The dirty little secret of the last tour is it didn’t go clean, there were tickets available here and there. With all that production, with all those breakthroughs, with all that press…
People didn’t want to hear the new songs.
Ed Sheeran put out a couple of numbers last week and broke records. The tracks were streamed millions of times. Double digit millions, in fact.
But no one wants to listen to new U2 music. Not in quantity.
What happened? They got old, they can no longer capture the zeitgeist, and rather than be embarrassed, rather than play to less than full halls, they’ve decided to become an oldies act, give the audience what it wants, and once you do that, you’re artistically bankrupt.
I don’t know why they’re making an album at all. Actually, they’ve got a set in the can, but the Edge says they’re afraid to release it because it’s no longer timely, not in the age of Trump. But what age are they living in? When you polish a collection over years to dribble out singles and go on the road for twelve months. That era’s done. You make it today and you release it today, and it’s all about singles.
U2 needs a hit single.
They don’t need an album, which will be instantly forgotten, they need a track, everybody needs a track.
Just ask the streaming services, they’ll give you the data. A track can climb the chart, a track can be playlisted, an album just sits there waiting to be discovered, which it usually isn’t. Furthermore, an album drops all on the same day, which means you get a smidge of attention and then there’s a new new thing. That’s the world we live in, if you’re in the popular culture game you must be creating all the time, be in the marketplace all the time.
And you can fail. No one cares about your stiffs, as long as you make hits. Stiffs are forgotten, chalked up as experiments. Little Big Town did a project with Pharrell, as hot as a personage as there is in music. Hell, Justin Timberlake was involved too. The eight track compilation was released on May 24, 2016 and it went straight to the dumper, their previous album, 2014’s “Pain Killer,” went to number 3 on the country chart and number 7 on the overall chart but “Wanderlust,” the name of the spring collection, only made it to number 103 on the overall chart and it didn’t even make the country chart, not at all! And now, mere months later, Little Big Town has a single, “Better Man,” and it’s climbed the chart all the way to number 4 when not a single track off “Wanderlust” made a dent. What is U2 so afraid of? Experiment, isn’t that what artists do? Test the waters. Don’t be so precious. They poked fun at their image in the “Pop” era, what happened to their sense of humor?
Then again, “Pop” failed, the public didn’t get the joke. But that was back in 1997, the pre-internet era, at least in music, when everybody was paying attention, and most people aren’t paying attention to U2 today.
Hell, work with one of the Nashville titans. Start with Dave Cobb. Then move on to Dann Huff. And let’s not forget Max Martin! And the truth is, a couple of years back, in search of a hit, U2 did work with everybody hot, but it was in an effort to ring the bell, and that’s a hard game to win at. Whereas if you see yourself as an artist and you take a risk you never know what will result. Assuming you’re playing the game.
But U2 has to do it the same old way. Building tracks slowly. Why?
Then again, they had a good long run. Everybody’s career peters out, at least when it comes to new music. But they should give it a shot. And last time they played too big, with the Apple tie-in/delivery. The truth is in today’s world no one’s a star, everybody’s dirty laundry is exposed, if anything, people laugh at/resent Bono trying to save the world. For him and his band to poke fun at themselves, take a risk…there’s a better chance of that being embraced.
And no one listens to albums anymore.
Save me the e-mail, I know you do, but if you U2 fans ruled the world then “Songs Of Innocence” would have been a hit, but it was a stiff.
But you’ll go to see 1987’s opus live, to relive your college days, not wanting to admit that you too are over the hill.
But that’s the modern music paradigm. Everybody wants to believe they’re hip. When the truth is we’re all overloaded with input and many are oblivious to new music and what they’re looking for is direction and leadership, playlists only go so far, we need some hit singles by our legends, but they’re too busy making albums, playing by the old rules.
So there’s image.
And there’s money.
No matter how big a star you might be there are running costs. The receipts from a stadium tour will be much greater. And they’ll get some looky-loos, casual fans, young people, who want to see what once was.
But make no mistake, U2 blinked. It’s not terminal, but it’s a step in the wrong direction. Their producer Eno puts out a new album trying to harness the new reality
but his charges are too big to take a risk, not wanting to fall on their face.
But we love you when you fail, almost as much as we do when you succeed. It humanizes you, it means you’re taking chances.
So for the next year we’ll be subjected to stories about the “Joshua Tree” tour. How amazing it is, reflections on 1987, the huge grosses. Ignore them, they’re irrelevant, a somnambulant press feeding the desires of the purveyors, an endless circle jerk that the public does not care about.
Not that the show won’t be satisfying.
But an artist takes chances. An artist surprises us. An artists hangs it all out.
Once you second-guess the audience, once you give the people what they’re looking for, you’re done. You’re not an artist, you’re a businessman. Artists lead the way and change the culture. That’s what U2 used to do. “The Zoo TV” tour was one of the most innovative of all time, featuring music that was a hundred and eighty degrees from what had come before, a reaction to the overblown “Rattle and Hum” and the resultant backlash. It was even better than the real thing, it was a mysterious endeavor wherein they tried to throw their arms around the world. And they succeeded. I’ll remember it until the end of the world, because I was wowed by the Trabants and swayed by the music. “The Joshua Tree” is already a memory, seeing it performed live is akin to going to a school reunion.
And I haven’t been to a reunion yet.