I agree that U2 have been trying too hard to remain a mainstream act but given their immense popularity I think they’d sustain their commercial success if they were to try and create more artistically authentic records. Even in the USA I think that’d be the case – I don’t think they’d have another Popmart experience there. They have such a legacy now that they will draw sell-out shows all over the world for the rest of their careers.
I have been very impressed with recent records by the artists mentioned here – the last Radiohead album was spectacular. The irony is that U2 didn’t start out trying to make records that appealed to a perceived mainstream marketplace. They made incredibly brave choices, with October and TUF in particular, trusting that they’d be able to take their fans with them. With Radiohead it is the other way round – they made compromises to become big, e.g. promoting Creep repeatedly to break into the mainstream. Radiohead have done something good with their success, whilst at the same time U2 seem to have become frightened of taking risks. But perhaps their artistic wells have just dried up? Bono had to go back to his adolescence to find inspiration for the past record, and musically nothing on it was truly original.
I don’t think the success of ATYCLB is to blame for this. I mean, the records that came after it didn’t exactly set the world on fire, so they’ve had plenty of warnings that everything is not right about their approach. I do think they’ve been trying to emulate the success of singles such a Beautiful Day and Vertigo, however, which is disappointing. Perhaps they see these songs as models of what a middle-aged group can achieve; they probably don’t think they are relevant, young and hungry enough to create another With or Without You or Mofo.
But instead of complaining we should be grateful we got 2 great decades of creative music from U2 - how many other artists have produced so consistently for as long? - and hope they may come up with more. They are still a spectacular live act as well, and I remain hopeful for future recordings.
I should also say I don’t agree that Joe Public will necessarily want dumbed down MOR music. I think there’s been plenty of great records that the public have taken to.