them all. This album was downright boring from the guitar perspective. Bono tried his ass off to bring life to the album through stretching his range but it wasn't enough. The percussion was very good at times, but again repetitive to other albums produced. Overall this is one album I will NEVER listen to. There is simply no reason to. I literally had to crank up Under a Blood Red Sky in my kitchen just to get the bad taste of commercial pop out of my head. I got the same goosebumps I got listening to Blood Red the first time. "I know he does all that he can....Wam Bam!" "Sing this with me now this is 40." Now that was a band! And over the years, shouting for equal rights for black people living in America. Screaming for the women and children dying in San Salvador! Screaming for justice! Not on this album. Not that I could hear. I heard uninspired mediocre pop being done by people desperate to hold on to the fire.
I can only hope that seeing them live will offer something different. I know they will play music from their past few albums, but I'm hoping they play a few tunes from War (their best early album, The Refugee is one that should make you cry and rage!) and some for Joshua Tree and any of the 50 truly great songs that they have. I will always love this band for those great 50 or so songs that are just totally unique and powerful. But their contracts that Jimmy got them force them to do some horrible, commercial work. I hope they see the difference. I know their live shows are some of the best the world has ever seen. Scottrade is a relatively small venue for this super group. I have good seats. I'm excited to see the tunes I know they have to play even if they are sick of them. And I'm hoping against hope to catch a take of Seconds or The Refugee. or the ever-powerful Red Hill Town. Those songs choke me up and give me goosebumps. The new stuff is just contract stuffer. Play what the contract makes you play and move on quickly please!
In the end, my advice is not even pick up or listen to the new album. It will only disappoint you if you truly love what this band has done over the years.
Credit: John Parker