Author Topic: We're not just being negative: an open letter to ardent defenders of the new U2  (Read 8720 times)

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Offline davis

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This is not a post about "The Blackout" or whether Songs of Experience is going to be a great album.  This is a post about why some of us seem so critical of 21st century U2 music. 

What we wish you understood (and, frankly, are confused that you don't understand) is that this band once made great music that was somehow more than great music--it was sublime.  No one knew how they did it.  They didn't even know how they did it.  But they did it.

As far back as Boy, we could sense that sublimity in their songs--in the passion, energy, freshness, and sense of reaching toward something.  Their best songs always had that sense of reaching, of longing.  Think of "Out of Control" or "Sunday Bloody Sunday" or "Forty" or "Bad" or "Where the Streets Have No Name" or "With or Without You" or "One" or "Until the End of the World" or "Discotheque" or "Gone."  And those songs were deepened by the other side of all that longing and aspiration--by a sense of brokenness, of loss, of not being who/where you want to be.  Those songs were vulnerable, authentic, and intimate, even while they were soaring above.  The writer and singer of those lyrics was mining his own deepest hurts and hopes and taking us to places we knew and felt too, places that no pop/rock music had ever gone before.  I won't pretend to diagnose where that spirit went and why Bono is unable to get to such places anymore as a writer or singer (I think it has something to do with the differences between yearning and knowing), but the last time I felt a U2 song going to such an authentic, searching place was "Kite."

And not just this.  Musically, the band in its first two decades was restless, experimental.  For us, it's a sad commentary that critics, professional and amateur alike, can now use phrases like "generic U2", "the U2 sound," or "paint by numbers U2."  For the first two decades, there was no U2 sound!  Think of how daring, inventive, and surprising the first 17 years were.  Just reflect for a minute on this string of albums: War--The Unforgettable Fire--The Joshua Tree--Achtung Baby.  No one not named the Beatles or Bob Dylan has ever produced such a run of diverse artistic excellence in a whole career, let alone a span of 8 years.  And the 90s work kept it going.  Say what you will about Zooropa and Pop--nothing on either album can be accused of being uninteresting.  Can the same thing be said about their output of the last 17 years?

I still listen to, and buy, everything they put out.  Most of it I enjoy for awhile.  Some of it I think is pretty good.  I admire that they're still together and still writing and recording music.  I still go to as many shows as possible (and have never really been disappointed live).  But it's painful to realize U2 is no longer a surprising, essential band.  They will always be the band of my lifetime (I'm 44).  Achtung Baby will always be one of my touchstones for supreme artistic greatness.  But the music U2 makes now--and the lyrics Bono writes and sings--is the work of mere mortals, not of prophets and bards. 

We feel that loss...
« Last Edit: August 30, 2017, 06:21:18 PM by davis »



Offline Smee

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Great thoughts. I agree with a lot of what you say.

I cannot blame U2 entirely for lacking in ambition (relative to the 90s, at least), because I understand that with age and money comes comfort, and comfort doesn't lead to an album with the darkness or passion of Achtung Baby or Pop. It isn't the band's fault. They made some amazing, daring albums with deep meaning and creativity. U2 took the risks and have reaped the rewards, being semi-retired already and could have fully retired over ten years ago. Good for them, everything after Pop has been a bonus.

U2 are the biggest fluke in the history of music. It is unbelievable that a band of average, self-taught musicians did what they loved and against all odds went on to become the biggest band in the world for the better part of a decade. What initially made U2 successful was not technical ability, but ambition and a flawless chemistry, which enables each member of the band to compliment each other's playing effortlessly.

It doesn't make sense, but I'm ok with that. God bless U2.

(I didn't know I could write so passionately myself, so thank the band for the inspiration and contagious spirit!).

Offline Kmama07

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Offline lucas.homem

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Dear davis,

I'd say 99% of U2's fanbase like old U2 much more than 21th century U2. Everybody is aware that U2 are not as prolific and great as they once were (they lost their 'mojo'). I'm not different from these people, since I love U2's 80s and 90s much more than anything they ever did after. In fact, most people moved on to other bands and don't even bother with U2 anymore (and I'm a little bit like that too).

However, one thing is putting your sentiments into words as you just did (it's a little old stories now, but it's fine)... But there's another thing completely diferent that some other people are doing: being pedantic and not emphatic to how other people feel. In this forum, you'll see people bringing the same (negative) subject over and over again regardless of the theme of the thread, or being unnecessarily agressive, or finding the one thing to complain while overshadowing the other things they could praise, or just overexaggerating things (like saying the SOE is crap based on a 15 seconds snippet).

Also, when we read about human behaviour (in psychology or behavioral economics), we lear how irrational and biased is our perception about things. Never forget to consider that your thoughts on the U2 of the 80s and 90s are completely embebbed by your feelings and music knowledge of that time (and, of course, you were younger). With time, along your life you also developed a lot of emotional bonds with all of those songs. There is a clear bias. And this same bias is affected by a lot of superficial things that happen alongside the music: the current marketing of the band, the looks of the band, your friend's reactions to the band and even the negativity or positivity of the fanbase.

It's not a surprise, then, when we see that people that are constantly negative tend to only notice the things that they don't like (suddenly, the glasses are a major problem or whatever) and get really obsessed about it. When they praise, it is also a little bitter, as if they are betraying their persona. Of course, I'm not saying that everybody here is like that (and I respect the opinions of guys like an tha, Exile and Wookiee). However, people have to look after their manias too to not exarcebate it.

At last, there is a trend of IMPOSING things as objective facts here without any kind of criteria. Overall, and I don't mean that as an insult, most people here are uneducated in music, and because of that they are very hasty in their judgements. It's not rare to see commentaries that don't make any sense comparing it to that person's own opinion, applying double standards that are clearly biased.

Well, that's my 2 cents.
« Last Edit: August 30, 2017, 07:28:49 PM by lucas.homem »

Offline THRILLHO

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iawtp but i think you are still selling post-Pop short. these are songs that don't sound <to me> like ANYONE else, but are still very U2 without sounding like paint by numbers U2.

Fast Cars <i'm sure this is a controversial one>
Fez/Being Born
Cedars of Lebanon
Breathe
The Troubles
Sleep Like A Baby Tonight

i know the list isn't long and i do defend post-Pop without acting like it HAS to be as good as the pre-ATYCLB stuff <SOI is def the winner of the post-Pop output imo> but to me there is still a very strong reason to stick with and be excited for new U2. sure, the lead singles of the past few haven't been good, but, the album WILL hold gold, as all post-Pops have.
« Last Edit: August 30, 2017, 06:18:57 PM by THRILLHO »

Offline Argo

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I am glad someone has done a thread like this. I guess I fall more into the camp of U2 defenders. Before I go on, let me say I do respect people's opinions. That's what makes these sites work - people's opinions and people sharing these opinions. The problem I have with the "2000s critics" (for want of a better term) is that you are living in the past. Nothing is the same as in the 80s and 90s anymore. Including you. Things change, people evolve. We got Achtung Baby because they needed to chop down The Joshua Tree. But they cant keep making Achtung Baby. They did that already. I get frustrated with the views hanging on to the past and why cant they be like that.

Subject to people's ages here, do your friends say "you were so cool in the 80s, can't you act more like that." Or "You had such a great decade in the 90s, you should keep doing what you did then." No, because you have all moved on and evolved from there. I just don't get the focus on looking back and lauding the 90s and saying that was the best, why cant they do that again. It was only 3 albums out of 13/14 ie a distinct minority.

Fortunately, I have got something out of all their post 2000s albums and am sure I will with SOE. But to me, there is no point with the continuous comparisons to the 80s/90s for the same reason (I hope) that none of us compare ourselves and friends to that time.

There was a great post I read the other day from someone claiming to be an older fan talking about evolution and looking forward. That's what I am about on this issue. Thanks for reading.

Offline THRILLHO

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I am glad someone has done a thread like this. I guess I fall more into the camp of U2 defenders. Before I go on, let me say I do respect people's opinions. That's what makes these sites work - people's opinions and people sharing these opinions. The problem I have with the "2000s critics" (for want of a better term) is that you are living in the past. Nothing is the same as in the 80s and 90s anymore. Including you. Things change, people evolve. We got Achtung Baby because they needed to chop down The Joshua Tree. But they cant keep making Achtung Baby. They did that already. I get frustrated with the views hanging on to the past and why cant they be like that.

Subject to people's ages here, do your friends say "you were so cool in the 80s, can't you act more like that." Or "You had such a great decade in the 90s, you should keep doing what you did then." No, because you have all moved on and evolved from there. I just don't get the focus on looking back and lauding the 90s and saying that was the best, why cant they do that again. It was only 3 albums out of 13/14 ie a distinct minority.

Fortunately, I have got something out of all their post 2000s albums and am sure I will with SOE. But to me, there is no point with the continuous comparisons to the 80s/90s for the same reason (I hope) that none of us compare ourselves and friends to that time.

There was a great post I read the other day from someone claiming to be an older fan talking about evolution and looking forward. That's what I am about on this issue. Thanks for reading.

good post. and THAT part made me lol. i say that kind of stuff to MYSELF all the time but no one has said it to me....yet lol

Offline lucas.homem

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I'll put some more light in my thoughts...

There's some interesting academic studies that suggest that TIMBRE in one of the defining aspects of emotional response by listeners. Just as an example, see here: You are not allowed to view links. Register or Login . But the conclusions go much further.

With this in mind, there's one thing in U2 that will never be the same anymore: Bono's voice. His timbre has changed. The problem is that we developed our passion for U2 when Bono had that deeper voice of his younger times... and that voice doesn't exist anymore. So there is the vacuum now of something we are expecting, but we are not receiving (Bono's younger voice). So MAYBE we misjudge new songs based entirely on Bono's new timbre (MAYBE we blame something else instead that otherwise wouldn't be a problem with his younger voice).

The same argument can be used too about The Edge, Brian Eno and production.

The Edge is constantly changing the timbres he uses in U2's albums and maybe, just because of that, we belittle an entire song just because he is trying timbres that we don't relate as much as the ones WE LEARNED TO LIKE when we were kids or young adults. Of course, the whole production is targeted by the same thing. Some of us also miss the timbres of Brian Eno (that were not even designed by U2) and that makes a lot of difference in our appreciation of an entire album.

In the end, we like what we like... and that's perfectly fine. But that becomes unfair when we enter the realm of "objectivity" that we try to impose in our arguments.
« Last Edit: August 30, 2017, 06:51:41 PM by lucas.homem »

WookieeWarrior10

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I'll shed some more light in my thoughts...

There's some interesting academic studies that suggest that TIMBRE in one of the defining aspects of emotional response by listeners. Just as an example, see here: You are not allowed to view links. Register or Login . But the conclusions go much further.

With this in mind, there's one thing in U2 that will never be the same anymore: Bono's voice. His timbre has changed. The problem is that we developed our passion for U2 when Bono had that deeper voice of his younger times... and that voice doesn't exist anymore. So there is the vacuum now of something we are expecting, but we are not receiving (Bono's old voice). So MAYBE we misjudge new songs based entirely on Bono's new timbre (MAYBE we blame something else instead that otherwise wouldn't be problem with his younger voice).

The same argument can be used to about The Edge, Brian Eno and production.

The Edge is constantly changing the timbres he uses in U2's albums and maybe, just because of that, we belittle an entire song just because he is trying timbres that we don't relate as much as the ones WE LEARNED TO LIKE when we were kids or young adults. Of course, the whole production is targeted by the same thing. Some of us also miss the timbres of Brian Eno (that were not even designed by U2) and that makes a lot of difference in our appreciation of an entire album.

In the end, we like what we like... and that's perfectly fine. But that becomes unfair when we enter the realm of "objectivity" that we try to impose in our arguments.

Then Bono needs to start singing in lower registers and stop with the half-yelping. The Blackout is actually a perfect example of this.

Offline lucas.homem

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I'll shed some more light in my thoughts...

There's some interesting academic studies that suggest that TIMBRE in one of the defining aspects of emotional response by listeners. Just as an example, see here: You are not allowed to view links. Register or Login . But the conclusions go much further.

With this in mind, there's one thing in U2 that will never be the same anymore: Bono's voice. His timbre has changed. The problem is that we developed our passion for U2 when Bono had that deeper voice of his younger times... and that voice doesn't exist anymore. So there is the vacuum now of something we are expecting, but we are not receiving (Bono's old voice). So MAYBE we misjudge new songs based entirely on Bono's new timbre (MAYBE we blame something else instead that otherwise wouldn't be problem with his younger voice).

The same argument can be used to about The Edge, Brian Eno and production.

The Edge is constantly changing the timbres he uses in U2's albums and maybe, just because of that, we belittle an entire song just because he is trying timbres that we don't relate as much as the ones WE LEARNED TO LIKE when we were kids or young adults. Of course, the whole production is targeted by the same thing. Some of us also miss the timbres of Brian Eno (that were not even designed by U2) and that makes a lot of difference in our appreciation of an entire album.

In the end, we like what we like... and that's perfectly fine. But that becomes unfair when we enter the realm of "objectivity" that we try to impose in our arguments.

Then Bono needs to start singing in lower registers and stop with the half-yelping. The Blackout is actually a perfect example of this.

I think he is not really confortable to sing with his lower registers anymore. We can see that nowadays Bono only uses it in quieter songs like Cedars (less demanding) maybe because that's how his voice works.

Or maybe he is using a higher register to appeal to kids. We'll never know.

Offline imaginary friend

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re: the original post

U2 didn't have a signature sound in the '80s?

Really? What was it they set out to chop down in the '90s? Seriously, I stopped reading right there. When people complain that "all U2's songs sound the same," it's the '80s material they're referring to.

Offline THRILLHO

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re: the original post

U2 didn't have a signature sound in the '80s?

Really? What was it they set out to chop down in the '90s? Seriously, I stopped reading right there. When people complain that "all U2's songs sound the same," it's the '80s material they're referring to.


i mean. kind of. the first 3 may sound similar and the last 3 do but i wouldn't say the Boy songs sound lke R&H or UF sounds like October.

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Post of the year!!!

Second that!

Offline The Exile

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I'll shed some more light in my thoughts...

There's some interesting academic studies that suggest that TIMBRE in one of the defining aspects of emotional response by listeners. Just as an example, see here: You are not allowed to view links. Register or Login . But the conclusions go much further.

With this in mind, there's one thing in U2 that will never be the same anymore: Bono's voice. His timbre has changed. The problem is that we developed our passion for U2 when Bono had that deeper voice of his younger times... and that voice doesn't exist anymore. So there is the vacuum now of something we are expecting, but we are not receiving (Bono's old voice). So MAYBE we misjudge new songs based entirely on Bono's new timbre (MAYBE we blame something else instead that otherwise wouldn't be problem with his younger voice).

The same argument can be used to about The Edge, Brian Eno and production.

The Edge is constantly changing the timbres he uses in U2's albums and maybe, just because of that, we belittle an entire song just because he is trying timbres that we don't relate as much as the ones WE LEARNED TO LIKE when we were kids or young adults. Of course, the whole production is targeted by the same thing. Some of us also miss the timbres of Brian Eno (that were not even designed by U2) and that makes a lot of difference in our appreciation of an entire album.

In the end, we like what we like... and that's perfectly fine. But that becomes unfair when we enter the realm of "objectivity" that we try to impose in our arguments.

Then Bono needs to start singing in lower registers and stop with the half-yelping. The Blackout is actually a perfect example of this.

As is much of SOI. With the exception of The Miracle and EBW (and Maybe California, I don't remember that song very well), the songs on SOI are sung mostly in a comfortable register which highlights Bono's voice rather than reminding us how screechy it has gotten when he tries to hit high notes. More of that, I say.