Yesterday, I finally received my U22 booklet and discs. It came to me late because I was moving residences when it was shipped, but I had no fear it would eventually find me. And when it did, I was excited to open it up and start playing the discs.
As Edge’s wah pedal effect on Even Better Than the Real Thing was wondering out of my speakers, I began to cruise some U2 forums in order to see what others were saying about U22. I, obviously was late to the show, but decided not to do this until I had my prized copy in hand. One such forum had conversations that covered the gamut from what we deserved from the band in our membership to U2.com to songs that were not chosen for the final product. I read deeper as the conversations were becoming more catty than analytical. My saving grace from this school-yard behavior came when I fell into a forum in which someone mentions a printing error he caught in the booklet. My eyes took a double take. I turned around in my chair and retrieved the U22 booklet out from of its protective mailing sleeve and searched for the mistake. As you may not know, I am a graphic designer and searching for printing errors is a hobby. The statement, made in the forum, refers to the printed date next to Even Better Than The Real Thing, which states that it was recorded in Mexico on the 15th of November in 2011. The date doesn’t jive. U2 played Mexico in May of that year and the tour’s completion was in August of 2011. The band was on vacation by November so something was wrong.
I am not here to criticize the proofreader or the designers because these things happen all the time. Trust me, it has happened to me on a few occasions. Luckily, some of my mistakes were caught as we were going to press, but in this case, it wasn’t. So, I ask is this a collectable, such as Billy Ripken’s 1989 baseball card with the expletive written on the bottom of his baseball bat? Probably not, as I do not seeing this piece being reprinted for the masses. Instead, U22 is a collectable for all of us to cherish, regardless of the printing error or not. The booklet, and discs, commemorates one of U2’s finest achievements in touring, next to ZOO TV, which non-U2.com subscribers can admire from afar.
In closing, we live in a fast paced media world in which mistakes like this happen more often than not. Grab any magazine as you are checking out of the grocery store and look at all of the syntax errors in the headlines of advertisers. That alone would drive any English teacher absolutely crazy. In our case, it probably was human error and I forgive the oversight. Instead, the two discs of live tunes included in U22 will forever remind me how I went from the back row on the Joshua Tree tour in Iowa City in 1987 to the pit on the 360 tour. It took me 22 years to get there and that is why I will cherish U22.
A few weeks ago, a phone call came into the office of 822design. I picked it up and spoke to a band manager, looking for me. He told me that I came recommended as he was in need of a new look for the band he represented. I said I was open to a meeting and we set up an appointment. Without really thinking about it, I went about my day, working on my existing clients’ creative gladly knowing that I had another project on the horizon. I did not know who the Buzztown Boys were, but they found me.
On the day of meeting, I cleaned off the office coffee table and laid out some of my previous creative for the band to review. As I fired up my trusty laptop with some web creative, the doorbell rang. Our dog began to bark. I quieted him, buzzing in my new clients. Radar, our pooch, wouldn’t give in. You thought we were being robbed, but we weren’t. This is his greeting call no matter who is at the door. So, I grabbed his collar and held him while I opened the door.
Up the stairwell arrived a well-dressed gentleman followed by four men whom I recognized immediately. This was not the Buzztown Boys, as they were presented to me over the phone. This was U2. I let Radar’s collar go and put out my hand in welcome. Each was given the once over by the dog. Larry, the shyest of all, crouched down and made an immediate, friend while the rest of the band were taking in my home.
We said pleasantries as Larry came back to reality and eventually sat down at the table. Without any moment to waste, the band began flipping through my book as their manager was describing why they chose me to design their next album cover. I looked at Bono, who went on to explain that the album is nothing like what I have heard previously released from U2. He tossed me an iPod and said, “hit play.” I did.
Of course, this didn’t happen, but this is how you have to think when you enter a competition, like I did, designing, or redesigning, an epic album cover like Achtung Baby. I knew when U2.com posted the competition that there would be a lot of entries trying to emulate the cover in that mosaic composition. I did, but I took it a step further. I looked at the world through the album’s eyes and not a reflection of the band. You will see there is no band image in my design because I wanted you to question the images and then listen.
Trust me, it’s hard to try to recreate an epic piece of art, especially one that has stood the test of time. And that my friend, is where the challenge is and how I challenge you as a viewer. These are not pretty pictures. They are images over images telling us a story about the fragility of life just like the album. Don’t believe me? Take a look. I’ll see you on the backside.
In this celebratory year of U2’s 20th anniversary release of Achtung Baby, I wanted to focus a couple blogs on songs that sit under the waterline on the record. The first of which is the song So Cruel. As most U2 fans know, this song is about Edge’s divorce. It’s probably the most gut-wrenching lyric ever written in any U2 song. The funny thing is that Bono, who has the most long-standing relationship with his own wife, probably wrote it. However, he gets it right when it comes to love falling apart.
Pretty much anyone can identify with this song. We have all been in relationships that have fallen apart or have come to a close, whether we wanted the finality or the other person wanted to call it quits. So Cruel gets it right. It speaks to the human frailty of relationships. Once one gets into a lovers bond, you give of yourself. You sort of melt into the other person whether you want to or not. It’s that self-extraction, when the relationship ends, that makes it very difficult and painful to move on.
What I like about So Cruel is its simplicity. The song rests in the middle of an album filled with texture, loops and newfangled sounds. The opening piano lulls you in to Larry’s drum tapping. Bono begins, almost in a spoken word style, about the recognition by the protagonist that something has gone wrong in a relationship. It is an amazing set-up as we move into the second stanza where Bono begins to lull us into the story. Much like the Siren’s song, we want hear more. Sirens usually sing songs of beauty yet this is not beautiful song, however Bono makes it that way with his new found falsetto. When he mentions wearing “love like a see through dress,” we can identify with the pain because love is suppose to be thick and in this situation, it’s painted thin.
As the song closes out in the third stanza, the orchestra crescendos there’s no turning back. The relationship that was splitting at the seams at the beginning of the song has now come to an end. Bono speaks that “in love there are no rules.” He verbalizes the harshness of love and not the beauty of it. Bono brings us to the finality of this relationship by ending the song with “Sweetheart, your so cruel.” The shattered glass of a relationship can never be put back together. It’s time to move on. So ironic, on this unrelenting emotional roller coaster of an album, that the next song on the record is “The Fly,” which has it interpretations in some corners as a “Bar Fly.”
It’s interesting, as one’s career moves on, where the accolades come from. For instance, if you are a thespian, the Tony award, in the United States, is the highest achievement an actor can get. Same goes true for film actors with such awards as the Golden Globe or the Oscar. In music, there are a bevy of these awards and U2 has scooped up more than a handful multiple times in multiple years. Now, they are rewarded again, but this time, it is outside music as GQ magazine has honored them “band of the year.”
I’m not sure how this ranks amongst the pantheon of other awards. It may be one step above the American Music Awards or VH-1 Honors. I’m not sure. We’d have to ask the band this question. What we do know is that it keeps them in the spotlight for one more news cycle in our ever-overwhelming media onslaught, which is good since they are a “do good” band for the world whether it is filling our ears with great tunes or focusing on the plight of starvation on the horn of Africa. However, like an overexposed piece of film, U2 has to be careful how they handle themselves and not lose the mystique that makes them special. Yes, I know they had no choice in being chosen by GQ because honors such as these come with the territory. What they were awarded is an achievement and I’m not taking it away from them.
In recent weeks, I have been coming down from a great summer of U2, reading blogs and taking in their U.S. trek, which has been exciting, but now my life has to move on and get back to a little reality – back to the passion of life and being creative for clients. Is suspect U2 are doing the same thing as they take in the end of summer and doing things they haven’t done for a while. We all need to rest and get motivated again after we have created something great or just made the client happy. Yes, the Gentleman’s Quarterly accolade is nice, but will there be a U2 song written about it. I don’t think so. However, it’s nice to see our guys dressed in their finest and accepting an award. You will notice that the founding member is nowhere to be seen, probably coming up with new drum tracks or better yet, taking time off from band responsibilities.
Well, I didn’t skip it. I just didn’t go home to visit the family for one reason – U2’s Zoo T.V. Zoomerang pay-per-view concert from Sydney, Australia. My parents had basic television with rabbit ears and no cable. I had no chance in hell of seeing this in Iowa. I would’ve been stuck with no connection to the outside world for six days. Luckily, my aunt and uncle graciously let me stay at their place and have a run of the house just so I could tap into U2’s event. Thanksgiving Day of ’93, the day of the broadcast, had been almost a year and a new album since I’d seen U2 play live. Well, I did get a chance to tape the live broadcast of their final Dublin show a few months prior off local radio station WXRT and I was familiar with the set list, including Bono’s McPhisto character. Curiosity was killing me to see how the show had changed visually with the new additions. I was not disappointed.
As the concert rolled on that evening, I was on the edge of my seat, actually end of the bed, watching with glazed eyes and reminiscing about the show I had seen four times, one indoors and three outside. The Zoo T.V. tour, U2’s two-year road show for Achtung Baby, kept evolving as it hit different continents, which made the whole tour a very cool thing. The opening video montage focused on the EU, not George Bush, with the brilliant clips from Leni Reifenstahl’s Triumph of the Will film along with a cricket match, which got the crowd roaring leading into Zoo Station. We were on for a ride through one of the greatest touring spectacles ever produced for a stadium show and one that has been copied, in parts, by several other touring acts. Near the end of the concert, McPhisto’s, Bono’s devilish character created for the Euro part of the tour, spews a ranted recount of all that had happened during Zoo T.V.’s lifespan of 2 years was the way for the tour to go out in style. His poetic spilling of headlines such as Bill Clinton coming to power, Yugoslavia’s turmoil and the NEO Nazis rise in Germany was in step with all of the video bombardment that hit us at the opening of the concert. It was if I was watching the curtain call for a long running Broadway show. Bono, actually McPhisto, tied it all up in a nice bow by telephoning a taxicab company for a ride home from Sydney’s football stadium. It doesn’t get any more rock n’ roll than that at the end of the tour.
The Sydney concert couldn’t have come at a better time for me. My spending Thanksgiving alone with U2 was going to aid me getting through one of my toughest parts of my life. I was battling depression set on by a girlfriend who left me flat added to the fact of my frustration of still working in a retail environ 3 years after college. They say rough times happen to all of us but I was hit hard and in the gut. I looked to my band, as I usually did back then, to help me through this traumatic time. My aunt and uncle were also there as well. They knew I was fragile when it came to relationships because they both witnessed my parent’s divorce when I was three years of age. I was now 25. In all fairness, I was getting back at my ex who had pulled the rug from underneath my life five months prior. My pair of custom painted U2 jeans was sitting in London waiting for U2’s return. The band requested my work in order to make a decision about a merchandising venture with me. I was a day late and a dollar short on tying the idea into this tour but still my work was in their hands and it was comforting.
In retrospect, the Sydney show truly was the end of the yellow brick road of this adventure U2 took the world on. The Zoo T.V. tour was so far ahead of its time that in this day and age of Twitter, Facebook and media blitz, simpler is better. Actually, the tour was a forecast of what was to come. Today, we are living inside Zoo T.V. as we were then watching it. It is strange how that happened but I feel that there’s a disconnect in life just as it was portrayed on those television screens and vidi-walls oh so long ago. In U2’s terms, it was a bookend of genius and something we will never see again. The band was on rare form. Not that they have not been recently but creatively, this was their apex. For Bono to come out in costume would be to fill his prophecy of “I’m a tired old pop star in platform shoes.” Which is a fitting way for him to look at himself in the mirror long before reality told him. As for the history of this show, it will stand the test of time because it not only showed the passion of U2 but also gave light to their fans down under.
I remember November 19, 1991 as if it were yesterday. The day was a cold and wet welcome to U2’s newest album Achtung Baby. It was near the middle of the afternoon when I went into Rose Records with a mouth full of Novocain from the dentist. Jamie, my African American Iowa alumni and fellow U2 drug pusher pal, had decorated her store with U2 on one side and while the other side was plastered with Garth Brooks, the hottest thing in country music at the time.
As I went to the rack to get my disc, I had no idea what I was in for in the coming evening. The crackle of flipping the CD cases made my nerves burn even harder with nervousness. I got to the new release and looked at the album cover, plastered in a patchwork of Technicolor like images, with a hint of skepticism. I had hesitation of spending my hard earned cash on the newest release as I knew this wasn’t our familiar U2 anymore. I grabbed it and headed to the counter to pay.
Jamie and I chatted as I made my purchase. She read me the riot act for showing up late in the afternoon on a new release day for U2 as shoved some leftover U2 schwag into a poster tube and sent me on my merry way into the very overcast late afternoon. I let the comments roll off my back as I left the store with my purchase. The graying sky above me began to collapse around me as Achtung Baby was burning a hole of curiosity in the bag I was toting to Davis Street “L” stop just a few blocks away.
As the “L” train tracks rolled underneath me, I pulled the new-fangled digi-pak CD case, which was still wrapped in cellophane, out of the shopping bag. As I panned all of the images on the cover again, I was searching for clues for what lie beneath. I flipped the CD case over to read the song titles. I was familiar with The Fly but not the others. I mulled the images over and over until my eye caught one of the band dressed in drag. It intrigued me. I was not shocked but curious. Where were U2 going to take me this evening was the real question I wanted answered?
When I entered my studio apartment, I didn’t put any lights on. I let the lack of daylight from the day’s gray sky settle around me. I threw my coat on a chair and shoved the CD into the stereo. I then laid down on my futon with one arm outstretched to the CD player hitting the play button. I wanted the album to roll over me and that is exactly what happened. The open grittiness of Zoo Station took over my every sensation. It was as if I could hear The Joshua Tree being chopped down in the background screaming “OOUCH!” After Zoo Station, I blindly skipped to the only tune I knew, The Fly. I loved it. It was the epitome of the new U2: foreign, scary and hypnotic. That clamoring guitar at the beginning of The Fly was the drug I was looking for in the album. I had heard the Achtung Bebei outtakes a few months earlier and I knew what I was in for or at least I thought so. Bono’s falsetto voice he found in Cole Porter’s Night and Day came to the forefront of The Fly as Edge’s guitar rips the riff apart. As usual Larry was holding down the song down with the steady beat. Adam contained us in his bass line. I was hooked.
After The Fly was over, I started the album from the beginning in order to listen to it in its entirety. By now, my apartment was dark with the faint glow emanating from the CD player. I started Zoo Station again. The love fest was beginning. As I moved through the album, I felt the transformation of U2 was right. Not only was there this new heaviness in U2’s sound spilling out of my speakers but the lyrics were really well crafted. The metaphoric prowess didn’t sink the songs but were polished to the point where they were original. The images created within the narrative were darker. Until The End of The World, a prime example of this great change, has Edge dancing through a chord progression while Larry keeps his standard marching drumbeat and Bono cries out his heart as he visits a very deep seeded religious narrative. It is the track of no hope at all and the darkest of the tracks of the album. However dark the album goes there is a light of optimism. Achtung Baby’s brilliance is in finding balance. The tracks Mysterious Ways and Ultraviolet (Light My Way) put hopefulness back into play. It’s this up and down roller coaster of emotion, which is where the genius of Achtung Baby lies. Anchored by Bono’s tug on your heartstrings lyrics, U2’s new found musical sound scapes are pushed further to the foreground, more than ever before, for a very in your face record.
I revisit Achtung Baby, like War and The Joshua Tree, on occasion in its entirety. I have lived with this album for close to two decades and find comfort in the album. The tracks take me back to a very tough part of life when I moved out on my own and discovered that having trust in friends, family and lovers was tough. When I listen to the record today, it still fits like a comfortable pair of blue jeans and it is that return to the albums last three tracks that gets me every time. I know the album is coming to an end with a hint of hope after Mysterious Ways. Ultraviolet (Light My Way) offers the beginning to the road to redemption, which is found near the launch of the record. Acrobat has this tough punk ending line “Don’t let the bastards get you down” which leads to haunting love song Love Is Blindness. I will say it is the best ending of any album U2 has created. The revisiting of Ultraviolet (Light My Way) on the 360 tour is a testament to this fact that U2 in fact unearthed a gem from a grand album and it has stayed with us as others, much shorter, have passed their shelf life.
The industrial dance influence that came with Achtung Baby was really no surprise to me. I saw it coming when U2 released the track Night and Day on the Cole Porter tribute Red Hot + Blue. Many stars previous to U2 had covered the song, a certified classic. In fact, it’s the anchor tune in the Great American Song book. However, U2 takes Night and Day to another level by bringing in an industrial backing track, a drum machine, Edge’s guitar and a conga. What true blue U2 fans were seeing in the fall of 1991 was the makings of what is to come in U2’s next studio project Achtung Baby.
The Night and Day recording is really is a one-off and it’s the bridge song from The Joshua Tree / Rattle and Hum era to the new beginning of U2. What those four minutes or so of recorded was taking a risk and running with it. Bono begins to give the song its darkness by almost speaking the opening phrase. As the chorus rolls along in its brilliance, he keeps the darkness as he wails for the late night lover who lives in the narrative. What Bono is really working towards is the falsetto, which will become his bread and butter vocal for upcoming tracks on Achtung Baby.
The video, on the other hand, displays the band as actors, at the very beginning, as they hold their instruments while letting their lead singer take over. Each band member seems to be pondering not only the lyrics but also the existence of the band. We see the signs now that this was the turning point of this great group. What we were unaware of was what was really around the corner as U2 progressed into digging deeper into a darker side of themselves as Achtung Baby was coming to life in the studio which was a push for them to move into uncharted waters of alternative rock, industrial and dance music.
In hindsight, Night and Day is a gem of a track and it’s ageless. The band, without pressure of a full-length record to produce, sits in and works out a new sound without hesitation. U2 followed their edict of going home to dream it all up again as they said they would. For the next seven years, U2 completely changed their sound. There were bumps along the way but in my mind, this recording session was the seed of their expansion and escape from the overexposure they had in the late 80s from their success with The Joshua Tree.
The release of Rattle and Hum in the theaters twenty-two years ago this week is the one time U2 came into my life that’s not covered in depth in my memoir I’m A Fan – How I married U2 into my life without going to the altar. How could I skip this event you ask? I don’t know. I think the jury is still out on why the movie has not made such a big impact on me. Maybe the reason is that Rattle and Hum was a reflection of the live side of the Joshua Tree tour and didn’t give me enough insight to the band. However, I do remember the anticipation that filled me as the cold November night wrapped around us as we walked across campus to the Englert movie theater to see the film. I had high hopes for the film and that changed shortly after I left the theater with my Rattle and Hum t-shirt and poster in hand. I was excited and wanted to see it again but not so eager to return immediately. Within days, the film had left campus.
My immediate reaction was mixed. I loved the up close and personal feeling that director Phil Joanou used to get us near the band as compared to my near the back of the hall seats I had a year earlier when U2 came to Iowa City. What I missed was the tangible content. I felt cheated in some respects. I wanted more banter and documentarian aspects to the film such as you see in Wilco’s I Am Trying To Break Your Heart from 2002. What I got was a concert tour interrupted by boredom as the band visited Graceland, much like Spinal Tap did four years previous. U2, I think, was trying to portray the impact of American music on them but it fell apart.
Where does the movie stand in the pantheon of music documentaries?
When you have The Last Waltz and Gimme Shelter as the precursors to your road movie, you have a tough row to hoe. Each of these movies gets it right. The Last Waltz is a reflection of The Band’s final show and the brilliant musicians showing up to pay tribute. U2 tries to work this in by getting B.B. King into the studio to cut some tracks. King is merely introduced to us as Bono rambles out the lyrics to When Love Comes To Town in front of him. What we are missing is them working together in the studio. Instead, we get them working on the stage before a show. It’s a nice narrative segue to a live show. Narrative is a very key component to these films and Gimme Shelter, like The Last Waltz, works how the end of the summer of love was not all that loving throughout the whole movie. The film hangs on the suspense of the band learning there was a murder while they performed at Altamont. Gimme Shelter builds steam as Maysles brothers intersperse live footage from Madison Square Garden, the pre-Altamont interviews and then the climatic show with the Hells Angels causing havoc. The Rolling Stones movie is just as reflective as The Band but Rattle and Hum fails to make that leap of faith of why America was so important to them as the Joshua Tree tour rolled on across the United States. The magic of the Rattle and Hum lives in the live footage but in comparison to the other two films, the interviews are where it’s lacking.
Now lies the rub. Stop Making Sense, the concert documentary by the Talking Heads, is above all the best concert captured on stage since The Last Waltz. What Jonathan Demme created was a masterpiece. Actually, the Talking Heads created the brilliant stage show; Jonathan decided to capture it from beginning to end. The brilliance is the storyline, which is in the songs lyrics, and carries the burden of the narrative. I believe this is why the Talking Heads need not be interviewed. Also, Stop Making Sense shows an art house band, ahead of its time, integrating video with still images as a way of selling the story. In comparison, the Joshua Tree Tour, captured in Rattle and Hum, was very stark. The stage at times was dimly lit, which created a tension felt by the audience. The use of black and white film, in Rattle and Hum, is what makes this movie work. The choice of grainy film gives the live footage depth with a haunting fear about how dangerous this band is live and the shaky back stage camera scenes a grittier personality, which will set it to equal to Stop Making Sense.
In closing, Rattle and Hum serves us as a reminder of what this band was like when they broke into America with the Joshua Tree. We cannot take that away from them. Some people are visual and this was the hook to get them on board. It’s a good hook. However, I wish there was more tooth of the band when the cameras were really not on them. The interviews are forced. What was it really like when they were relaxed or working? We didn’t get that. Instead, we got an extension of the Joshua Tree, which put the band in jeopardy as Bono stated at the Point Depot years later by stating that they had to go and dream it up all over again. The Joshua Tree tour, more specifically Rattle and Hum, became their burden and our favorite band almost became eaten by their own success. It’s too bad because I have always felt there was a better way to make a film about that American journey. Maybe they will by adding in a retrospective interview on the commemorative DVD. Or more importantly, the movie will be rereleased, like Stop Making Sense was for its 15 anniversary, and I can go back to see it for a second time in its brilliance and on the big screen.
Me at Sun Studios under the platinum disc for Rattle and Hum.
In October 1990, I was out of college for five months and living in Chicago, actually Evanston to be precise. America was headed to a Middle East war and the economy was going south. I was a newly minted graphic designer, who disembarked the Greyhound bus in the Windy City two months prior and holding onto everything as I worked for a little upstart company, Starbucks Coffee, just to make ends meet. My life needed vitality on my days off from work. I spent them wisely record store hopping around the city.
One afternoon, I came across a store in downtown Evanston, which housed a case in the back filled with bootleg Compact Discs. It was like an altar that beckoned me to visit. It sucked me in like a vortex. As I scanned the case, I saw a lot of old live recordings. Classic shows of Prince, on the Purple Rain tour, and Springsteen, on his Born in the U.S.A. tour, were propped up on picture frame holders and wrapped neatly in shrink wrap. I kept looking at the candy and then my scanning came to a halt. There it was – U2 Point Depot. I looked at the price and crapped my pants, $90. I knew it was out of my price range, as it would take 2 months or 3 to pay for it on my measly $6.25 an hour job. Luckily, the store would let you listen at one of three listening stations. I did just that. I listened to, and recorded it into my grey matter, every track in its entirety. Then I heard that famous quote by Bono as the show closed, “It’s no big deal, it’s just – we have to go away and … and dream it all up again.” I was crushed. Was this meaning U2 was done? This was their exit stage left? I was worried as I am sure others were too. We had no Internet to turn to find the answers to our questions. We had to unearth the right source to give us the information of band status. I asked the store owner and he looked blankly at me as I gave back the headphones to the listening station. I was lost.
As I exited into that cold, grey October day, I had no idea the band was in East Germany dreaming it all up again or at least trying to. Without any contact with die-hard fans, I was left in limbo but the show stayed with me and so did the price tag. It had been five years since The Joshua Tree had been released and exactly two years since Rattle and Hum. The music world needed U2 and the band needed us. Fear was growing inside me that they would release The Joshua Tree Part I. Actually, Rattle and Hum was just that album, if we could call it an album. U2 needed to leave the spotlight and go dream like Martin Luther King. They had been on top of the mountain and now, they had to venture back into the valley. It would’ve been ok if they left the valley behind without seeing their dream of Achtung Baby come to fruition but they had bigger ideas, “to dream out loud, in high volume.”
I eventually bought the Point Depot album on vinyl and took it to my aunt and uncle’s house to record it on cassette. Paul McGuinness would be mad at me today twice since I bought a boot and then taped the boot onto a cassette but we will get to that discussion later. For this day, I had a copy of U2’s last show on cassette and stuffed into my Walkman. As I waited for the unknown survival of our Irish heroes, I listened incessantly to the Dublin show on acetate. With the addition of God Part II and One Tree Hill plus a couple other newly minted gems, the show was very reminiscent of my first U2 show in Iowa City two years prior. I was in auditory heaven as waited like hell to get a signal that the heartbeat of the band was still an active pulse.
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.