-Richard McCurdy & David Falk
Richard and David agree on most music, U2 is an exception. We are both very opinionated, with U2 coming to town this summer we got to talking and this is basically the way the conversation went:
Richard: It is my contention that Bono’s persona and stardom has eclipsed the work of the band. This is made clear by the fact that when an article on U2 appears in Rolling Stone the cover primarily or only features Bono (see Almost Famous t-shirt scene where Jason Lee says “I’m just one of the out of focus guys!”). It sometimes takes as many as five paragraphs in an article, supposedly about the band, to mention anything besides Bono. More over I think that Bono’s pageantry diminishes the credibility of the band and puts the music in the back seat to the egomaniacal self promotion of a megalomaniac.
David: Okay so I take issue with the idea that Bono’s star has eclipsed the whole band, like come on it is no different than any other band. That’s how it works; every band has a principle one or two member that’s in the forefront. Whether it is Mick and Keith, Pete and Roger, Bono and Edge yes I said Edge, Edge is the other principle member. Sure Bono has the spotlight, but he’s the lead singer that usually comes with the territory. One should notice that Bono has never released a solo album. He obviously sees himself as a part of the band not above it I don’t think that the music necessarily suffers like you suggest. People still come see the band, people still buy the records, and many list other members as their favorite its not just Bono it is a collective.
R: I can understand the idea of a front man and having them in the spot light more than the rest of the band and that’s not uncommon. I think Bono takes it that much further the focal point is moved from music to eyewear, we can’t think about U2 without thinking of the Bono persona. And as a fan you’re sure to disagree but the music to me has become a symbol of Bono’s cult of personality that can’t be separated. A “toxic twins” poster makes you lip sinc “Walk this Way” a U2 song makes you think of the sunglasses on the front man, how much clearer can the priority be made.
D:See I always think of Edge’s balding head…. Jokes aside, yeah I understand that you think of Bono’s sunglasses, but I don’t think of the sunglasses as the sunglasses, I picture the man wearing them. It is just part of the image, no different then a mullet on an 80’s band, or John Lennon’s circular rims that adorn his eyes. Like I said before Bono hasn’t released some solo side project. Well, non-fans like you obviously only see Bono, most people that listen to the music tend to view U2 as Bono, Edge, Adam, and Larry. I must also say as much as Bono may convey this image of the strutting front man, at least from an outsiders point of view he seems comfortable enough in his own skin, like he is in control of his image and persona. No one it seems is pushing the success train its like in the case of Michael Jackson.
D:If you’re talking about a band one thing you can’t ignore is the reason we are talking about them at all: the music. U2 are certainly good enough to warrant actual discussion of the music. They are not some cookie-cutter, manufactured piece of bubblegum. Every record you listen to you get the sense that they made it as an outlet for rage, lust, questions of a higher power, universal subjects. So that is the thing they have an added style the use and manipulation of the guitar is all part of their style. One associates those soaring progressions as a U2 thing; they have an intrinsic style, which doesn’t mean they lack quality. Even at this point in the game they offer such lines as “Stayed up all night trying to make a deadline/squeezing complicated lives into a single headline.” From “Cedar of Lebanon” from No Line on the Horizon, lines like that stand up to any of the eighties, or early work. What I find particular interesting of U2 music is that unlike any other band that’s older than 10 years is that when they play a concert it seems the crowd seems just as receptive to the new songs (song from the most recent albums). Like “Beautiful Day”, or “City of Blinding Lights”, as they are to “Where the Streets Have No Name”, or “With or Without You.” I saw on an episode of Spectacle Bono and Edge said they have a part of their fan base that barely knows any of their works from the early eighties Like Boy. To me that’s impressive for a band coming on thirty years to still inspire fans by their new music not just their greatest hits.
R: Sure they have songs about deep subjects but their lead single off the new album told us to “get on your boots”! Subject matter aside it isn’t surprising that they have similar reception to new and old material because new and old material are not all that different. Echo guitar and soaring vocals borrowed from Freddy Mercury and not doing him justice have been the staple of the U2 catalog from Joshua Tree to “Vertigo”. The sound is tailored to a sing it from the roof tops, borrowed from the Beatles and not doing it justice, that big sound fills arenas. They haven’t reinvented themselves or innovated dramatically, furthermore I think that they do rely on their back catalog more than your letting on, their greatest hits 1980-1990 (their golden age) sold as many copies in Canada as their last three albums combined.
D:Thanks Wikipedia! I’ll agree with you that fans love old stuff, but that’s not in question here, still you’re familiar with “Beautiful Day”, and “Vertigo”. Do you think the larger population, you and me excluded, are familiar with Bob Dylan’s most recent work Together Through Life, Sadly, the answer is no. So U2 have definitely found something that people respond to, and the critics as well Rolling Stone has given the last three U2 releases five stars out of five, just about every other publication seems to love them too. The worst review for No Line On the Horizon I found was three and half out of five. (thanks Wikipedia!). You talk about the music just being a pastiche of Queen, and Beatles. I disagree, it is an interpretation, that’s what art is, an interpretation of history. Not that using echoey guitars is unique to Queen, many bands have used the technique, Edge just took it further than any of them and explored new areas. On Unforgettable Fire he played all the parts on the top four strings. The intention was so Adam could have clear bass lines. Now that is a little different.
R: Who’s Adam? Okay my contention isn’t that they are totally derivative only that they have a formula and don’t stray far from it.
R: So my major objection that I think all the other comments fall under is that U2 is to a certain extent dishonest. They gained their reputation as auteurs and trail blazers but now have image and style supersede their substance. They still trade off the image of being politically inspired and insightful but I feel only use charity ventures to perpetuate their appearance of being politically savvy. In reality their politics like their music have become stale, lacking innovation and only kept a float by spectacle and the Bono personality which eclipses anything meaningful they have to contribute to the musical community and in fact detract from it.
D: Alright well most of your comments fall under dishonesty; I’ll admit mine fall under “why not?” But really I think U2 is legitimate. In an age of music commercialism where no one makes it big, U2 is the last of the all stars, or big bands. The only band operating that has a fan base exceeding the ages of the band members, fans roughly the same age, and ones much younger. Many are just as enthusiastic about the new albums as the old, and Rolling Stone and all the major publications seem to still love what their doing. Frankly, I think your problem is with their charity, and the way they act is you have a set of beliefs of how “rock stars” should behave, and Bono, Edge, Adam and Larry don’t fit your imaginary list. Finally I think what we come down to is you don’t like them so you don’t see/care/bother to hear what the fans say, because why would you waste time on something you’re not interested in? Same with me I care enough to notice these things (although they are not nearly my favorite band) and give them a chance and benefit of the doubt. I wouldn’t do this for KISS.
Well that’s what we think, how about you?