It’s not me, it’s U2

Funny short legs don't you think?

The poster on my wall from the age of 12 through 16

U2, the band I grew up with, collecting their limited edition vinyl and attending every concert, are done. It’s over. They haven’t quit yet but I am confident they should, right after their next album.

In the same way it’s important to leave a party when it’s still going well – it’s time for my favourite band to die now. And I hope they do while they are still linked with the joy of their most profound musical moments.

I know the Rolling Stones announced this month that they’ll be quitting the stage, but that’s not reason enough for U2 to step down.

Oddly, my earliest memory of U2 is of knowing people wanted Bono to go away.

And those KILL BONO T-shirts I spotted 25 years ago are still on sale (Thankyou Internet)

To the point. Unlike Bono.

I’ve never hated the man. I have, at times, loved him. Now, a few things convince me their next album should be their last.

Bono has said that the band will quit when they release two crap albums in a row. Based on that theory, and following their last album No Line On The Horizon, their next album will be their final production.

The end began when U2 became stuck in a rut following the album Pop. Pop was dazzling, bringing together the inventiveness of Zooropa and the courage of Achtung! Baby, and drawing on every musical trick they had in the bag. Problem was, their creative energy was exhausted just as their core of fans began to lose faith.

As a songwriter, Bono has mined the poetry and narratives of the Bible better than any other pop star. His decision to stop this brought him to a personal crisis. Could he really hide the part of himself that paraded his Christianity throughout their early albums? (Could anyone expect to hide a messianic complex?)

We broke the bread, we drank the wine, everybody having a good time… Except you. You were still talking about the end of the world.

Until the End of the World

The band claimed that the mega-hit LP Achtung! Baby was the sound of four men chopping down the Joshua Tree, yet lyrically, the album was as full of biblical metaphors, just as any previous album. It did, of course, add industrial rhythms and spunk that had been missing and it stands out to most people as their best.

For me, the turning point came in the disappointing album All That You Can’t Leave Behind, which lacked sincerity, depth, and left us with the most radio-friendly/nauseating song of its time, Beautiful Day.

Elevation was the height of the nonsense…

A mole, living in a hole
Digging up my soul now
Going down, excavation

Elevation

The magazine Uncut said it best in their review, pointing out that U2 appear unable to write a song without an explosive chorus — think about it, it’s in nearly all their songs … and once the build up and climax is identified, it’s painful inevitability proves it a predictable, manipulative tool.

To be fair, songs like One and With or Without You are the exception.

There were reports around 1995, that the band had thrown out an entire album of songs only to start again from scratch – something they have a history of doing. They repeated it before the last album they released, No Line On The Horizon, when they not only sacked their producer but trashed an entire series of songs said to be taking them in a new direction. Instead, what we got was an album that avoided explosive choruses yet delivered confused tunes, some of which, I believe, lack a chorus altogether.

Mediocre reviews were only the half of it. When the band launched their latest hugely successful ’360 Tour’, Bono’s voice was dead on arrival. I’ve just watched their DVD concert recorded at the famous Rose Bowl stadium. The stadium is packed and the stage looks phenomenal, but if this was the performance they thought deserved to be captured forever on film, I’ve got a feeling it is also the last one they’ll capture on film.

Dutifully, I went to the Sydney concert for the 360 Tour, and like the Vertigo Tour before it (pictured) the stage was an engineering marvel.

Childhood dream – tick.

Like many U2 fans still gripping on from the 80s and 90s, I continue to buy every album and attend every tour — a loyalty which puts enough money in their bulging pockets to make anything the band do look like a success.

But this loyalty conveniently disguises the fact their concerts are increasingly reliant on their greatest hits. At the last two concerts, I’ve been embarrassed to find, even a few rows from the stage, that no one is singing any of the new songs.

When the night takes a deep breath,
And the daylight has no air,
If I crawl, if I come crawling home
Will you be there?

In a Little While

I’ve read a few books on the band, and one early biography had great insights into U2′s belief in the power of a song. They don’t ever underestimate the ability of one pop song or one performance to transport people into a different mindset and a better life (if only for a few minutes). What’s even more powerful, Bono said, is that a rock song can change people’s minds and have them believe they can change the world.

He’s right, this time. I do think U2 have changed the world outlook of many people.

But that was years ago. I have been more loyal than most but now, even I must acknowledge that the exhilarating moments U2 brought me, the times I felt no other group could reflect my thoughts so well, were back in the 1990s – 15 years ago.

What’s left for U2, except to taint their legacy and possibly undo all the joy with crap pop songs in search of a chorus?

I don’t want to KILL BONO, but I do hope U2 die.

8 responses to “It’s not me, it’s U2

  1. nate

    Really well written by a classic U2 fan.

    You appear to exhibit the 4 emotional states of change. Disbelief when discussing how Albums after their great ones did not meet the grade and did not meet the high standards of Achtung and Joshua Tree.

    Anger and Blame
    showed in how Bono and the group moved through recent disappointing albums of “All that you can leave behind”

    Reluctant Acceptance
    Has come in that you accept that they will not make another great album in your estimation and should finish it. This is where I think you sit.

    BUT take heart in that commitment to live without U2 is around the corner. In asking them to put forward a last album you are calling them to account and then calling them home in a cry remoniscent of an old dog you have to put down and you are very sad, but its for its own good and you accept that it must end.

    Luke, I hope this journey makes you stronger and appreciate you sharing your inmost U2 thoughts with us.

  2. Naomi

    Well Luke, I disagree with almost everything you’ve said. I only became a “fan” of U2 at Achtung, and many fans from before that don’t like anything from that album onwards – that’s more about stylistic taste than poor songwriting or U2 being past their prime. But if you like the early sound I can understand you disliking the last three albums.

    I will agree that No Line was a dud. But it sounded to me like Bono just hadn’t put enough time into his lyrics – as a student of lyric writing myself, it just looked sloppy. I’m hoping for a better next album.

    However, your (and the critic you reference) denegration of the explosive chorus is crazy. It’s what U2 are known for, so why should they not write them? They sell well, stadiums can sing along with them and they make great rock anthems that push you out of your seat at concerts. I wish I could write such good choruses! I don’t think All That You Can’t was a shallow or cheap album. I think the ongoing spiritual journey of Bono/the band is really evident in that album. All the questioning and internal churning of the previous three albums had been let go, finally he/they had just decided to believe it because he/they wanted to – There were some black and whites after all, amongst all the grey!! “What you don’t have, you don’t need it now. What you don’t know, you can feel it, somehow”. I LOVED that album, and I connected with a lot of it, spiritually. Maybe you should take the lyrics of Elevation and question them as metaphors – what might he be talking about??

    And Vertigo was similar – still showcasing Bono’s struggle between his belief in what’s right and his desire for doing wrong.

    So, maybe he has vocal issues, he does tend to scream and push his voice a lot. But that’s reason to get singing lessons, not quit singing. I’m sad you see so little in the last three albums. Maybe it’s a Gen X thing…he’s still telling our story….???

    • So we agree that based on Bono’s “Two crap albums and we’re out” rule, they are one away from splitting. I am saying that based on the last three, each lacking more magic than the last, their next album should be their last.

      Love your songwriter’s perspective. I didn’t realise ditching multiple songs was so commonplace.

  3. Naomi

    Oh, and to throw out a whole album’s worth of songs is pretty normal for good album makers. My album (and who did I have to impress – no one, really), took 50 odd songs to come down to 11 on the final product. Even big name artists who don’t write, but just select the best songs they can find from other writers, can reserve hundreds so that they can choose the very best possible. It’s based on the common 10% rule – only use your best 10%, the rest just isn’t your best.

  4. THX

    Luke, this is a cracker article, but I have to side with Naomi. Not because I’ve heard the last three U2 albums, the honest truth is I haven’t, but because your argument presupposes that Bono and his cohorts are incapable of producing the songs and/or sound you think is their benchmark. This I think, is an unfortunate presumption.

    Furthermore, in pursuit of a nostalgic desire to have what once was (desires founded on the esoteric memories of one) I feel you rob them of their right to artistic output for art’s sake. Should it always be for the fan? Or does a rock band that has succeeded at all levels have the right to do what simply pleases them?

    I like you, I am a collector of all things created by my all time favourite artist (in fact I’ve had to collect it all twice), but after 25 years I still enjoy the journey the artist chooses to allow me to experience. That journey may not be as good as their semenal years, nevertheless we are invited to join them. The critics say most of the last 10 years has been crap for my artist, but there is an enjoyable anticipation of the next big thing and I’m still enamoured enough with my favourite artist to believe that’s still possible.

  5. THX

    BTW I’ve always loved that picture of you beside the stage.

  6. Paulo

    Yo Lukas, I’m with you there. As you know, I was a massive U2 fan since the early 80′s and something happened when I bought No Line on the Horizon. I paid for, then listened to the album exactly once and then deleted it immediately. There was nothing interesting there, nothing that said give this a few listens and something great will emerge, just nothing – other than some pretty cringe-worthy lyrics and the smell of a complete mess of an album that still got released when it should have been killed. Since that day I stopped listening to U2 completely, other than hearing an occasional song on the radio, and that’s OK. They had some good 80s and 90s music and that’s that. I think music and all of us moved on and those guys just got stuck in a moment they can’t get out of… (see what I did there?!) Yawn. The music industry may well have been destroyed somewhere along that journey also, but I think it’s back now. Oh and I now have a pretty awesome back catalogue of U2 vinyl to sell one day (I hope).

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