I think the high from the 2013 U2 Conference is finally starting to wear off (yup, it was THAT good). But it was refreshing to have U2 once again take center stage in my professional life. Fatherhood, working retail full-time and applying for a new music theory teaching job have stretched me pretty thin over the last several months, so I haven't had much time to analyze the band's music for any length of time. It was a welcome change to have a singular focus, even for only a weekend.
Gathering with all kinds of die-hard U2 fans -- collectors, concertgoers, academics, writers, performers and critics -- and talking about the band and their music once again cemented what many of us already knew: The community of U2 fans is an eclectic mix of intelligent, kind and passionate people. I am grateful to be a part of it, both professionally and personally. To echo Matt McGee's sentiments, the conference helped me refocus on my U2 work and erased any doubts in my mind whatsoever as to my research concentration. As this conference proved, this band and their music are special and worthy of academic attention. I'm proud that my scholarship specializes in U2's music, and I'm proud that, at work and among my music theory colleagues, I'm known as "The U2 Guy."
One of the recurring conversations during the conference revolved around the band's next album. I talked about this with fellow @U2 staff members as well as other conference attendees, and each person seemed to have a different theory as to what's taking so long.
That got me thinking about album releases and how, in 2013, it's about so much more than just the music. I think radio airplay is extremely important, especially for an aging band like U2. I still hear their music played on the radio, but not as consistently as I did even five years ago. Bono has mentioned on several occasions the importance of U2's relevance in the mainstream music world and how it's directly related to radio airtime. Of course, the tunes and the songwriting must be top-notch, but in the multimedia and digital age, where information overload is the norm, the music is only a fraction of the package. If U2 want to connect with as wide an audience as possible (and not just us die-hards who would buy their albums no matter what), I think the band has to go on an all-out multimedia barrage. Essentially, they need to "Zoo TV" their album. In addition to the standard talk-show circuit and one-off gigs to promote the record, the album needs an accompanying interactive app and website that provides insightful material like in-depth behind-the-scenes clips of the recording and songwriting process, interviews with the band and producers discussing the philosophy and aesthetic of the record, outtakes, alternate and early versions of songs, wallpapers, screensavers, as well as discounts on merchandise and (eventually) concert tickets. And, of course, an actively used Facebook page and Twitter account are must-haves.
I have a two-part theory as to why it's taking U2 so long with this new album. First, they've worked with so many different producers that they're having trouble deciding what kind of album to make. By talking so openly about maintaining relevance, the band (and Bono, in particular) has put a lot of pressure on itself to release something that will keep current fans interested and attract new ones. Second, I think the band realizes that the next record needs to be a multimedia success, and planning it is taking much longer than they and most fans would like. I have faith, though. If there's one band in the world that can pull it off, it's U2.
Thinking about the new U2 album eventually got me thinking about the last one, No Line On The Horizon, and how its commercial reception didn't live up to the critical praise. Count me among those who really like the record, so I was a bit surprised that it didn't sell more copies. I recognize now, however, that the album is a "slow burner": It's not as readily accessible as The Joshua Tree or All That You Can't Leave Behind. But given enough time, NLOTH's brilliant musical moments shine through.
I think there were two main reasons NLOTH was only a moderate commercial success (by U2's lofty standards, anyway): the order of tracks and choices of singles. The record was released as a kind of concept album, but the original song order had little flow. As a result, the "concept" was lost by as early as the third track. I've used iTunes to experiment with various orderings and timings. NLOTH has a better sense of cohesion and continuity if the tracks were arranged as they are below and the end of one song were adjoined to the beginning of the next, thereby leaving no gap or silence between tracks. My reordering divides the album into three sections that transition into and out of each other much more smoothly than the original order.
Being Born (retitled)
Get On Your Boots
I'll Go Crazy If I Don't Go Crazy Tonight
Moment Of Surrender
White As Snow
Stand Up Comedy
No Line On The Horizon
Cedars Of Lebanon
"Get On Your Boots" would not have been my choice as the lead single. It's essentially "Vertigo II," so I think audiences didn't respond to it because it sounded too similar to what had been released a few years ago. "Magnificent" would have been my choice as the first single. To my ears, it's the song on the NLOTH that most successfully marries the traditional "U2 sound" with some new textures, thereby serving as the perfect transition from How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb while also introducing the new material. The song's placement within the new song order is also conducive to a straight play-through of the album, encouraging the audience to listen to the entire record from start to finish rather than skipping to the middle right off the bat. The next single released would have been the title track, "No Line On The Horizon." It's got a more experimental sound and would have also reminded audiences of the album's title.
Last, but certainly not least, HAPPY MOTHER'S DAY! As a new father, today has taken on a whole new meaning. To help celebrate mothers everywhere, here's the video for "Lemon," which is, of course, about Bono's mother. What U2 songs would you include on a Mother's Day playlist? Head over to our Forum and share the U2 songs that your Mother's Day tribute would include.
© @U2, 2013.