Author Topic: Some rambling thoughts  (Read 2069 times)

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Offline TheRuts

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Some rambling thoughts
« on: May 26, 2019, 04:24:20 AM »
With Bono appearing on stage with Snow Patrol last night, I'm reading a lot of comments from people much younger than me (I'm 33) about how "obsolete" and "out of date" U2 are. As someone who got into U2 with 'The Sweetest Thing' and then became a fan through ATYCLB and it's singles, it got me thinking how far the perception of U2 has shifted in nearly twenty years.

To me, the turning point was NLOTH. Although filled with remarkable songs, it felt like a compromised record due to the inclusion of songs like Boots, Stand Up, I'll Go Crazy... which sound like they were from a completely different project. After that, they've seemingly lost their way to a certain degree, trying to straddle being "relevant" with being an older, legacy band with a rich back catalogue. Admirably, they didn't go down the Stones route until 2017 with TJT tour (which Pitchfork, accurately, described as U2 "...putting their work behind glass, as so many of their peers did far earlier") and at least SOE was a solid enough work to show there's still enough creative juice in the tank. But they were still seemingly chasing a hit, even going so far as to rewrite 'Beautiful Day' as 'Get Out Of Your Own Way.'

The desire for commercial success is certainly admirable, but I can't help but feel they're chasing a moment that's long gone. And, with current trends in pop music, there's something a little undignified in seeing men of a certain age trying to fit their sound into a contemporary setting. The Stones tried it with 'Anybody Seen My Baby' and, while it's a good, song, I do recall the perception that the "old bastards" were trying to be "down with the kids." Interesting, after that, it took the Stones eight years to produce another record and, in between, the Forty Licks tour really showed how lucrative nostalgia can be.

So, if U2 had gone down the nostalgia route after the 360 tour, would their standing be higher than it is today?



Offline hollywoodswag

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Re: Some rambling thoughts
« Reply #1 on: May 26, 2019, 05:11:12 AM »
I think the turning point hit around NLOTH, but I think that U2 may have misread how all that played out. No, that album may not have hit the public with the ferocity of HTDAAB due to a lack of Vertigo-level hits on it, but I think that U2 had all the right ideas with that approach, and look at the success of the 360 tour. For whatever failings the album had and for whatever songs got the boot from the set in lieu of the hits, they were rock's biggest act coming into this decade.

However, I liken what happened after that to what happened after Pop, where they attempted to revert to what was really commercially popular at the time. In the late 90s/early 00s, rock music had a substantially larger presence in musical culture than it did going into the 10s, and so U2 could chase relevance and still succeed as the/a prevailing genre was in their wheelhouse. In the case of SOI, pop/rap sat on top, and those aren't genres for a middle-aged rock band to attempt. Couple that with Bono's constant attempts at preaching and it all just combined to leave a sour taste in a lot of people's mouths, and I think the band is in a situation where they may need to accept that they're remaining days would be better spent doing things for the current fans instead of attempting to win over a bunch of new ones.

At the end of the day, they're still filling arenas and could likely fill stadiums, too, so I think they should just make music without worrying what anyone else thinks. Goodness knows they have enough greatness in the back catalogue to fill seats.

I feel like I rambled a bit myself, haha.
« Last Edit: May 26, 2019, 05:13:48 AM by hollywoodswag »

Offline Karmamalaga

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Re: Some rambling thoughts
« Reply #2 on: May 26, 2019, 05:20:29 AM »
Hi TheRuts,

"undignified"? LOL! Or rather - and pardon my French: "rire jaune".

Kendrick Lamar's participation on the latest treasure was not my cup of tea - personally, but Lady Gaga's input was, and I don't even enjoy tea.

J.S Bach (sooo old!) played a safe card, with his recognizable patterns (I played his music before U2:s, but no one has ever mocked me for not being around back in the day), but rumours has it he used to play some pubs or inns with - hold your breath - J- Händel! They were  probably lucky to not have had You in the audience...

Cheers!

Offline TheRuts

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Re: Some rambling thoughts
« Reply #3 on: May 26, 2019, 08:27:35 AM »
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I think the turning point hit around NLOTH, but I think that U2 may have misread how all that played out. No, that album may not have hit the public with the ferocity of HTDAAB due to a lack of Vertigo-level hits on it, but I think that U2 had all the right ideas with that approach, and look at the success of the 360 tour. For whatever failings the album had and for whatever songs got the boot from the set in lieu of the hits, they were rock's biggest act coming into this decade.

Definitely. I think if they'd come off that tour with the mindset of "we're not going to have another hit, so let's just make the album we want to make without any commercial expectations", we could have got an extension/development of NLOTH. We probably would have still got the Apple giveaway though, but that's another story.

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However, I liken what happened after that to what happened after Pop, where they attempted to revert to what was really commercially popular at the time. In the late 90s/early 00s, rock music had a substantially larger presence in musical culture than it did going into the 10s, and so U2 could chase relevance and still succeed as the/a prevailing genre was in their wheelhouse. In the case of SOI, pop/rap sat on top, and those aren't genres for a middle-aged rock band to attempt. Couple that with Bono's constant attempts at preaching and it all just combined to leave a sour taste in a lot of people's mouths, and I think the band is in a situation where they may need to accept that they're remaining days would be better spent doing things for the current fans instead of attempting to win over a bunch of new ones.

The Elevation tour seemed like a genuinely special time where everything came together and later, tragic events imbued the songs with more meaning. So then it wasn't just the case that U2 were making records. They were helping with the healing process and, combine this with their elder statesman status, it lent them a gravitas they maybe didn't have before.

When viewed through that lens, the Vertigo tour was a bit of a dip in expectations. But by then Coldplay had overtaken U2 in terms of magazine, newspaper and internet coverage.

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At the end of the day, they're still filling arenas and could likely fill stadiums, too, so I think they should just make music without worrying what anyone else thinks. Goodness knows they have enough greatness in the back catalogue to fill seats.

A downsized tour when promoting a new record and a stadium one when playing albums in their entirety would suit nicely.

Offline Blueyedboy

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Re: Some rambling thoughts
« Reply #4 on: May 26, 2019, 03:59:49 PM »
There are two ways of looking at this, the main point that often gets overlooked is that no other active artist has come close to U2 in terms of the length of time they enjoyed continuous commercial success and relevance, which, if we are using singles chart positions as a metric, spanned from War through to HTDAAB.

The failure of NLOTH singles was possibly down to a number of factors, most notably the lead single choice. GOYB is not a bad song, I actually think it could have become a cult deep cut had it been hidden away on the album, but the choice to use it as a lead single was pretty questionable, but not un-U2 like.
Other factors were that the band had been away for so long they had lost all momentum and were pretty much starting from scratch. 5yrs is a long time in music, some bands have a career that lasts this long while others break up and reform within the same time period. The whole landscape of how music is bought and listened to had changed out of all recognition too.

Another thing to consider is that 99% of all other artists would sell their souls to fail as successfully as U2 have since 2009!
U2 albums still shift pretty well, tickets sell very well and I guess the merchandise stands are doing a pretty decent trade too.

The quality of the albums is subjective, I loved NLOTH, was meh about SOI but was pleasantly surprised by SOE. None of these will bother the top three spaces in my all time U2 albums list but no band that has been in existence for 40yrs has the right to put out albums as good as these.

Personally I'd like to see U2 have fun with the disposable nature of 21st century music by releasing a steady stream of EPs that showcase where they are in this moment with no album and touring shackles attached, but I guess Live Nation will want to exploit the U2 touring juggernaut for everything its worth.
« Last Edit: May 26, 2019, 08:39:24 PM by Blueyedboy »

Offline hollywoodswag

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Re: Some rambling thoughts
« Reply #5 on: May 27, 2019, 09:56:54 AM »
I think touring should be a focus for them considering that at least in pretty much the entirety of this millennium, that has been their forte. Elevation/Vertigo/360/I&E/TJT30/E&I is an incredible sequence of tours, especially considering that only the first two were in promotion of hit albums. Agreed with the point about the amount of time between albums being a bit too long as well, although I think regular touring can combat that a little bit. Consider Paul McCartney and Bon Jovi. They aren't putting out albums on a regular basis, but they tour regularly, and I think it helps them stay in the public eye (not that the former needs the help).

I think Paul McCartney has the perfect strategy. His tours are done over extended periods of time in brief blocks, meaning that he still gets a good amount of time off in spite of heading out every single year. Given his never-ending presence in the public eye, who cares if his new music is any good or not? I know U2 aren't and likely never will be The Beatles in terms of music history, but they're an enduring presence. They just need to accept that they've already built a great legacy and their tendency to take great deals of time between albums doesn't work at this point in their career, so maybe touring on the back of what made them great is a more effective way of staying relevant. They can still take the long amount of time between albums that they like to do, but I feel like they could so without pressure (which they seem to constantly place on themselves) and wind up bolstering their popularity in the process.

Offline Tortuga

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Some rambling thoughts
« Reply #6 on: May 27, 2019, 11:58:34 AM »
So many possible explanations for the current state of U2.  Like most of you are saying, I think they would be better off not trying to sound current.  The thing I don’t get is that they never felt the need to do that when they were younger.  All the way through Pop they threw caution to the wind and made music that sounded nothing like what was on the radio at the time.  Ironically, they now think they need to sound lame like everything else on the radio.  To me they somehow lost either their confidence or their creativity.  I suspect the latter.  There is no doubt that the creative capabilities of our minds peak early for most of us.
« Last Edit: May 27, 2019, 12:45:32 PM by Tortuga »

Offline Boba Fett

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Re: Some rambling thoughts
« Reply #7 on: May 27, 2019, 03:57:45 PM »
Yeah, it's a tough one for the band because they've always had two goals - artistic success AND commercial success. They they have largely succeeded for as long as they have is remarkable, and I think (?) unprecedented. The trouble for them now is that they are, at heart, a rock band. And there is nothing new left to say in rock music these days.

I'd like to see the band go back into the studio and try to simply write and record the best songs they can, without trying to be 'hip'. And recognise that when (if?) they go back out on tour again, their back catalogue is too big and too popular to ignore. One of the most important things I've learned as I've gotten older is to embrace who I am right now. Maybe the band could take that approach?

Offline Tortuga

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Re: Some rambling thoughts
« Reply #8 on: May 27, 2019, 09:42:02 PM »
I agree with everything thing you say Boba except that there is nothing new left to say in “rock” today.  There are lots of young bands saying new things in rock.  Bowie’s last album had new things to say.  McCartney’s last album...pretty good.  Just because its not the biggest thing on radio these days doesn’t mean its dead.  Remember the late 70s when disco was all the rage? Rock music was still around on niche AOR stations.  The difference now is that radio has changed.  For a radio station to survive it has to stay mainstream because, just like physical media, its losing audience to streaming (bluetooth in the car).  Niche listeners are streaming what they want to hear. 

Rock is alive, you just won’t hear it much on the radio.  I think U2 is having a hard time recalibrating what it means to be relevant in 2019.

Offline garyu2

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Re: Some rambling thoughts
« Reply #9 on: May 28, 2019, 04:14:16 AM »
U2 were a big album band. Their releases were big deals.

Then came along iTunes and the album died. It’s not just U2’s career that suffered, there are countless others.

Now it’s just about touring to make money.

Offline garyu2

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Re: Some rambling thoughts
« Reply #10 on: May 28, 2019, 04:24:53 AM »
Also the music industry is just a mess right now.

I can’t remember the last time I heard ANY band on commercial FM radio stations. It’s always “Artist A with Artist B feat. Artist C”. When your biggest “rock stars” in the world are Ed Sheerin and Adele, you know it’s over.

Beautiful Day, Walk On, Stuck In A Moment, Elevation were all top 5 hits in the UK that came from a MASSIVE album. U2 in 2000-2002 were on another planet in terms of popularity.
Atomic Bomb was a Grammy award winning album again with a monster lead single (Vertigo) and a couple of hits after that. Momentum was assured. Until the train stopped...

Then they waited 5 years and put out Get On Your Boots and the album was a major let down. The music changed again. It’s all about singles.

Offline Karmamalaga

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Re: Some rambling thoughts
« Reply #11 on: May 28, 2019, 04:28:08 AM »
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Rock is alive, you just won’t hear it much on the radio.  I think U2 is having a hard time recalibrating what it means to be relevant in 2019

I listen to the State-sponsored (tax-funded) radio quite a bit while driving. All the same songs over and over for years. Boring to say the least. That does not make existing music not exist.

As for U2 "recalibrating", I hope that thy do NOT try to be relevant at all and just do THEIR stuff - it would/will ensure great music, at least acording to me an many.

Bono did the wise choice some years ago and lowered the key for some of his songs (The Unforgettable Fire, Pride) which high notes were made by youngsters. Paul McCartney (a musical genius acording to me) failed in doing so at times but now seems to have it under control.

To go back to the threadstarter's word "undignified", well, to me, that
is about how an artist/a band treat their audience and/or how they act. Bob Dylan recently told off his audience while falling back. Madonna sung false and broke rules at the Eurovision Contest. She should have stood up for her comitment prior to the show.

The only time I can say that Bono did something really undignified was when he lashed out at a girl in front row for filming him - that was way out, and perhaps made him have fans filming him on stage during 2015.

Offline Tortuga

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Re: Some rambling thoughts
« Reply #12 on: May 28, 2019, 06:15:37 AM »
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Also the music industry is just a mess right now.

I can’t remember the last time I heard ANY band on commercial FM radio stations. It’s always “Artist A with Artist B feat. Artist C”. When your biggest “rock stars” in the world are Ed Sheerin and Adele, you know it’s over.

Beautiful Day, Walk On, Stuck In A Moment, Elevation were all top 5 hits in the UK that came from a MASSIVE album. U2 in 2000-2002 were on another planet in terms of popularity.
Atomic Bomb was a Grammy award winning album again with a monster lead single (Vertigo) and a couple of hits after that. Momentum was assured. Until the train stopped...

Then they waited 5 years and put out Get On Your Boots and the album was a major let down. The music changed again. It’s all about singles.

You have to stop using radio as a reflection of overall music production.  You are not going to hear rock bands on the radio but they exist.  Times have changed and radio is no longer how hardcore music fans discover music.  Radio has been downgraded to right wing whacko radio and lowest common denominator pop.  Now that narrowcasting is technically possible (via streaming and satellite radio) it makes no sense for radio stations to play a little bit of everything.  That pleases too few listeners in a unified demographic to attract advertisers.  So they play the only thing that has a large mainstream audience.  Consequently there is not much variety on the air. 

As for individual artists and “loss of bands”, I think that’s more of a current fashion.  The argument that you see more individual artists because they can’t make enough money to support a whole band is silly.  Those artists have full band accompaniment on all theirs songs and tour with a complete live band.  Even in most moderately successful rock bands (not U2) it is commonly the song writer who is making most of the money.  In the seventies and eighties it was en vogue to market yourself as a rock band. Many rock bands were fronted by strong singer/songwriters and could have just as easily been identified that way.  You even had the individual artists that would tag band on the end because that’s what sold then.  Bog Seger and the Silver Bullet Band, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Joan Jet and the Blackhearts, Steve Miller Band.  Names are marketing tools and not reflective of how many people were involved in making the music.

All my comments are US market based.  May be completely wrong for other parts of the world.  My interest in this topic (as evidenced by my posts) is because I feel like you guys are missing out on great music because you are still looking for it on the radio.  There is more great music out there than ever!

Offline ian ryan

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Re: Some rambling thoughts
« Reply #13 on: May 28, 2019, 02:39:22 PM »
I agree with the overall sentiments here. They wait too long between albums, Bono's still obsessed with getting a pop hit, and the sagging middle of NLOTH was just too much for the album to bear. If they can release another album at the level of SOE and get it out in the next couple years, they might be on their way back up a bit. But hey, the tours are still amazing and creative. Even when they did a greatest hits tour, its literal and figurative clarity and scope of vision were jaw-dropping.

Offline TheRuts

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Re: Some rambling thoughts
« Reply #14 on: May 31, 2019, 02:09:08 PM »
I hadn't thought about the gap between records, but I suppose the gap between HTDAAB and NLOTH did kill a bit of (recording) momentum on the part of the band.