I realize that bashing U2 is like spitting on the cross to some late model baby boomers and a lot of Generation X (of which I am a member). Before I bash, I must quantify: I like U2. Okay, "Pride (In the Name of Love)" is a lousy song (go listen to it closely if you don't believe me) and I don't like most of their old stuff, because The Edge (I feel stupid just typing that; how does he go through life?) sounds like he's just playing the same guitar riff over and over, but "The Joshua Tree" is brilliant, "Achtung Baby" is almost as good, and even "Zooropa" has its moments. I even listen to "Pop" occasionally (raise your hands if you're with me on that ... yeah, I didn't think so) and "All That You Can't Leave Behind" was decent. So I'm a freakin' fan, okay?
So why bash them? Well ... I was reading a story about them in our local newspaper and came across a quote about them which described their marketing strategy as "savvy." It made me ill, to tell the truth. It made me ill when Bono announced they were reapplying for best band in the world. Sorry, Bono, you never were the best band in the world, even in your late-80s early-90s heyday. Why did it make me ill? The old U2 wouldn't have approved those iPod commercials, nor would it have approved of them. The old U2 spit at crap like that. I may not have liked the old U2 as much as some, but when Bono stuck that flag in those rocks while singing "Sunday Bloody Sunday," it felt like he was ready to lead the revolution. But, like all revolutionaries, the boys in U2 decided it was better to allow the system to co-opt them and make some coin. Hence, the "savvy" marketing campaign.
Why does this disappoint me so much? Don't I know that everyone sells out eventually? Sure, but I've always wondered why bands that were so unwilling to sell out when they actually need the money are so willing to do it when they don't need the money. I actually have less of a problem with unknown bands selling their music to commercials (although that still sucks) than I do established bands. Is Pete Townshend or Robert Plant telling me they really need the money? Does Bono really need to money? Is it just some desperate grab to remain in the limelight? Is fame really that important to these people? Maybe it is, but it's sad.
I never understood why bands that have made a crapload of money don't simply do what they want and screw the album sales. The reverse seems to be true -- young bands are more willing to experiment, and older ones coast on their laurels. A few don't. David Bowie always seems to be re-inventing himself. R.E.M., to name a contemporary of U2, never looked back once they went all wacko, and their sales have suffered tremendously. I was never a big fan of R.E.M. either, but "New Adventures in Hi-Fi" is so much better than their more "popular" work it's ridiculous. Maybe the most disappointing thing about U2 is that, on "Achtung Baby," "Zooropa," and "Pop," they did experiment, pushing the boundaries of their music outwards. For a while, people were onboard, but when the audience left, they decided to "return to their roots," which is a kind way of saying they put out an album that sounded like everything they had done prior to "The Joshua Tree." Apparently, this new album is more of the same. It's sad, but it seems that Bono and the boys couldn't handle the fact that millions of people were adoring them anymore, and they might not get an invitation to play at the opening of the Clinton Library (can you imagine the Bono of 1982 accepting an invitation to play at the Clinton Library?)! That wouldn't do, so they decided to go all retro and play the same old junk they churned out in the 1980s, before they got interesting.
Maybe this is a good album. Maybe it is interesting musically. Everything I've read about it suggests otherwise, but maybe it will be fine. Although I bought "All That You Can't Leave Behind," I have no interest in buying this one. I don't buy a lot of music these days, and refried U2 is low on my list of interests. I have in the past continued to buy music just because I remember the glory days (I bought "Invisible Touch," for crying out loud!), but I don't much anymore. I would like to read someone calling U2's marketing strategy what it is -- a gasp for attention from a once-great band that doesn't have the guts to continue to broaden their musical horizons. Just don't call it a major event in the history of rock and roll.