NOTE: I fully think I'm an idiot for even suggesting a path for the current biggest band of the world, U2. Not only am I a cliche, but I'm a truth-seeking windbag that never shuts up about my opinions! LOL. Nonetheless, giving opinions is part of being a fan. If you didn't have them, you wouldn't care about the work or people making said work. So with that being said, let's have at it! Get your anti-U2 daggers out and point them at me. I still think they're beyond magical. Deal with it suckas!
My good friend, tortured musician, and overall ambassador of discourse Aaron Niequist recently wrote a short blog about his opinions on where the rock band U2 should go from here.
First and foremost, for reference sake, you can read it HERE.
After completing said blog, Aaron asked my direct opinion on his thoughts. He did this because Aaron and I share many bonds. One of which holds strongest is our unabashed devotion to the boys from Ireland and the sonic pop-rock sounds they continue to release onto the world. I have no qualms about arguing with frenzied passion over the merits of what I deem one of the most important bands of all time, U2.
That's right. I genuinely feel U2 deserves to be in anyone's top 10 list of greatest rock bands of all time, and I'm willing to go hoarse with argumentative opinions on why. Hate them if you will, but they have etched their place in rock history, rightfully so. In fact, I've long felt that what they've accomplished is both staggering in achievement and virtually unprecedented. To summarize in just one sentence, find me another band that's been around for over 30 years with the same 4 guys intact while still staying relevant in the mainstream with new music flowing every few years. And that's the key. They continue to make music that finds its way to the top of the charts despite their growing age. It's absolutely unprecedented. Put it this way, The Rolling Stones (with all due respect) put out a new album and most people go "meh, when's the tour?" Conversely, young people are still buying U2 records. Their relevance and staying power is unmatched. It's inspiring to say the least.
Now then, moving on to Aaron's thoughts. He feels U2 should not only strip down and reduce their arena shows to something quaint, but also, he proposes they retire all of their old hits for touring purposes. No One. No Sunday Bloody Sunday. Just new stuff. Kinda like McCartney refusing to play Beatles songs at the beginning of his Wings run. Basically, tear the house down and build anew brick by brick.
It's a fascinating idea, and one that a band like U2 might just be willing to take. They've long been a career-risking band. If you're not familiar with the courage they've displayed since the 80's, then you haven't been paying attention. The minute they artistically gave the finger to well-respected Bob Geldof at Live Aid 1985 and played the little-known track Bad instead of their massive hit Pride (In the Name of Love), they started their ascension to kings of the rock throne. They followed up The Joshua Tree with an ambitious movie project, only to take the failure that resulted from that and reform their sound to deliver Achtung Baby, a shape-shifting fuzzy album that became a classic. They stumbled with the advent of a new dance sound, only to resoundly return to supremacy with All That You Can't Leave Behind. For even the most cynical critics, you can't say they didn't work for their place at the top.
Which is where they sit now. Perched like ever-knowing gargoyles on top of a castle, they look out at the horizon and see a trail of long departed bands that couldn't handle the mantle they once seized from bands like The Police so long ago. The ground is littered with bands like Oasis, The Smashing Pumpkins, and Guns N Roses; either blown up by their own maniacal undoing or simply by the weight of the public's expectations. No one has been able to cut it. If I've felt anything from Bono's public declarations, it's one of sadness regarding this. I could be wrong... but...
The Beatles had The Rolling Stones (and later The Who) to battle it out with year after year. They were pushed artistically by so many icons of that era, even The Beach Boys of all people. They had Dylan. They had Elvis. And they had a whole host of others to rally back and forth with in some sort of imaginary game of one-upmanship.
Conversely U2 has had no one to challenge them on the soundscape of arena anthemic rock during their history-making run.
They surely must be bored, indifferent that no one seems to be worthy or at the very least, interested in taking their title. Rock music is many things, and one of them is that by playing it, some people believe you can change the world. It's the loftiest of goals, and one that is inherently steeped in both ambition and ego. But I've always said, people who have a problem with ego in rock music don't like rock music. For God's sake, they're rock stars. How humble and apathetic do you want them to be?
Through the years, few bands have achieved this world-moving power most identified with The Beatles. U2 has done it, through not just their music but through actions. If you step back and start to examine the charitable ways they've enriched the world, well you'd pretty much have to be an asshole not to appreciate their presence. U2 learned from historical bands like The Beatles, but no doubt the presence of some peers playing on the same field would be welcomed by them.
It's lonely when you're Batman without a Joker.
Look at this quote from Bono... BONO: There's only 3 other bands on the planet that have the talent and the mystique to change the world with music. Radiohead, REM, and Pearl Jam.
And while I respectfully disagree with REM's inclusion, I can only say that Pearl Jam and Radiohead could change the world, they just choose not to. It must be a frustrating experience for Bono and the boys to have no one to compete with. Just ask McEnroe how he felt when his cyborg-rival Bjorn Borg left the game of tennis. No competition hurts the listener man.
Look- Musically, Radiohead is fairly untouchable. But they make music on their own terms, creating sounds that will constantly be referenced in years to come. I've often said, Radiohead makes art, they don't make songs (in the traditional sense that it). What I mean by that is, their music isn't totally accessible to the mainstream, which is of course the first thing music snobs point out while mocking U2.
"Stupid people with bad taste like U2, not Radiohead."
I think that's a cop-out, and a lazy way at looking things. At best, it's ignorance. I'm not knocking Thom Yorke for making their own unique brand of music, in fact I'd be saddened if they did pop it up just a bit. We need Radiohead to be Radiohead, and we need U2 to be U2.
Which leaves us with Pearl Jam, which readers of my work will remember is my favorite band of all time. Pearl Jam made three of the biggest rock albums of all-time in the early 1990's, then famously hunkered down into a corner in an attempt to gain the critical respect they so obviously deserved. Their path was one of non-promotion, soaked in the furrowed contemplation of Eddie Vedder. It lasted for over a decade. Only recently have they begun to peek their head out and become more visible. Unfortunately, the respect and legitimacy they gained by doing so also came at the price of toppling U2.
Pearl Jam will always be in existence, and their recent revival may just yet give them a second shot at the crown.
But no matter, the real issue comes with the youthful generation of rock bands that shun the spotlight, scared to deal with the inevitable backlash that comes with seeking a more commercial path. Not selling out. Just tweaking. They're afraid to be mocked by the hipsters, and so their potentially bombastic tracks get sidelined for more interesting music. People say it's courageous. I say it's the farthest thing from courageous. Bravery is taking on the best and biggest, all while not selling out and not worrying that you may lose some fans. Imagine if Dylan had stayed acoustic. Imagine if Springsteen hadn't shelved the folksy Dylan-esque tracks that were considered swell to the cool kids and instead blew up the whole game with Born to Run? I think the musicians that could have the same spot as U2 are frightened. Not only did Bono and the Edge seek it out, they forced you to listen. And after the down and dirty hipsters of New York turned on them, U2 came pounding back with tracks like Where the Streets Have No Name and Bullet the Blue Sky.Fuck your mockery, we'll make it in spite of you because we're that damn good. They won the crowds over. It's been hip to bash U2 for a while now, and yet they still stand. Bands of today aren't smart by making weirder music, they're scared. Yeah, I'm glaring at you Arcade Fire.
But Aaron does make some good points, as it has been difficult to be a U2 fan the last few years. All That You Can't Leave Behind was a welcomed return to form for U2, but that was 11 years ago. They've made some solid albums, but the trilogy started there is done. I agree with Aaron that a new direction is needed. Their risks are starting to look less like risks and more like pandering. Spider-Man: The Musical felt like an attempt to cash in on the sudden wave of rock musicals stuffing Broadway's mouths, most notably with Green Day's American Idiot. I won't even get into their American Idol appearance. Nor the guy-liner Bono sported for a while. They seem to be nonchalantly searching for identity, when they should be reaching out for the light in the cracks of their legacy.
Bono recently underwent emergency surgery for a back ailment, and the theory goes that U2 has come back with a new energy fueled by a new direction.
I like Aaron's idea that U2 should strip down their tours and do something intimate. The idea of U2 on a small stage playing raw is beyond moving, though I would only disagree with Aaron's idea to retire both the tours and the instant classic songs.
I would propose a break from the stadium tours for about five years. Give the Pearl Jams of the world some needed arena spotlights as the number one touring bands. Get back to the basics and earn some more street cred (not that I think you need it). Make people remember why you are who you are. You're still bad-ass musicians above entertainers.
I like Aaron's idea of starting with only newer songs, but I'd add that sprinkling in older tracks is still very much needed. Maybe you could re-invent how some of them sound, or maybe they remain as a reminder to what music can do. Praise all you want about the power and beauty of Radiohead, they'vr never written something that evokes so much instant emotion worldwide as Pride (In the Name of Love). There's a hit. There's a mega-hit. And then there's the rare track that transcends every boundary laid forth in front of it. A call to arms and a call to communion amongst differences. Pride is such a song, and retiring it altogether does no service to anyone.
If they take this self-exiled break that's been rumored at, I have no doubts it will serve to re-emphasize just who they are and what they're capable of. They've already cemented their place in the annals of history, so why not take a test?
U2 definitely needs a shake-up. And perhaps now is the time for an altogether different reason...
It might have taken longer than they expected, but the heirs have finally arrived. No, it's too late for competition. It's only time to pass the torch. I think U2 will age gracefully and remain relevant no matter what, but the title of biggest band in the world is no longer theirs. The moment has come when all the right factors coagulate and there finally seems to be a group of bashful lads excited about waving the flag for much-maligned but brilliantly popular rock bands with sing alongs at every corner of their discography.
The band willing and ready to take their place as rightful heirs to the arena rock dynasty is standing right in front of them. They've been slowly building and growing in popularity and spirit for years now. And I really think if someone pushes Chris Martin to rock just a little bit harder, the flag is rightfully theirs.
Coldplay's time has come. And it's time for Bono to let go just a bit. It'll be okay. They're U2. They will always kick ass.
Then, and only then, can Bono remind the cynics why they were there in the first place. For the most part, I agree with Aaron. Tear it down.
It's someone else's turn now. It's time. It's really time.
Just make music. Take a spin in weird directions, you've earned it. The stadiums and fireworks and lasers will be there waiting when you want them back. But you might just find they were starting to hold you back... and you've never been stale. We don't expect you to be now.
No matter what, this U2 fan will be always be supporting.
Think I'm way off on Coldplay? I present this as evidence piece #1...