Connor – So we got the idea to do this discussion piece about U2 after briefly talking about how the band comes under a strange amount of criticism, particularly from our generation. I can’t tell you how many people in my social sphere have lashed out against U2 or Bono to me, and I’m just not sure it’s at all validated or warranted. I think the negative criticism from our generation specifically comes from early exposure to satirical pieces like South Park, and a general disliking for anything that originates earlier than 2010. Maybe I’m being too harsh.
Stevie – I think a lot of it comes down to the fact that the band’s personas have overtaken their music. You mentioned the South Park episode that features Bono and I agree that press like that doesn’t exactly help. However, I feel like Bono has built himself into a celebrity figure that can’t avoid that kind of attention.
Look at The Rolling Stones. U2 and The Stones are arguably the two biggest bands in the world. The difference between the two is that The Stones have a legacy that is respected by a younger audience because its based on their music. Mick and Keith may have had their fair amount of press in the past, but nowadays you rarely see them hobnobbing with political figures and celebrities.
Connor – That’s a good point. Also, I think there’s a certain misunderstanding when it comes to Bono’s intentions. He’s constantly donating money to numerous charity organizations, and a big part of his public image is related to his humanitarian work. I mention that only because to some people it might come off as something he does to make himself look good, but I think that’s a seriously misguided misinterpretation of who he is. He didn’t have the best childhood or upbringing, he came from nothing and came into a position of fame and power and he’s simply trying to do the best with that power. Why are we hating on a guy who donates millions to help make the world a better place? Most rock stars wouldn’t even think of doing such a thing.
Stepping away from defending the band as people, why don’t we begin to defend them as artists.
Stevie – Well, I know we’re both fans of their latest album, but another problem is that they haven’t really created an album for people who aren’t U2 fans. The last time U2 had a ubiquitous hit was in 2004 with “Vertigo” and its parent album How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb. That was over a decade ago meaning we were around 11 or 12. I don’t know how you feel about No Line Left on the Horizon, but I think we can both agree that it wasn’t exactly a hit by U2 standards and it definitely didn’t have a string of hit singles like How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb’s “Vertigo”-”City of Blinding Lights”-”Sometimes You Can’t Make It On Your Own”. Regardless of the overall quality of No Line… and Songs of Innocence, both of those albums haven’t had a single to grab people who aren’t already U2 fans. I think if they had a big, undeniable hit more people our age could get on board.
Connor – Right, you couldn’t avoid “Vertigo” when it first came out, due in part to that being Apple’s flagship song for their big iPod advertising campaign. It was all over the radio, and people loved it. But maybe you’re right. Maybe U2 has stopped making records for everyone. Songs of Innocence is not a very accessible album, and I have to admit that it took a few listens before I really started to get into it. They keep searching for ways to reinvent themselves, hence why I think they went about releasing that album in the way they did. But all of that is a publicity stunt, and doesn’t speak for the music itself.
Given that their last hit record was 10 years ago, they’ve since become “outdated” and “irrelevant” to most people of our generation. What these people fail to realize is the massive influence U2 continues to have on a majority of the popular and hip music the kids are all listening to today. There would be no Arcade Fire, no Muse, no Radiohead even, if it weren’t for U2. Look no further than Arcade Fire’s Reflektor record. They’re not the first band to abandon their usual style in favor of a more dance-friendly musical approach. They’re also not the first band to embrace arena rock-ready, larger-than-life sounds. U2 in many ways has defined the arena rock band. They are larger-than-life. And they have the fucking tunes to back it up. I just saw them on their current tour, and what blew my mind was how great nearly every song on the setlist was. And this is just absolute fact, there’s no denying their greatness. No opinion involved here. I mean really fucking think about the quality of songs this band has in their catalog.
“Sunday Bloody Sunday”
“With or Without You”
“Where the Streets Have No Name”
“I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For”
“Stuck in a Moment You Can’t Get Out Of”
“I Will Follow”
“Pride (In the Name of Love)”
“New Year’s Day”
Not to mention the countless deep cuts that in my opinion are as good as a decent number of the hits. The power of these tunes cannot be denied, and I challenge anyone from our generation to find a band that has produced a string of tunes comparable to that one.
I could almost guarantee that “One” alone would trump most band’s entire catalogs today.
To round this out, Stevie and I are gonna pick two songs from the band that people should give a listen to if they feel up to it.
Stevie – Beautifully put. I’m glad you brought up the point that the irony lost on many is that these majorly successful indie bands owe a lot to U2. They broke a lot of ground and constantly redefined themselves.
My pick is “Lemon” from the deeply underrated Zooropa.
My favorite U2 era is 90s U2 because they’re constantly fighting against their own commercial sensibilities while embarking on massive stadium tours around the world. Achtung Baby, Zooropa, and Pop are three widely diverse albums that see U2 bringing in electronica, dance, and experimental influences and almost altogether forgoing their classic Joshua Tree sound. Zoo TV, Zooropa’s tour, is widely regarded as one of their most impressive. You only need to look at the diverse line-up of opening acts to see where U2’s heads were at the time: PJ Harvey, Big Audio Dynamite, Bjork, Pixies, Public Enemy, and a reunited Velvet Underground.
Connor – My pick would be “Bad” from The Unforgettable Fire. I’m sure seasoned U2 fans are already largely familiar with this track, but most casual listeners have never heard it before, or never really paid it much attention. Give it a listen here. DO IT NOW!