Well, that was a wild couple of years.
U2 started talking up the follow-up to No Line On The Horizon even before the release of the latter in March 2009. At first, of course, this was going to be Songs Of Ascent, a companion album with “a more meditative and processional tone” than No Line. By October, though, no fewer than three different U2 records were in the pipeline: Songs Of Ascent, an album from the previously aborted Rick Rubin sessions, and an album of songs Bono and Edge had written for the Spider-Man musical.
By June 2010, the Rubin material had been dropped from consideration -- never again to be mentioned in polite company -- and replaced by an entirely new set of songs. By August, the number of album projects had grown to four, according to Bono: Songs Of Ascent, a "rock album," a "club-sounding album" and the Spider-Man songs. As the tour rolled on, Songs Of Ascent was apparently also bumped from the list. Anticipation climbed to a new fever pitch.
Countless potential release dates have come and gone. A veritable Who's Who of producers has reportedly twiddled knobs for the album (or was it an EP, or a single?): In addition to Eno/Lanois and Rubin, Danger Mouse, will.i.am, RedOne and David Guetta have been mentioned as collaborators, or at least as potential collaborators. Honestly, it’s all been a bit difficult to follow.
Finally, though, we're beginning to see some resolution. June 14 saw the release of the highly enjoyable Music From Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark, a Steve Lillywhite production that’s part original cast recording, part Bono/Edge outing. Also this month, Adam confirmed that the next U2 record would likely use the material from the Danger Mouse sessions, the band thus choosing to pursue the "rock album" and not the "club-sounding album." Look for the record in late 2012, he said.
By my count that leaves three albums in various states of completion with no plans for release. Maybe someday we'll get to hear them. Bono, boys ... just FYI, my birthday is in March.
In his excellent interview with Steve Lillywhite, @U2's Scott Calhoun asked the producer about his view of No Line On The Horizon -- specifically, whether he thought the content of Fez and Northern Africa had gotten lost amidst the myriad other concerns surrounding the release of the record. Lillywhite lamented that it had. "I still stand by the best U2 albums having a great big picture," he said, "meaning a great vision for the album."
We all know, of course, that U2 often sets its albums against particular backdrops, specific locales that offer visual and musical cues and reflect the many themes coursing through the songs. On The Joshua Tree we saw America through a European lens, with howling desert landscapes and the occasional slide guitar. Achtung Baby took us to Berlin on the eve of reunification, the ghosts of a bitterly fought Cold War -- personal as well as geopolitical -- lurking in every alley. Zooropa, with its blips and bleeps and giddy embrace of postmodernism, existed in a nascent cyberworld.
No Line On The Horizon could have been -- should have been -- set against the backdrop of Morocco, calling on the history of Sufi and other devotional music traditions to set the tone for the album, to underscore the themes of searching and surrender. In the end, though, the album didn't quite achieve this "great big picture." Indeed, said Lillywhite, you barely even know it was recorded in Morocco.
The long-suffering Songs Of Ascent was going to be the record that No Line wasn't; in early 2009 Bono described it as a "ghost album of hymns and Sufi singing." But ... well, we all know that story.
On Friday night U2 partied like it was 1993 -- the band's Glastonbury performance opened with no fewer than five songs from Achtung Baby, several of them with full-on Zoo TV visuals. By all accounts the show was a keeper. We've already seen calls for the band to package it and get it into shops right quick.
Another idea: Include it with the super-deluxe edition of the Achtung Baby/Zooropa reissue scheduled for later this year (in fact, the next release we can expect from U2). Paul McGuinness and the band have already teased us with talk of all kinds of unreleased audio and video. It would be easy enough to slip this in too. I'm just sayin'.
And finally, on a more serious note: As an inveterate Jersey boy -- and as a music fan generally -- I was gutted by the recent death of Clarence Clemons. Let's take a moment to remember the Big Man.