Sunday, September 21, 2014

Sorry Haters, but I Still Love U2

See this story here
Never mind that ISIS continues to chop people's heads off, half the NFL is seemingly battering women and children while the powers that be engage in massive cover-ups, the Middle East remains mired in deadly unrest, kids are killed on the streets of Chicago nearly every single day, the oligarchy is screwing over 99.9% of the people in countless ways—from higher food & gas prices to still-decimated job markets, home values and personal wealth—and whether one wants to believe it or not, environmental catastrophe is not an implausibility due to such trifling things as the dissipation of polar ice caps.

Yet what really has people pissed off is being given the gift of free music. 

To quote a line I can't help thinking of whenever news is horrific or just inane:

I can't believe the news today /
I can't close my eyes and make it go away
-- U2, "Sunday Bloody Sunday"

Ever since 9/9/14, when Apple's announcement of the iPhone 6 and the Apple Watch were accompanied by the surprising and sudden sharing of U2's long-awaited--at least by us fans--new album, for free across iTunes, the legendary Irish band has apparently engendered the kind of feral vitriol once reserved for murderous dictators and terrorists, but which now, in the social media age, seemingly gets dumped daily on the likes of Taylor Swift. 

Mind you, as someone who rather rampantly shares my opinions--though rarely hate-fueled ones--here, on Facebook and occasionally Twitter, I can't deny that I actually enjoy a bit of the witty snark that can make reading internet commentary fun in small or curated doses. 

Hence, even as a longtime and still ardent U2 fan, I took no umbrage at slings & arrows thrown the band's--and Apple's--way soon after the Press Event, as with some funny Tweets compiled in this NME article

And even as the backlash became more voluminous and vociferous--though I largely experienced it second hand through articles such as the one depicted at top, and this one, rather than seeing friends or anyone I follow directly slam the free unrequested download, the album itself or U2--I understand several of the arguments if reflecting wry annoyance and not grievous hostility. 

Sure, quite honestly, Apple giving away the Songs of Innocence album saved me $11.99, though I'll probably still buy the physical copy once released. While I haven't truly loved any of their albums since 1991's Achtung Baby--with 1993's Zooropa and 2000's All That You Can't Leave Behind being the best of an otherwise middling bunch--U2 is a band I will always pay attention to, and whose albums I will happily acquire if simply out of habit and sentiment. 

Certainly I realize that younger generations who haven't grown up on U2--who didn't see their mesmerizing LiveAid performance in 1985, who didn't first see them in person on the historic Amnesty International: Conspiracy of Hope tour (video below), who didn't experience "Pride (In the Name of Love)" ringing out continuously across campus quads, who don't remember gathering around a motel room in Daytona Beach to see MTV's first airing of the "With or Without You" video, who didn't attend a Joshua Tree tour show the same week TIME declared them "Rock's Hottest Ticket," who didn't attend their groundbreaking Zoo TV performance at Dodger Stadium (after being shut out trying to buy a ticket outside the LA Sports Arena the year before), who haven't begun every road trip with "Where the Streets Have No Name," who don't consider Larry Mullen Jr.'s opening drumbeat on "Sunday Bloody Sunday" one of the most cherished sounds of one's existence, who haven't seen the band in concert 15 times, from Rosemont to LA to New York to Denver, who haven't followed the band through every album and tour--have no point of reference not to be pissed off that they were essentially given an ugly Christmas sweater by their aunt that they'll have to take back to the store for a refund. 

From 1987
And with the caveat that I was taught never to tell my aunt how ugly and unwanted the sweater was, nor that I hated her for having the audacity to give me something with the best of intentions that she clearly liked more than I did, I certainly wouldn't want a Justin Bieber album dumped onto my phone and/or hard drive. 

But...
A) At least in terms of how it worked for me, Songs of Innocence didn't download unless you indicated that you wanted it to; i.e. one could easily opt-out

B) If not instantly, at least soon thereafter, Apple released instructions on how to remove the album from one's iTunes music library

C) All iPhones come pre-loaded with things you don't choose--such as the Stock, Weather and Notes apps--that, like the U2 album, take up valuable storage space. But I don't recall anyone bitching up a storm about getting a free Calculator they didn't ask for. 

Although I can't say it bothered me in the least--I actually admired and embraced it--I do understand why many were seemingly put off by the audacity of the Apple/U2 publicity stunt (just not with seemingly more agitated aversion than to, say, an Ebola outbreak).

Though I unabashedly love U2, there have been a great number of times when the band--and especially lead singer Bono--have made me cringe...and worse. 

I didn't see the iPhone announcement, but it's not inconceivable that would have been one of those times. 

Bono can definitely seem pompous, pretentious, egomaniacal and downright insufferable, though to his credit, he seems to know this and often pokes fun at himself. 

Though I don't doubt that the origins of Bono, the Edge, Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen Jr. forming a band in Dublin in the late 1970s had an awful lot to do with discovering The Ramones, Bono currently seems disingenuous--or at least buffoonish--in repeatedly referencing himself as "punk rock."

Bono did talk to Joey Ramone shortly before the latter's death in 2001, and a U2 song--"In a Little While"--supposedly played in the hospital room just before the punk icon passed, so I accept as real the reverence that fuels U2's new single (and album opener) "The Miracle (of Joey Ramone)."

But while "punk cred" may have always been a mythical concept--Joey was always open about wanting the Ramones to become huge, while both the Sex Pistols and Clash were formed in their wake with an eye on marketable trends--the Ramones never much graduated from small clubs (let alone ever employed giant spacecraft-type stages in football stadiums) and certainly didn't shill for one of the world's largest companies. 

I imagine U2 intentionally avoided having "The Miracle" sound anything like a Ramones song, but I'll take "Blitzkrieg Bop," "Sheena is a Punk Rocker," " I Wanna Be Sedated," "Bonzo Goes to Bitburg (My Brain is Hanging Upside Down)" or myriad others over its overproduced sheen any day--though I still can't say I hate it. 

And such is the case with Songs of Innocence in full. 

At this point, after several listenings but short of it becoming worn-in, I'm waffling between bestowing @@@1/2 or @@@@ (out of 5) on the album.

This funny ad has gone viral, but alas it's fake
Though nothing rivals the bristling brilliance that marked the best tracks on nor the entirety of War, The Unforgettable Fire, The Joshua Tree or Achtung Baby, and the first half of SOI is considerably better than the second, if comparing it to the rest of today's rock landscape rather than the band's glorious past, it isn't nearly the abysmal embarrassment many haters seem to be decrying. 

I don't know that I'll be screaming for "The Miracle (of Joey Ramone)," "Every Breaking Wave," "California (There is No End of Love)" or "Iris (Hold Me Close)" as I will for "Pride," "New Year's Day," "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For," "Bad," "Where the Streets Have No Name" and other classics next time I see U2 live, but all of the above should make for good additions to their concert setlists. 

And I respect that Bono was pointedly biographical, with "The Miracle" about U2's formative days, "Song for Someone" supposedly about his wife Ali and "Iris" about his late mother. 

But while in being the true-life account of a Dublin car bombing, "Raised by Wolves" harkens back to "Sunday Bloody Sunday," somewhat reminiscent of "Love and Peace or Else" from 2005's How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb it shows toilsome strains of over-thought and overproduced effort contrary to the punch-you-in-the-gut stridency of "Sunday Bloody Sunday."

But as I'm listening to the album again as I'm finishing this up, I think @@@@ are in order. 

Sorry, but I like Songs of Innocence much more than I don't. And believe me, I wasn't shy about saying that I was really disappointed by How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb and, to a lesser extent, 2009's No Line on the Horizon. This album is better.

And if having U2 forced upon you really prompted memory shortage issues or embarrassment among friends who might glance at your music library--though I imagine they have the same issues--a few more things to keep in mind, especially if you are among those spewing unnecessary invective. 

From the Independent; read the article here
- According to the latest stats I saw, 38 million people had listened to Songs of Innocence, at least in part, since the ├╝ber-share. And the stunt has also driven a massive bump in U2's back catalog sales. So however unseemly and maybe even ill-considered Apple's gesture may seem, compare the "hype" U2's latest album is getting compared to, say, recent releases by other rock legends--Bruce Springsteen, Pearl Jam, Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, etc.--that "young people" would do well to acquaint themselves with.

Plus, given how much it has pissed off hordes of people, well Bono, that is kind of punk.

- Anyone who thinks that U2 are just a bunch of irrelevant old turds dumping this album on everyone for free because they can't sell it, the truth is that the next time they tour, the band will still sell every ticket put on sale in every venue of any size, much on they did from 2009-2011 tour grossed $772 million, by far the most ever.

- While I find Bono hard to take sometimes, the truth also is that he has saved more lives of people in Africa than everyone reading this--exponentially--ever will. He can be a smug twat, but he does make a difference that would put 99.99% of web-based whiners to shame. 

So enjoy Songs of Innocence, let it grow on you, and have it prompt you to look up War, Under a Blood Red Sky, The Unforgettable Fire, The Joshua Tree, Rattle and Hum, Achtung Baby, Zooropa and All That You Can't Leave Behind on Spotify.

Or not. 

But save your outraged indignation--I can already imagine the myriad "Fuck U2!" (pun intended) retorts--and the social media diatribes for things that really matter.

And check this out; it's a clip of U2's entire Amnesty International: Conspiracy of Hope performance at the Rosemont Horizon in 1986, the first time I saw them live.

It should serve to explain much of the above.

1 comment:

ScottishJ said...

Brilliant article and I love the new U2 album.... wishing Bono well