For someone so vocal, nauseatingly so, Bono has stayed relatively quiet on all the rumours about what would be U2’s 13th album. There is no date set for release and no title floating around, with just the claims of an unknown “U2 rep” keeping newspapers and music papers (un)informed.
All the headlines listed above, despite their clickbait inhibitions, point to the fact that people still want to know about U2. There have been a couple of new songs in recent months: ‘Ordinary Love’ featured on the Mandela OST and ‘Invisible’ was debuted during a Super Bowl advert. It was instantly made available for free download for 24 hours on iTunes, with Bank of America donating $1 to Bono’s (RED) charity for each download. But that was at the start of February; two months later and ‘Invisible’ has only clocked up about 3.5m plays on YouTube.
The quality of the tracks doesn’t matter; even though the former is by-the-number radio fodder and the latter is an anodyne attempt at a stadium filler, they’re new U2 songs. Even if they flatlined, they’d still represent success for most other bands.
The blueprint hasn’t changed: The Edge, more concerned with mansions in Malibu, one feels, is still doing shimmering, chimey guitar lines and Bobo is imploring emotionally on top. So why get excited about a new U2 album? They haven’t made a good one since, well, that depends. Some people look back to 1997’s Pop album as their last statement album, the last time they tried something new (no, ‘Get On Your Boots’ from No Line On The Horizon doesn’t count as something new — it’s their nadir); while others go back 27 years to The Joshua Tree.
It’s been five years since the shudder-inducing No Line On The Horizon, in which time Paul McGuinness, the band’s manager from the start — the clichéd ‘fifth member’ — stepped away. Why is it taking so long?
Two of the biggest albums last year were Yeezus by Kanye West and Beyoncé’s self-titled fourth album. West realised he didn’t need to do much to promote the release — he’s Kanye West damn it! There’s a song on the album called ‘I Am A God’ (sample lyric: “Hurry up with my damn croissants”), which, if you’re not familiar with West, should tell you all you need to know about his ego. The internet did the promotion for him, with a leak four days before its official release date simply stoking the fires.
Beyoncé, meanwhile, released her fifth album while we all slept a few weeks before Christmas. She put it up on iTunes without warning and three days later it became the fastest selling album in iTunes history. Critics were competing with fans to judge it — the result being that Beyoncé was the only act we were talking about ahead of Christmas. Queen B still reigned.
The blueprint hasn’t changed too much — superstars will still be superstars. They’re too big to fail. Last year, Jay-Z, Beyoncé’s husband, initially released Magna Carta Holy Grail through a Samsung app. The gimmick was bad enough. BUT the music simply didn’t stand up. But Jay-Z is not now referred to as a failure. Sadly, he’s rarely known as a musician anymore either — he’s an ‘entrepreneur’.
So when a new U2 album arrives, either following a long album campaign or — unlikely — dropped online while you’re sleeping (like a dream or a nightmare; delete as appropriate), everyone will be talking about it, positively or otherwise, which counts as success these days.!
The undiscerning radio DJ, of whom there are many these days, particularly in Ireland, will salivate at playing each single to death over the following months and years. A tour will no doubt follow, even bigger than the 360 extravaganza. All the dates will sell out, because U2 are superstars. It’s just a pity that they’re not relevant any more.
The music is secondary, and has been for a long time. U2 are superstar celebrities, happy to be making headlines even when they’ve done nothing at all.