MBW Views is a collection of unique op/eds from eminent music business folks… with one thing to say. The next comes from Eamonn Forde (pictured inset), a long-time music business journalist, and the writer of The Closing Days of EMI: Promoting the Pig. UK-based Forde’s new guide, Leaving The Building: The Lucrative Afterlife of Music Estates, is out now by way of Omnibus Press.
I’ve little interest in, or enthusiasm for, the music of U2; however I stay endlessly fascinated by the enterprise of U2.
Earlier than you attempt to race forward of me, this isn’t about their ‘jazz’ method to taxation. That’s an entire different debate and possibly one I ought to search authorized recommendation on earlier than writing.
U2 grew to become the largest band on the planet by footslogging away. There’s a, presumably apocryphal, story that supervisor Paul McGuinness would forensically analyse their ticket gross sales on each US tour as they had been constructing within the early Eighties, pinpointing the cities with the bottom attendance numbers and doubling down on them on the following tour, forcing them to capitulate. It completely labored. There are a lot of issues to dislike about U2, however that they had a hell of a piece ethic.
Tied up on this infinite urgent of their shoulders to the wheel was the daring proclamation that they by no means wished to be a nostalgia flip, that each tour was closely and punctiliously constructed round a brand new album moderately than coasting alongside by lazily enjoying the hits. The path they chose was very totally different to the one The Rolling Stones have spent the previous 5 many years on.
One thing, nevertheless, has shifted.
Late final yr, Bono printed his memoirs and performed a collection of talks/performances in grand theatres round North America and Europe, with a New York residency booked in for April and Could this yr the place he’ll delve into his previous.
Their subsequent album, the appositely titled Songs Of Give up, is due subsequent month and on it they ‘reimagine’ 40 of their previous songs. This isn’t a Swiftian power play to take management of their masters. The few tracks they’ve launched already counsel this may very well be a boldly satirical touch upon the futility of nostalgia, working a field cutter over the canvas of reminiscence. Or they may simply be… a bit garbage, the sound of a band working out of power and enthusiasm.
The information of their Las Vegas residency, introduced throughout an eye-wateringly expensive TV ad proven in the course of the Tremendous Bowl and based mostly round 1991’s Achtung Child album, comes off the again of their final tour in 2017/2019 the place they performed 1987’s The Joshua Tree so as. (They got here up with some threadbare argument again then that the album had discovered a new cultural and political relevance or one thing. They even mentioned this with straight faces. Such chutzpah.)
This time, nevertheless, founding member Larry Mullen Jr is not going to drum with the band as he’s recovering from surgery. One can solely think about that the unavailability of John ‘Stumpy’ Pepys, Eric ‘Stumpy Joe’ Childs, Mick Shrimpton and Scott ‘Skippy’ Scuffleton was a trigger for consternation. One may also think about Jimmie Nicol sitting by his telephone keen it to ring.
All of because of this, after many years of preventing it and making an attempt to bounce round it, U2 have lastly given in to what I’m going to time period The Nostalgia Yield.
This can be a yielding in each senses of the phrase. The primary definition is that of yielding a bountiful harvest of a) consideration and b) money. The second definition lies in acceding to wider arguments, calls for or pressures. On this case, yielding to the prevailing notion that your greatest years are far behind you.
U2 are a band who definitely don’t want the cash and are in an expensive place whereby they don’t should do issues purely for the cash. However they, to reapply a phrase first levelled at Mick Jagger when the Stones grew to become a nostalgia juggernaut, have by no means seen a greenback invoice they didn’t like. Being ready to not want the cash signifies that, whenever you do seize the cash, there’s an enormous quantity of it to seize.
We will see the very same factor taking place with Madonna. In 2019 and 2020, the final time she toured, she was enjoying purposefully small venues – nicely, small for Madonna – and leaning closely on her shrug of an album, Madame X.
Firstly of this yr, she introduced her Celebration tour of just about each main metropolis in North America and Europe, stressing that it was going to be in regards to the hits throughout 4 many years. Presumably she means the Eighties, Nineteen Nineties, 2000s and 2010s, thereby heading off on the cross any notion that she’s going to lump in songs from a brand new album. If that’s the case, this would be the first tour she’s finished that’s not tied to a brand new album.
The video she posted on-line saying the tour was at pains to level out that it could very a lot be about, as Amy Schumer delicately put it, her “greatest motherfuckin’ hits”.
Acts can attempt to struggle it, attempt to really feel like they’re nonetheless related, deluding themselves that the world nonetheless needs new music from them (spoiler: it virtually at all times doesn’t). However there comes a degree the place the company that could be a vastly profitable act should perceive that placing out new music is an train in diminishing returns – each commercially and creatively – and settle for that they’re now a part of the nostalgia circuit.
U2 could not have been as express as Madonna, however they’re firmly within the tractor beam of The Nostalgia Yield. The indicators of this all changing into an inevitability had been there lengthy earlier than they went again to aggressively shake the Joshua Cash Tree on tour six years in the past.
If we need to put a precise timestamp on it, we will say it began on 9 September 2014. Doing a take care of Apple to catapult a replica of Songs Of Innocence into each iTunes account on the planet was the exact second U2 admitted they may not compete, in recorded music phrases at the very least, as The Greatest Band In The World™. They might spin this as a lot as they wished about it being the U2 album that had the largest attain ever, attending to a whole lot of tens of millions of listeners versus the tens of tens of millions of gross sales The Joshua Tree and Achtung Child racked up. However they, and we, knew the reality.
It shortly proved a impolite awakening for U2 and Apple that, no, one of the best issues in life aren’t at all times free and stood as proof, amid the rising quantity of cries for a technical answer to zap it from iTunes libraries world wide, that you simply actually couldn’t give a brand new U2 album away.
Consider the knock their collective ego took in that second – that what they believed was a digital bouquet was really acquired by listeners like a digital beating. They knew they may not punch above their weight within the ‘regular’ charts, however thought that an act of altruism can be welcomed by all. A free U2 album in 2014 felt as related and as important as a free Glenn Miller wax cylinder.
‘Sister’ album Songs Of Expertise adopted in 2017. It was not given away on iTunes. So far, it’s the final album of latest songs they’ve put out. The joys of the brand new for U2 is now massively divorced from the fun of the brand new for everybody else.
“It doesn’t matter what they or their apologists insist, they’re now a full nostalgia machine. By no means earlier than has a significant band jackknifed so violently and immediately into outright nostalgia.”
It doesn’t matter what they or their apologists insist, they’re now a full nostalgia machine. By no means earlier than has a significant band jackknifed so violently and immediately into outright nostalgia.
It’s lengthy overdue. To be brutally sincere, no younger individual in a band at the moment needs to be U2. They’re a cultural anachronism. It’s solely U2 themselves who’re the final ones to understand this.
Really, there’s one younger individual in a band who does need to be U2. However there’s one thing oddly acquainted about that singer in Inhaler…
Usually I might by no means advocate that anybody draw their influences from U2, however on this occasion much more acts on the market must cease considering they’re immune from The Nostalgia Yield.
There may be, in fact, no disgrace in being creatively felled by it. Musicians get drained. Life takes over. Humility may even enter the image.
The trail of least resistance doesn’t at all times should be the worst possibility for artistic folks.
Finally all of them should make peace with the truth that the final time they discovered themselves in common touching distance of the zeitgeist was lengthy earlier than they discovered themselves in common touching distance of the hair dye.
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