Sunday, September 14, 2014

Did you hear? U2 has a new album

It's pretty clear after a few days that the big story surrounding U2's new album, "Songs of Innocence," isn't the music itself but the manner in which it was released.  For those who have been living under a rock or vacationing where the Wi-Fi don't go, the album showed up in the "Purchased" section of everyone with an iTunes library on Tuesday, there for the taking with a few quick clicks or touches.  And the way some people have reacted, you would have thought that Bono himself had broken into everyone's house, and slid a copy of the new one into the CD cabinet of everyone with a music collection.

Consider the reaction from Pitchfork:

"U2 being U2, they’ve taken that strategy one step over the line into indisputably queasy territory, aligning with their old friends Apple to insert their new album, Songs of Innocence, into all of our libraries without consent. By updating the old Columbia House Record Club scam to the digital age, U2 and their Cupertino buddies have created a new avenue of opt-out cultural transmission, removing even the miniscule effort it takes to go to a website and click “Download.”

First of all, someone needs to explain to me how what U2 and Apple did last week is like  "the old Columbia House Record Club scam."  If memory serves, the way that worked was that you paid a penny for 12 albums, and then you got one in the mail each month that you could either pay for or send back unopened and unbought.  Based on what I've heard from folks who were actually a member, more often than not the album coming each month was not likely to be one that you wanted to keep.  But unless I've missed something, there's no obligation at all with the U2 album.   I wasn't even obligated to download it, and I'm presuming that for those who don't, it will just as magically disappear from the iTunes library on the day that it goes on sale in more traditional formats.

So the whole thing strikes me as silly, and it makes me wonder how many folks complaining about having U2 in their library have readily agreed to throw their privacy away through the download of insidious apps that require access to so much of one's online identity.  It also makes me wonder whether the heartburn is more about the dislike of so many for Bono as a public figure.  And that, folks, is an old story.  Bono has been a pretentious twit for much of the band's history, but I've never found that a healthy skepticism for Bono as public figure needed to spill over into the consideration of their music.

So what about the music?  Well, the Pitchfork pan and the Rolling Stone rave don't come as a surprise, because the band isn't exactly plowing new ground on "Songs of Innocence."  There's very little experimentation, either in the instrumentation or in the production.  It sounds very much like the classic U2 sound that longtime fans will remember from the mid-1980s - and as far as I'm concerned, there's absolutely nothing wrong with that.  In fact, I think this is clearly the band's best album since at least "All You Can't Leave Behind" from 2001, and perhaps going all the way back to "Achtung Baby" a decade before that.

It seems to me that, at a certain point, a band earns the right to do whatever it wants.  And if U2 wants to return to the basic sound that defined the period of their greatest artistic success - and does it well - then I say more power to them.  And while the album is still sinking in, songs like "Every Breaking Wave," "Song for Someone," and "Cedarwood Road" sound about as good as anything they've ever recorded.  In the spirit of full disclosure, I've never been a fan of their most experimental efforts, and think that "Zooropa" and "Pop" are the worst albums of their long career.  So if you like that vein of their work and those albums, I can see where you might see it differently.

And the controversy over the unconventional release?  There are a lot more important things to get upset about right now.

1 comment:

G$ said...

U2 = top five all-time. Twit or not, you're right - Bono can do whatever he wants!