As you may have heard, U2 performed following Apple’s iPhone and Watch event on Tuesday. Along with their performance, their new album Songs Of Innocence hit the iTunes Music Store for free until October. I was immediately faced with a dilemma: do I listen to the album, since there’s no cost to me for doing so, or do I ignore it, since nothing U2 has done in roughly a decade has sounded good to me?
Well, this article by Steven Hyden helped. A little.
In general, he says the album isn’t vital, the Edge is mostly non-existent on it, and it’s full of Bono being full of shit. I found it interesting that Hyden liked the album more than All That You Can’t Leave Behind, which I think is U2’s last really good album, but less than How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb, which I thought sucked.
When the band released their single “Invisible” free after the Super Bowl, I downloaded it, listened to about 2/3 of it, and then deleted it. I have a feeling if I downloaded the album, the same thing would happen.
As I did some house cleaning yesterday, I thought about my history with U2. How could I like a band so much for so long and now want nothing to do with their music?
The biggest factor is how U2 has changed over the years. They’ve gotten bigger in every way. Their songs, which were always meant to fill arenas to the very back row, are now designed to seemingly shake the earth to its core. What was once grand became bombast. Their videos are all kind of the same, or at least the ones I’ve watched. Bono over-emoting as he sings. The rest of the band over-playing. All layered over some crazy graphics. Then there’s the Bono being full of shit angle. I think most people admire the really good things he’s done to raise awareness and money for a long list of causes. There’s no doubt that he’s made the world a better place through his work. But, man, every time he talks, I want to hit mute or turn the channel. I can’t help but think of the time Alec Baldwin played him on SNL. “Am I buggin’ ya? I don’t mean ta bug ya.”
As for their music changing, what they’ve gone through isn’t any different than what the Rolling Stones or Aerosmith have gone through, or what Pearl Jam, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, or the Foo Fighters are beginning to go through. Their members are pulled in different directions, success and money have made them comfortable, and they no longer have to make music but can do so by choice on their own schedules. The results are bands that may be technically and musically better than ever, but without the passion and energy of their youth. Basically they become living greatest hits performers, making sure their new music fits the general vibe of their careers enough so they can move a few albums but then sell out arenas and amphitheaters when they tour. If it’s a band you like, you accept it. If you’re lukewarm at best, it becomes self-parody and easy to mock.
A lot of it is me, though. I think the moments when I began to not dig U2 came right when most of us have to make choices of how we consume music. As we build careers and start families, it takes more effort to keep up with new music. Some people still find the time to do so. I’ve been lucky that my life choices have allowed me to keep listening to the music of a 25-year-old, as I like to put it. But my personality and love of music makes me think I would have done that anyway. Where a lot of my friends, and I mean no disrespect by this, were comfortable listening to the same old CDs they’d been playing for years and keeping up with new music based on whatever songs they heard on their drives to-and-from work, I jumped onto the iTunes/music blog/streaming train and never looked back. I still listened to bands that owed a debt to what U2 did in the 80s and 90s. But they were taking those influences and pushing them in new directions.
So we have a band that was vital to my teens and 20s getting older and moving to a safer, more predictable place while I balanced my aging with looking to younger musicians to fill my playlists. It’s not just U2. When Pearl Jam puts a new album out, I’ll listen to it for a week or two and then it gets shuffled back into the library, rarely pulled out. I still listen to individual Pearl Jam songs quite a bit, and their channel is one of my SiriusXM favorites. But I prefer the music they made in their first 15 years as a band to the newer stuff.
There are nearly 900 words setting up my decision: I won’t be listening to the new U2 album. I’ll spend my time this week listening to the new albums from Ryan Adams, Interpol, Tennis, and the Delta Spirit along with my Rdio playlist of favorite albums of the year. U2 was a great band, and essential to the development of my adult musical tastes. But if I’m going to listen to them today, it will be The Joshua Tree and Achtung Baby, not Songs Of Innocence.
Late note: Rolling Stone gives the album five stars. Because that’s what Rolling Stone does once you’ve been around a couple decades. Steven Hyden’s one-word Twitter response: “No.”