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In The Name Of Fu…. – U2 Are Back

U2, returning with new album ‘No Line On the Horizon’, really are the embodiment of the Rock Superpower. Though they were by no means the first, they really defined the idea of a stadium band and the megalithic album every two years. If that sounds formulaic, well, it is, but in all fairness it’s their formula. No-one slags Einstein for E=mc2, do they? U2 are very much a Marmite band. Those who follow them love them with an unadulterated fervour, while those who don’t despise them for what is seen as their shrill over sincerity and Bono. The truth is, as always, somewhere in between.

One thing U2 aren’t is cool. From their earliest days as an angular, post-punk crew through their big hats and hair days in the 80’s, they were always too geeky, too awkward to really pull it off. Perhaps that explains a lot of their success – they were never really the ‘in’ crowd and a lot of people out there identified with them, culturally recognising fellow outsiders. They briefly flirted with it in the 90’s, when they embraced artifice and had fun with it, but the turn of the century saw the experimental ambitions of that last decade unceremoniously kicked to the kerb and the howlingly obvious ‘All That You Can’t Leave Behind’ usher in the new, old U2. Shorn of ambition but able to churn out anthemic potboilers till the crowd comes home, the band clearly marked out a fertile territory which will see them all right till retirement.

It’s a shame that they abandoned the attempt to be edgy and dark, but then they never really pulled it off in the US in the way that, say, The Cure or Depeche Mode did. The band were always too earnest, which may explain the consistent critical kicking they have had in the UK. The US preferred to anoint them as another in the line of classic rock, Springsteen with funny accents. Over here we like our stars arch and weird, and U2 are just neither.

That’s not to say they haven’t made some thrilling music. They most certainly have. There’s usually something on each album worthy of your attention, while the 90’s trio ‘Achtung, Baby!’, ‘Zooropa’ and ‘Pop’ are simply essential. But they now seem to have plateaud into the public perception as very rich, slightly annoying rock stars. Why? Step forward, Mr. Hewson.

Bono just isn’t likeable and as he gets older grows ever more faintly ridiculous. Now nursing a dyed Charlie Nicholas haircut, his constant, unironic preaching is seen, perhaps rightly, as hypocritical and extremely irritating. While worthy, there’s a touch of the Annie Lennox in his deluded certainty that he’s changing the world. Someone who was more self-aware, for example, would not preach to a stadium full of people who have been charged £70 for a ticket about world poverty. His constant intrusions into the political world have left people questioning his value and right to be there. If shilling a lot of product gets you invited to talks with Nicolas Sarkozy, surely we should be inviting Bernard Matthews? He’s sold more Turkey Drummers than U2 have records.

Facile jokes aside, U2’s position of global dominance will not be affected by anybody’s gripes. They are simply too big and too inured in people’s psyches for that to happen. Indeed, for accurate comparison, you need only look down your nearest high street. U2 are Starbucks – consistent, safe, slightly annoying and simply everywhere. Perhaps their most damning legacy will be the number of bedwetters with stadium pretensions such as Razorlight, Coldplay and The Killers they have set the template for. But in the end, it matters little; they are just too big to completely avoid.

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7 Responses

  1. As you say, too big to avoid but becoming far less relevant with age. Once people rediscovered irony in the 90s, U2 were always going to be in trouble!! Still, they probably sell as many (more?) of their blander recent albums than they ever did of their classics – go figure!

    However, you may be interested to know that Starbucks have just announced major job cuts and store closures. The CEO has even agreed to slash his basic salary from 1.5 million to 10 grand!

    Is there a metaphor in there perhaps for U2’s new album?

  2. Having an opinion on U2 is like having an opinion on rain. They are too powerful to be concerned by critics. Each to their own I suppose but they’ve released nothing with wit, panache or style since the early 90s.

  3. I did not know that about Starbucks. Very interesting! Wonder if U2 plan on reducing their salaries? 😉

    And I would say you are both right. ‘Pop’ was great, but scared the shit out of their hardcore, so it was back to platitude, hard-rocking Stereophonicsland on the next and they’ve never looked back. Or forwards, sadly.

  4. I saw U2 twice in Tiffanys (now the Garage for you youngsters) in 1982 / 83 and back then I really loved them. The Alarm supported them on one of those gigs and I was right down the front. But I was young and wreckless in those days.

    I went off them quite quickly after that as I was incredible fickle – and have never really been back into them again since.

    At the time though I loved Larry Mullins he was a hottie.

  5. Incredible Fickle would be an OUTSTANDING name for a band.

  6. I saw them at Tiffany’s too…….the support band were Comsat Angels who were way better at the time, but would you listen to them now?
    That ,is the whole crux with U2. They’ll never be cool. Bono is a rod muncher. Adam Clayton, the supposed “cool” one in the 80’s (he didn’t pray pre-gig/was shagging Niaomi Campbell) had bleached-blonde curly hair and played with one hand. The Edge wore hats for one reason only. And not because he had a cold head.
    The drummer……..well, he was the drummer.
    Despite all this, and believe me, I fucking hated U2, simply due to the fact that I worked in Virgin Records in Union Street when they had the only video jukebox and I had to witness “Under a Blood Red Sky” about twenty times a day, they HAVE released some stone cold GREAT records.
    Who can argue with “One”, Beautiful Day”, “Lemon”, “Until The End Of The World”, “Elevation” “In Gods Country” as great songs?
    Don’t get me wrong………I hate these twats, BUT they have given us some pretty good songs.
    I think I may be becoming reasonable in my old age.

  7. I agree. Even that last album, which I thought was dreck, had ‘City of Blinding lights’ which was easily more emotive than anything Codplay have ever done.

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