Author Topic: How U2 Changed the Way I Experience Music  (Read 722 times)

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Offline hollywoodswag

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How U2 Changed the Way I Experience Music
« on: June 16, 2019, 08:14:34 AM »
I've been a playlist builder for years, being all about cherry-picking my favorite songs and building nice hodgepodges of material from various artists. Songs would cycle in and out over time, and certain numbers would get slapped on repeat until I played them to death.

That was true for a number of years after I picked up my first complete album, but a couple of years ago, shortly before the 30th anniversary release of The Joshua Tree, iTunes put all the U2 albums on a great sale and I decided to start things off by getting the deluxe edition of Achtung Baby. I decided to give it a shot and play it the whole way through, and it quickly became apparent that I had spent years glossing over or outright ignoring swaths of incredible music. Mind you, I had played plenty of albums start to finish and was skeptical of the value of greatest hits compilations except as introductions to the work of various artists, but listening to albums in their entirety was not really standard practice. With the purchase of this album, that all changed.

At first, I was listening to full albums in the interest of discovery, merely seeking more songs with which to fill playlists and simply appreciating an opportunity to explore more musical territory, and what's more, I've taken that approach to other artists. I've plowed through the albums of The Beach Boys, The Rolling Stones, Eagles, and more in the past few years, with many more still ongoing, and my mega playlist of songs I enjoy has grown and grown.

However, in recent months, I've noticed yet another shift: I almost don't enjoy playlists anymore. I feel like I focus less on what songs I want to hear and more on what albums I want to hear. Yes, Zoo Station is still my favorite song of all time, but do I just want to listen to it sandwiched between I Get Around and Sweet Emotion, or do I want to hear it in the context of the album on which it was released, with Even Better Than the Real Thing being the required follow-up song? I find that more often than not, the latter seems to be the way things happen right now.

It occurred to me that perhaps there is something more to the listening experience that is gained by listening to an album in its entirety. Think about it: when watching a favorite movie, do you skip around and just watch the scenes that really stand out? When pulling up Netflix and seeing a TV series, is it really effective to start with an episode from season three, then one from season five, etc., etc.? You might get a few laughs or enjoy the movie scene/TV episode as a narrative "island," but gone is any character development or context that could be vitally important. Gone are potentially key aspects of the story. I wonder if I've come to feel the same way about music. I still enjoy pulling up a few songs I really like, but given an opportunity to spend more than fifteen minutes listening to music, I'm going to aim for complete albums at this point. There's something about following the musical journey of an album the whole way through, taking them at their highs of qualitative achievement as well as trudging through the tranches of the clunkers, viewing each song as a "scene" or "chapter" in the overall story, that I think enhances the listening experience and overall value of the song and album.

Of course, this doesn't always hold true. There are always albums that are basically just hit singles with brittle framework filler surrounding them, and in some portions of history, I'm led to believe that that was the way they were "supposed" to be designed, but then you have bands/artists like U2 that really seemed to put effort into every song onto which their names got stamped, and I think that the people who just waited for Beautiful Day or Vertigo to come onto the radio for the forty-thousandth time shorted themselves on artistic discovery.

All of this stemmed from giving four guys from Dublin enough of my time to be experience their submission to the 1991 music market through to completion, and I feel like my ability to experience, and even enjoy, music has been changed for the better. I've found more value in a number of artists, songs, and albums than I ever have before because of them.

Have you found U2, clearly being a band of enough significance to you to cause you to come to a site like this, to change the way you experience and enjoy music?



Offline laoghaire

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Re: How U2 Changed the Way I Experience Music
« Reply #1 on: June 16, 2019, 08:54:31 AM »
I like what you wrote and agree. Albums are more rhan just the sum of their parts. They are a journey.

Most U2 fans are too old to have gone through the process you have, though. U2 started in the record age, and options for building a "playlist" were extremely limited - the only way I can think of is to sort 45s (singles) to drop onto the turntable in some order, but you'd be limited to singles only.

Of course we made mix tapes in the cassette era. But those had limits - reduction in quality, for example. We were still just listening to the whole tape for the most part.

I will say that there was an incentive for artists at that point to have a string album rather than just a hit single. In the car, you didn't want to bother popping in a tape to hear just one song - and to rewind it to the right spot each time, to boot.

So playlists really only got going in the CD era, though they were still mix tapes at first (CD to tape, better quality than tape to tape). I admit that once CDs arrived, I was more likely to "jump around" a U2 album, or maybe skip a song, but I still mostly just listened to it straight through. We eventually burned mix CDs but I personally didn't bother putting much U2 on those.

Now I do listen to playlists, nothing permanent, always compiled on the fly. I feel like time is my problem. If I felt like I had a solid hour that was safe, I'd happily play the album. But if I just have 20 minutes, I'll just pick 5 songs and slap them together.

I do listen to new U2 material as albums, though, that has never changed. Inspend 3 or 4 months totally immersed, learning it, before I can move on.

Offline laoghaire

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Re: How U2 Changed the Way I Experience Music
« Reply #2 on: June 16, 2019, 09:41:01 AM »
This topic also touches on the fact of albums existing in the context of their time.

I'm familiar with albums that I didn't experience in their times, and I feel that gap. Sgt Pepper, for example, was released before I was born. I can cite some facts about the time it existed in, but I wasn't there.

I was there for TJT, though, and can tell you it was highly connected to 1987. But could I really explain it? Not really. I could tell you about Ronald Reagan, and the yuppies and the promise of America which was still feeling inevitable at the time, and malls and Wall Street and trying to get ahead, and this growing but stifled thirst for pausing all the urgency and asking the important questions. But those are just facts and I can't explain them or how they connect to the album, only to say that, somehow, they do.

So when we listen to an album, we are tapping into a story that took place in a certain land and a certain time, with certain people, who were reacting to the events and ideas of that time and place.

Offline Sunchild

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Re: How U2 Changed the Way I Experience Music
« Reply #3 on: June 17, 2019, 04:14:14 AM »
You know the saying, to change the world, we need to change ourselves first ... I believe the reason albums have been less appreciated, because even many old timers like us have not been listening to full albums from start to finish either, there's a magic to the art of a format, it's like an impressionistic painting, the songs are the colors and shapes of the whole piece, it's never too late to rediscover it.
« Last Edit: June 17, 2019, 04:59:24 AM by Sunchild »

Offline summerholly

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Re: How U2 Changed the Way I Experience Music
« Reply #4 on: June 17, 2019, 05:37:28 AM »
It is interesting topic and I have gone in reverse to you.  I always listened to full albums.  I had to do a lot of driving and I would stick the cassette in my car or tractor and play them from start to finish.  No choice really but it was definitely an enjoyable journey and you often got to love songs on each album that maybe at first listen you didn't like. 

These days I have an ipod and I just download my favourite songs.    These days I seem to prefer flicking through my favourite songs.  Maybe my attention span has got smaller as I got older and I am probably missing out now you have reminded me!!

Offline Tortuga

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Re: How U2 Changed the Way I Experience Music
« Reply #5 on: June 17, 2019, 06:16:04 AM »
Even in the era when “albums” were the way we listened to music, the majority of them were just collections of songs.  A better comparison than a movie or TV series would be a collection of short stories.  The songs would typically share a common style, but the album that demonstrated any kind of theme or continuity or even meaningful sequencing was relatively rare.  There was rarely anything akin to character development or a building story (even of a subtle nature).  Sequencing was focused on hooking the listener more than it was any kind of artistic meaning or statement.

The other thing is that when an artist did try to do something too thematic or with a storyline, it was often derided by critics and listeners as cheesy or pretentious.  Think of the output of Rush from 2112 through Permanent Waves.  To be successful the artist had to strike a balance between theme and subtlety.  Rock music traditionally has some element of cool or detachment that is incompatible with being too obvious or direct.  Its not like a broadway musical or an opera.  The Wall is a rare album that was able to build a tight theme and story with songs that were universal and ambiguous enough come off cool.  BUT it accomplished most of the story through the movie that accompanied the release, not the lyrics.

So, back to U2, Boy through Pop, they really struck the balance well.  Since ATYCLB, they have had a harder time (IMHO).  The albums have become less cohesive and Bono has resorted to over-communicating the “theme” in interviews and through live show elements instead of letting the music do the communicating.  SOI/SOE have songs that fit the titular theme Bono has gone on about so much.  Those songs have very direct lyrics that apply too directly to theme (Iris, Cedarwood Road). They are so literal that they leave little room for the magic of good rock music... ie, “meaning everything and nothing at all”.

Also they are tied too directly to Bono’s experience of SOI/SOE and thus are more of a biography than something that will transcend the narrow interest of die hard fans and be remembered 20 years from now as art that people will be able to relate to and draw meaning from.  In other words, they are too specific and literal.  Then there are other songs that have nothing to do with the theme (SLABT/American Soul).

Its a difficult thing to do and U2 did it very well for many years.  And I would not bet that they cannot do it again.  Everyone thought Bob Dylan was done.  Then he produced “Oh Mercy”.

Offline summerholly

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Re: How U2 Changed the Way I Experience Music
« Reply #6 on: June 17, 2019, 07:21:03 AM »
I think it was something that Pink Floyd did really well their 4 seventies albums, they were definitely more than just a collection of songs and listening to the whole albums was an experience in itself.  Not sure that subtle would apply to Roger Waters lol but the lyrics were clever, along with the great musicianship and divine guitar work which left a pretty big impression of each album.  I never saw the Wall movie because I thought it might ruin the album for me.   Yes U2 did it well in the past.  Not sure that I have the attention span anymore.

Offline laoghaire

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Re: How U2 Changed the Way I Experience Music
« Reply #7 on: June 17, 2019, 09:42:06 AM »
Pink Floyd albums are generally tightly thematic and sometimes a narrative to the extent that there is an order and character development. The Wall absolutely is one - it's not merely the soundtrack to the movie but is the full story.

Another example that is not literally a movie is The Division Bell. While not a movie, it has a stiryline (divorce), consistant characters (the man and woman divorcing), and character building and narrative arc (the man going through the phases of anger, withdrawal, and healing). And it's all in order, not just vaguely related ideas slapped together, but a chronological development.

Most albums in general are not that sequential, of course. But I think the great ones often exist in a strong theme, not necessarily even planned but the natural outcome of artists exploring concepts that are engaging them at the time.

TJT is quite thematic though not in any particular chronology. The Two Americas - and building and burning down love. The order could have been different but it does have a flow. Even if the order isn't explicitly narrative in nature, it flow in tone, from a grand sunrise opening through its pensive and heartbreaking lullaby goodnight.

So, a collection of short stories might be accurate, but a collection that was tied together by the worldview the author was working through at a particular time.

Jethro Tull's Crest of a Knave is a collection about the viewpoints, and often struggles, of men in different professions (farmer, musician, poacher, construction worker - and a couple women too, dancer, runner). Journey's Escape captures various feelings of a young man in Middle America at a particular time, coming from a broken family and trying to find escape through love or violence.

Maybe it's just the good albums, though.

Offline Tortuga

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Re: How U2 Changed the Way I Experience Music
« Reply #8 on: June 17, 2019, 07:15:46 PM »
I love The Division Bell.  Post-Waters Pink Floyd got less respect than it deserved.  I always felt like critics thought Gilmour was too simplistic without Waters.  Kind of the way people felt about McCartney without Lennon.  Maybe true with regard to the lyrics but we all know who had the best melodies...in both cases.




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Offline laoghaire

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Re: How U2 Changed the Way I Experience Music
« Reply #9 on: June 18, 2019, 04:30:38 PM »
I too see a similarity between the Lennon/McCartney and Waters/Gilmour songwriting duos.

Lennon and Waters have/had more angst, anger, philosophical crises, big messages, and I think they really resonate in the culture and add a real urgency and relevance to the music.

But, yeah, McCartney and Gilmour absolufely added a melodic complexity that elevated the songs to greatness. Lennon was, I think, more successful in his solo work, but Waters had interesting stuff in Amused to Death. But you can see that, while his monsterous bass and big, cutting lyrics remain, he lost the complexity he had with Gilmour.

McCartney added a melodic contribution, but he also tempered Lennon's anger with his positive, caring outlook. And I think there you get this depth and complexity both in the songs and what they say.

I don't know as much about Gilmour's personality but he too seems to be a foil to some degree, calmer and more laid back, less angry. And there's no doubt to me that he provided that in the music, that psychedelic feel (maybe not the original psychedlic feel but the one they eventually were famous for).

I also sometimes think about a duo in another industry - Steve Jobs played the Lennon/Waters to Woz's McCartney/Gilmour. And Woz was both absolutely critical to success and unacknowledged by the masses (though absolutely recognized by the nerds). And besides his technical genius, Woz also tempered Steve's anger and ambition with a McCartney-esque love and positivity.

Offline JonD

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Re: How U2 Changed the Way I Experience Music
« Reply #10 on: June 18, 2019, 05:54:47 PM »
So many insightful comments about U2/Floyd and other bands. Maybe it’s the chemistry/antagonism that produces great music. McCartney-Lennon, Waters-Gilmour, or even Jagger-Richards. It’s truly amazing that U2 have remained friends since high school (wow!) and have produced so many great albums-or maybe they don’t talk a lot about the rough times. (Despite the reported arguments surrounding October AB Pop and ATYCLB). The arguments regarding musical direction must have been pretty heated during those years. Lol.

Offline Boba Fett

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Re: How U2 Changed the Way I Experience Music
« Reply #11 on: June 18, 2019, 11:07:49 PM »
Ah, the age-old battle between what the artist wants the listener to experience ("you should listen to this particular collection of songs in this particular order") and what the listener wants to experience ("I only like tracks 1, 3 and 7, so that's all I'll listen to").

I can see both sides of the argument, but once the artist puts their music out into the public, they lose the ability to control how people listen to the music. And being art, who's to say which is right?

Offline Sunchild

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Re: How U2 Changed the Way I Experience Music
« Reply #12 on: June 22, 2019, 07:05:02 AM »
The pont is to cease control and let album play out without our own choosing and picking, so God/Universe/Great mystery does it for us, that's when magic happens and the music comes to our ears naturally in the most harmonious way. That way there was never an album or any music that didn't appeal to me. We can put it on shuffle, it doesn't matter, but without our own direct control, that's the point, that's the surrender, that's when magic happens, including when we make our own music, from improvisation, this is why I used to connect to U2, only years later I found out that this was the reason, their own surrender to whatever comes out from their free sessions.