How The New U2 Matters and Doesn’t

Calgary, AB, Canada / (CFGQ FM) 107 Calgary
How The New U2 Matters and Doesn't

When I read they were giving it away for free I thought – great! Another example of the devaluation of music.  Not great.  Entirely sarcastic.    I said so on the facebook post that delivered the news.  The source and sometimes collaborator on my Legends series, writer Andrew Burns, pushed back with ‘Come on Jeff’ and then quoted the giver of the seemingly free music.

Bono: “You’ll have noticed the album is free to U2. com’ers from the band. It’s also free to everyone on iTunes thanks to Apple. To celebrate the ten year anniversary of our iPod commercial, they bought it as a gift to give to all their music customers. Free, but paid for. Because if no-one’s paying anything for it, we’re not sure “free” music is really that free. It usually comes at a cost to the art form and the artist… which has big implications, not for us in U2, but for future musicians and their music… all the songs that have yet to be written by the talents of the future… who need to make a living to write them.”

OK, fair enough. But wait. Today I discover the rub appears to be that unsuspecting iTunes users got the new U2 album without asking for it.

As a friend named Natalie just posted: iTunes has always been a questionable music delivery system, but unavoidable with my iPhone. but taking it upon themselves to add a U2 album to my phone?! unacceptable! how do I delete this thing ? it’s sullying my collection.

Me? I’m a long time U2 fan. Especially since the 1984 album ‘The Unforgettable Fire’. The combination of Eno/Lanois behind the board co-producing, elevated them, sonically to something I could get behind. The music began to breathe. Less notes. More interesting sounds.

Sure, being in radio – I received music for free – to play it in the radio. Starting in the mid 80’s with U2’s Wide Awake in America, The Joshua Tree (1987), Rattle & Hum(1988. Then I started up a record store and in manner of speaking – started paying for them again. Then back to radio, where the complimentary copies kept coming – Achtung Baby (1991), Zooropa. (1993) Pop (1997) which left me wondering where MY U2 had gone. They HAD me again in 2000 for the very song driven ‘All That You Can’t Leave Behind’. And then I went back to living my life in their absence. We had a great run in terms of the band-fan relationship. They went their way, I went mine.

Much respect for any band that into their 5th decade without losing or ousting an original member – imagine that – sticking with your high school mates through five decades (late 70’s to present) and not killing them, having them kill you, and you all get rich together along the way.  (my 60 seconds Legends daily story about ‘how U2 formed’ is below)

I’m not suggesting the goal was to get rich but you can be certain if there hadn’t been money to be made, U2 would have submerged never to be heard from again.

Beyond Bono’s clarification around WHY iTunes has pushed free copies of the new album to it’s users this week (500 million users at that), the band’s new manager (he also manages Madonna) Guy Oseary shares his strategy by saying that ““Certain opportunities presented themselves, and [the Super Bowl] was the one we were ready to go with and felt right about for [the (RED)] campaign. The band worked on this album for five years, and the idea of doing a few things early on in the year just to connect back with the audience that something was coming. We did Jimmy Fallon, we launched that, we also did the Mandela soundtrack and performed at the Oscars, just a few things to keep them active early in the year. In the last few months, we’ve been connected with Apple and they are so collaborative and forward-thinking, and have a really strong relationship with the band. It all came together very organically.”

Sick to death of the use of the word ‘organic’ aside, there are U2 fans who love the new album (that’s entirely presumption on my part), and there are those who deplore them, like VICE.  And like The Washington Post. And you’ll find a couple positive one’s in this little compilation of reviews from fyimusicnews.ca      My counter-part in the national radio series arena, Ongoing History host Alan Cross says:    “I don’t mind the album. I really don’t”.   I’m not sure that means his neighbours are getting sick of hearing him blasting it in his home studio at ‘eleven’ ala Spinal Tap.

Most informed of music writers at Rolling Stone, David Fricke offers up the thought that the new album (U2’s first in five years)  is:  “a triumph of dynamic, focused renaissance: 11 tracks of straightforward rapture about the life-saving joys of music, drawing on U2’s long palette of influences and investigations of post-punk rock, industrial electronics and contemporary dance music”.   His complete review here.    And you’ll find a track by track review as well, from RollingStone.com

 SO, I’ve gone to my ‘purchased’ page on iTunes, where I’m supposed to find my very own ‘Free’ copy, but it’s not there, despite iTunes saying it is.  Strange how it’s easier to BUY music than it is to get it for FREE, even when the band and their manager spend countless hours in meetings finding a way to make it so.  The five week ‘giveaway’ culminates with worldwide release October 13th.

The physical release (hard copy) of Songs of Innocence comes with a 24-page booklet. A deluxe, gatefold double album, contains an acoustic session of songs from the album and four additional tracks: Lucifer’s Hands, The Crystal Ballroom, The Troubles (Alternative version) and Sleep Like a Baby Tonight (Alternative Perspective Mix by Tchad Blake) 

The album will also be available as a gatefold, double white-vinyl LP with an exclusive remix of “The Crystal Ballroom”.

Learn more about the new U2 straight from the horse’s mouth at U2.com

And this weekend on your radio – a new hour long episode of the Legends of Classic Rock, featuring ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll High School’ and bands that got started, like U2, in school.   Here’s a taste: