Posts Tagged ‘U2’

Maybe it’s a sign of aging, but I find myself longing for music of the past more and more these days. I’ve never hidden the fact that the current state of music is deplorable compared to when I grew up. But this isn’t a post about that. It’s a post about trying to (rhetorically) figure out what truly connects a person to music, and if that changes over time, across generations and through individuals.

(Note: Everyone’s experience with music is different; I’m not trying to make all-encompassing blanket statements. These are just my observations over the years.)

When I was a kid, all my musical influences lay in the hands of my older family members. As such, it was all 80s rock – U2, INXS, Duran Duran, etc. At that time, cassette tapes were the only vehicle for music, and I still remember this INXS tape we had – 1987’s Kick album, loaded with classics like “Need You Tonight” and “Never Tear Us Apart.” I used to play that tape over and over and over again on my small pink tape player (that came with earbuds!) I would just lay on the ground, headphones in, and listen.

I continued on like this, album after album (including The Little Mermaid Soundtrack) until U2 essentially took over my entire world. I had this one U2 mixtape that I spent hours upon hours crafting, timing every track to perfection. I must’ve listened to it countless times over years and years. At the time, I had a shiny silver Sony Walkman that automatically switched the tape’s sides. I knew every single word to every single song on that tape – they were my first favourite band of all time, and felt like a part of me.

Adolescence is a time when one is easily influenced, inspired. We hang on to things that (we think) mean something to us. If we’re angry, we like loud music. If we like to dance, we pick dance music. Our minds are so malleable and spongey, we can absorb anything. During such a precious time, it’s also easy to just follow what your friends are doing, so you won’t feel left out. For me, it was a combination – my entire school listened to grunge in the 90s, therefore I did too. However, I also enjoyed the music, and felt some connection to it, because it became about learning about an entire genre, and all the bands involved.

But here’s what I’m trying to figure out: when I hear 90s music now, do I love it because of that previous connection to it, because of nostalgia? Is it attached to specific memories, or a more care-free time? Or do I truly think it’s better than a lot of the music of today? If I heard that same music now, what would I think? Would I enjoy it the same way, would it speak to me in the same way? Or was it just a right time, right place scenario? Let’s be real, grunge doesn’t exist anymore (in spite of some pitiful attempts at a comeback); it died a long time ago – is that why it has such a pull over me?

Same would go for those who are fans of 60s-70s music – maybe that attachment comes from the notion that there currently isn’t any music out there that resembles anything from back then. Maybe they feel like they experienced the birth and demise of a genre. Its evolution and inability to survive in the current world. Maybe they just miss it. In previous decades, music had so much more to say. Musicians used their voices to make statements.

Nowadays, the industry has gotten soft. No one (rather, not many) talk about anything real, which is why everything is so interchangeable and unrecognizable. It all kind of blurs together. For example, millennials all think Drake is the almighty – but will they still think that in 10 years? Or is it because they hear his songs at clubs and bars right now? In 10 year’s time though, will they still be going to clubs? Moreover, even if they did, would Drake still be playing over the speakers? Has the music scene just changed now?

These days, music can be heard anywhere and everywhere – which is great. But that also makes a lot of room for noise. I wonder if in this day and age, it’s possible to really connect to an artist, and still feel connected years later. If it is possible, I feel like it’ll still be different than how music was felt in the past; when you earned the ability to listen to a track over and over. You had to save up. You had to really want it, and if the album wasn’t all that good, you wouldn’t delete it or toss it, you’d make yourself listen because you invested in it. You would give it a real, solid chance.

Year after year, there’s so much turnover in tracks too, so many singles released, that it’s tough to really feel the impact of any of them, due to so much output volume. It seems as though Selena Gomez releases a track every week, so how does one even keep track? With programs like Spotify, essentially every single song you could ever want in life, can be found there. You don’t have to buy the album and only play it on your CD player, or if you’re lucky, in your car. You don’t have to commit to an artist.

You can download a track just as easily as you can delete it. No one has Walkmen/Discmen (RIP) anymore, so all music on-the-go comes from their phones. The flow of which can easily be interrupted by phone calls, txt msgs and taking photos. How are young people supposed to understand how to truly value music? People these days don’t get obsessed with albums; they get obsessed with songs. One track.

Don’t get me wrong, I use Spotify too – guilty as charged. It’s the easiest, fastest way to get a track I want when I want it. I don’t have invest so much time/energy in its acquisition. But here’s the thing: I kind of miss that process. I kind of miss getting to know the music, the artist. I kind of miss opening the plastic wrap around the CD. I kind of miss analyzing the album art, and flipping through the lyric books and footnotes. I kind of really miss that connection.



As many of my regular readers know, my relationship with U2 is a complicated and tumultuous one. They were my first “favourite band of all time”; I quoted them in my high school yearbook; I even made a cassette mixtape of their music, that resided in my walkman for years. They were the bee’s knees, the be all and end all of rock bands. Then one day, they just weren’t. They recently flew through Toronto in support of their Songs of Innocence album, here’s what went down.

Seeing U2 live used to be a treat and a half. That musicianship, that love, that passion, resonated in abundance across any stadium in which they played. You could feel Bono’s voice, Edge’s guitar, Adam’s bass and Larry’s drums, as much as they did, and the energy was incredible. All they needed was a stage, a crowd, and their instruments. It was a full body experience, leaving your spine chilling, everything tingling, and a pressing urge to belt out “One” along with them.

U2 have developed a very identifiable “U2” sound – one which they’ve tinkered with over the years. I applaud experimentation, exploration and evolution in music: no one wants to be a one-note band. That’s why we got albums like 1993’s Zooropa, and 1997’s Pop. A little more electronic, a little more out there, a deviation from their usual. Sometimes their wandering worked, sometimes it didn’t. But they kept trying, and I have to respect that.

Over time, the sets on their live shows have become more and more elaborate, extravagant; there’s no doubt that this Innocence and Experience Tour, in that respect, they absolutely did not disappoint. The audio was fantastic – I could hear everything crystal clear even from the nosebleeds. There was a hanging screen built in such a way that the band could actually walk inside, and play from there. All the while the screen was either transparent or full of images superimposing on the band. I’ve never seen anything like it before, and it was pretty mesmerizing. But at the same time, it was also distracting – too many things were going on at once, flashing on the screen, happening across the stage, that the music got lost in all of it and became a secondary part of the show.

U2 often bring fans up on to the stage during their shows. This time, they asked a woman dressed in a belly dancer outfit on stage to dance to “Mysterious Ways.” It seemed almost rehearsed because she was way too composed, like she was expecting it. She didn’t sing along, she didn’t freak out in any way, she just sort of shimmied around without adding any value. Then they brought up a tribute band, Acrobat, who took over the stage and performed “Desire.” To their credit, they were pretty good, but they too didn’t seem even a tiny bit nervous about playing in front of a sold-out crowd, and the lead singer just happened to have a harmonica on him. The whole thing happened so seamlessly, so perfectly, so unrealistically. It seemed much more formulaic than spontaneous.

For the most part, the music was well performed, though overall it lacked in pizzaz in comparison to previous shows. They played a somewhat lullaby version of “Sunday Bloody Sunday” – ie a rebel song, an angry song, a rock ‘n roll song. They performed “Bullet the Blue Sky,” easily one my least favourite tracks. I always used to skip it when listening to Joshua Tree (oh come on, you know you did too) because it came after “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For,” “Where the Streets Have no Name,” and “With or Without You,” and ruined the streak.

I don’t know if they’re lazy, tired or just bored. I understand nothing stays the same forever; I get that people change, music changes, everything changes really. I understand going with the times, adapting, and trying to stay relevant year after year. So maybe I’ve changed, and my taste too. However, I still have the right to expect the same artistry, the same attention to detail, the same ability to rock out and leave a crowd awestruck. As a fan, it’s basically my right. I hate to say it, but U2 just hasn’t been meeting the bar they themselves set. I’ve been blown away by them; I’ve witnessed true, passionate musicians; heck I’ve felt it. But on this tour they dropped the ball; they lost me, and I just wish I could find them.

Last I left off, my relationship with U2 was struggling. A few years ago, I was forced to remove my rose-coloured glasses, and come to terms with who they are, and though I will always be a fan, I can also freely admit to their flaws. Over the years, they have become more of a conundrum than anything, causing all kinds of divide when it comes to their music and their actions. They’re rock ‘n roll, but also people-pleasers. They do their own thing, but try and keep up with the masses. They do things that make no sense, but they’re not controversial. It’s a tough time to be a U2 fan.

U2 is notorious for experimenting with their sound. They spent the 80s and early 90s putting out some of the best music they had in them. Instant classics.

Their first foray into something a little different – as far as I can remember at least – was their 1993 album, Zooropa. Some of their tracks were good old U2, others were an entirely uncharted sound. The Zoo TV Tour made an even bigger statement. It revolved around, giant disco ball lemons, Bono dressing up as a devil. It was about glitz and glamour, more than anything else. Some fans appreciated the change of scenery. Others were hankering for U2 of the past. They continued trying new things with 1997’s Pop, which again, received mixed reviews; this ring any bells?

2000’s All That You Can’t Leave Behind reverted back to a more familiar sound, with commercially successful formulaic hits; in fact, it was pretty much interchangeable with 2004’s How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb; like they had once again found their own comfort zone. These albums were less synth, more rock ‘n roll, but still leaned closer to the pop genre, compared to their 80s hits.

Then 2009’s No Line on the Horizon, took a page out of no man’s land. It was just bad, but was accompanied by the glorious 360 Tour, which was a huge production. Huge. Spider- like stage, floating mics and cameras, TV screens in abundance, a lot of static, a lot of noise; it was all too distracting, and so the music suffered. Some argue they were just trying to contend with other big pop shows touring concurrently, including Madonna’s epic Sticky & Sweet Tour. Others that it was too over the top. Regardless, it was clear U2 was not going back to their music of the early days.

U2 – specifically Bono – has also created a dichotomy amongst music lovers with their activist roles (not to mention Bono’s wardrobe – cowboy hats and sunglasses, anyone?) There’s absolutely nothing wrong with wanting to help heal the world, but a lot of people feel that has nothing to do with music and musicians should stay out of politics. In a 2002 interview with Bono on Oprah, he basically said (and I’m paraphrasing here), that he cannot live in this day and age, in the world in the state it is in, and do nothing about it. Let’s be real, because of his fame, he has a loud voice. He has friends in high places, people supporting him, and his message can get across much quicker, so why not use it as a platform? Why not take his good fortune, and use it as best as possible?

Now on to their most recent album, last week’s Songs of Innocence. There has been plenty internet chatter all year claiming U2 has new material in the works. There has also been a lot of discussion of Apple’s new iPhone 6 and its release, which was to involve U2 in some way. Most thought the band would perform a new track or two, since they have an ongoing friendship it seems with Apple (do we remember the red and black U2 iPod?) At the launch of the iPhone 6, these pals surprised every iTunes store customer in 119 countries, with a copy of U2’s brand new album in their music library. For free (as in Apple bought it from U2 for all its customers). It didn’t even need to be downloaded, it just magically appeared.

Was that a douchebag move? Kind of. To assume that those hundreds of millions of people would all want to tune in is being a tad overconfident. Was it as bad as rapper Tyler the Creator (who?) claims, comparing seeing the album in his music library to Herpes? No. Was Beyonce’s surprise iTunes release better executed? Definitely. Bono has defended the idea by saying maybe some people who’ve never heard them before, now will take a listen (not that they’re in dire need of fans); for those who don’t like it, he claims, no harm done, just erase it. The reaction has been mixed. U2 fans love the idea, of course. They don’t think it’s arrogant or presumptuous at all. Others have wreaked so much havoc over this alleged assault, that Apple had to create a button that automatically deletes the album. Ouch. Who knew free music was such a big crime?

Not Surprisingly, the reviews on Songs of Innocence are also split. Some critics can’t get over how it was released, pointing a finger at a band nearing irrelevancy trying to force their way back into our hearts. Other critics say it was genius. Ignoring their chosen method of release, and focusing solely on their music, here are my two cents: Songs of Innocence is a good U2 album. It’s light years ahead of No Line on the Horizon; also nowhere near the unforgettable, The Joshua Tree. Along the same lines as All That You Can’t Leave Behind, and How to Dismantle and Atomic Bomb. It’s a good U2 album. Nothing exceptional, nothing disdainful. The tracks are solid, but none of them make you stop dead in your tracks; at the same time, none of them make you want to hurriedly skip ahead to the next track.

In an article originally published in Maclean’s in 2011, 50 Canadian music industrialists were asked about different aspects of U2’s relevancy. Some said they are still 100% relevant. Some said not at all. Others said yes, but only because of what their name has come to mean, almost like it’s a brand; that their music is not what’s making them matter. You can’t knock a band for trying to keep up with the times by continually reinventing themselves. Sure it may not always be successful, but at the same time, they themselves are finding their way, and pursuing different creative directions. There’s also something pretty bad ass and rock ‘n roll about sticking to your own thing. About not conforming.

As a fan, you always hope a band’s true musical colours will resurface, or get resurrected once they’ve faded; although I’m not holding my breath. U2 may never be who they used to be, but one thing is for sure: no matter which way you slice it, they will make you think. They will always cause a reaction, they will always stir up conversation, they will always be heard.