Songs of the Ascent, the quieter sister of No Line on the Horizon, is about to see the light of day, in November, as U2 traipses across Europe, South America and Australia. For those of you who have seen the 360 tour, you’ve heard a snippet of Soon, a track from the new album, as the band walks on stage. If you’re catching the current tour in Europe, you are being exposed to songs such as Mercy, which harkens back to the How To Dismantle an Atomic Bomb recording, and another new track Glastonbury. The record release, while the band is on tour, is a brilliant move.
Why the euphoria? The first reason is they’re the only band in the modern era that I know who has recorded and released a studio record, while on the road, twice. The previous is Zooropa during the ZOO T.V. tour, which itself spanned over 2 years. The current 360 tour, and with the help of Bono’s need of time off for back surgery, has allowed the band the same opportunity to record before going back on the road in the middle of a world tour. What is great is Songs of the Ascent will be road tested with no radio play. Which I think is the true test of this band and the gamble they are willing to take. U2 are exposing the faithful to new tunes every night and it creates excitement for those in attendance, which keeps one of the war horse selections from the back catalog parked on the tour couch for one night and keep the band fresh.
The bigger picture here is the music industry and the shift from the old paradigm of album-tour-album-tour cycle. When Zooropa was released, it didn’t knock my socks off but it was a well-crafted and fun record released while out on the road. The concept worked and the gamble for the band paid off. Which is where the rub lies. If Zooropa was a normal release followed by a tour, I’m sure it would have flopped. Zooropa, at its heart, was an EP that grew a few more tunes and took some musical risk for the band. Which is why I like what that they’re doing it again. U2 has proven that they have the luxury of stability to stave of a crash if the Songs of the Ascent recording tanks and what’s not to say that this band does something to change the mediocrity of the music industry by showing their fans they’re willing to put new songs in front of them instead of the masses of the radio. It’s a punk rock move and they, at their core, are a punk rock band.