Saturday, September 27, 2014

Mark & Ravi's (New) Epic U2 Chat

Five months ago, my pal Ravi and I teamed up for a no-holds barred discussion of all things U2.  In the wake of the surprise release of "Songs Of Innocence," we clearly had to meet up again.  There may yet be a second part to this chat, which we'll just unleash on you something out of the Cloud.

Ravi: We may as well start off with a discussion of the "gift" as it appears to be the main headline generator

Mark: Ah yes, the infamous iTunes drop.  Now, am I crazy in thinking that people are a) stupid, or b) overly whiny in complaining about this?

Ravi: Well, I think U2 is kinda like the Yankees by this point. They have a strong following, but also a strong base who utterly hates them.  So this "gift" has given people who hate them a chance to shit all over U2.  It doesn't surprise me that there's been so much uproar as music snobbery is rampant these days and nothing is less cool to a hipster/music snob than a big band getting paid millions to drop albums into everyone's iTunes.

That said, talk about a first world problem...

Mark: No kidding.  If you don't want the album, take two seconds out of your life and delete it.  This isn't a big deal.  When Radiohead, Jay-Z, Beyonce, etc. drop surprise albums out of nowhere, it's been as genius or innovative.....when U2 goes even a step further, it's EW, A FREE ALBUM, NO THANKS

Ravi: It does seem a tad desperate. They do give off the vibe of the "old guys still trying to be the coolest/biggest."  Take Invisible…I liked the song, but the video/production of it was kinda corny.

I did find it interesting though...I remember at TIFF Bono gave an interview where he worried whether U2 was getting into the "small ears" of people (I am paraphrasing).  I guess this was a way they figured they could achieve that goal

Mark: But I don't get that logic.  Why SHOULDN'T they still be "trying" to be big?  Why society seem to put an arbitrary age limit on musicians, so they're either "on the way up or "distinguished veteran"?  U2 has openly been trying to be as big as possible for their entire careers, why stop now.  As you noted, U2 were particularly curious about how to stay relevant in 2014.  Mission accomplished....while there are a lot of haters, they still got their album out to a potential 500 million new listeners.  If even a couple million of that number listen to Songs Of Innocence and get hooked, that's a big win for U2

Ravi: Yeah but it's the fact that Bono talks about "staying relevant" so much now it's annoying even to fans like me. Release your music, promote it, and let the fans decide.  For me, time will tell how the promo worked - I believe 33 million have downloaded Songs of Innocence and 13 albums are on the iTunes top 100 downloaded.

Mark: That latter number is huge.  It means the band actually is picking up new listeners who are getting into the back catalogue and becoming fans.  Who would've thought that 'October' would crack an iTunes top 100 in 2014?

Ravi: Which is too bad, because the album actually is quite good.

Mark: October?  It's the weakest U2 album but still a solid 3/5.  I can only imagine this will lead to 'I Threw A Brick Through A Window' getting a massive radio revival.

Ravi: Ultimately I chalk up the hate to: 1) Yankees syndrome mixed with 2) Music being such a snobbish endeavor these days that many young fans repel anything "big."

Mark: Young fans simply aren't programmed to accept anything from an 'older' musician that MTV isn't hyping ad nauseum 24/7.  It's also some of the old "selling out" double standard attached to rock music but not other forms of music.  If Jay-Z does this, everyone hails him for being a genius businessman again....U2 does it, everyone rips them for being too corporate.

Ravi: So, give me your dish on the album

Mark: I love it.  It's still early, but this might be a top-5 U2 album for me

Ravi: The back half is excellent, it gets stronger as it goes on

Mark:  That's true, and a nice change from recent albums that started strong and then really tapered off (ATYCLB, No Line).  That said, I love the opening half as well.  They're 21st-century U2 rock songs, yet with great melodies, guitar hooks and they have a real spirit to them, unlike more generic "let's write a pop/rock hit" tunes like I'll Go Crazy If...

The only track that doesn't really stand out for me is Song For Someone.

Ravi: I can do without Every Breaking Wave as well.

Mark:  It's interesting how that was the only 'known' song that made the album cut.  I wonder if some of the other unreleased tracks from recent years (North Star, Soon, Stingray Guitar, etc.) will also be souped up and released on the next record.

Ravi:  Miracle is clearly made for a stadium opener.  I think they learned their lesson to go with something fast/a little more upbeat after starting the first half of 360 with Breathe - which is a bit of a clumsy tune to sing along to.

Mark: Very true.  NLOTH lacked a song that would be an ideal concert hindsight, they maybe should've just led with Get On Your Boots.

Ravi: The album is interesting as their are songs clearly "structured to be hits" (Miracle, for example) and then songs that aren't "classical pop tunes/rock songs" that could become classic U2 songs, like Cedarwood Road or Sleep Like a baby tonight.  The collaboration on Troubles I quite liked as well

Mark: Oh man, The Troubles is probably my favourite song on the album.  What a great tune.  I'd never heard of anything from Lykke Li before but she has a great voice.  I wonder if she'll be an opening act on the tour, or if Edge can manage to do her vocal part live

Ravi: If you look at the album credits, Tedder/Epworth play a bigger role on the first 5-6 tracks, then its more Danger Mouse exclusively or with one of them in the back half.  I bet this album kicked ass with just Danger Mouse but had less traditional "pop hooks"/concert sing-along tunes, which likely scared the band and made them rework some tunes

Mark: Probably true.  In that way, they did a much better job of connecting the two 'halves' of this record and made it all flow together quite organically.  The pop hooky songs don't stick out like sore thumbs as they did on NLOTH.  It likely helped that they had a clear theme and inspiration for the album, i.e. looking back on their early days in Dublin

Ravi: Yeah I liked that, it helped make the record a lot easier to follow.  I guess with U2 being a "fundamentally live band" we don't know how the songs will do until they tour ... though I can envision far more of these songs working live.

Mark: Absolutely.  As you said, Miracle is specifically written as a great live song and a concert opener --- hell, it's literally about the experience of seeing your favourite band in a live show.

Ravi: So what d'you think their plan is in the intervening months between now and a tour? Will there be a Songs of Experience, or perhaps something else to keep U2 in the press (besides for the download promo).

Mark: We're kind of in uncharted territory here for U2, so who knows?  It's an exciting time to be a U2 fan....I remember in our last chat, we talked about ways for U2 to freshen up their album release/promotion methods, and now they've done that in spades.

I like to think that Songs Of Experience is just waiting to be released, though Bono has promised quick follow-up albums in the past that never saw the light of day.  In theory, however, SOE could (should?) be out in the next few months, so next year's tour would be promoting both records.

Ravi: Yeah. I imagine right now the U2 camp is plotting/wondering what to do in light of the mixed response to this release.  But you're right, they didn't resort to old tricks (i.e. five nights on Letterman) but instead did something innovative which I have to applaud.

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