schlachthof fünf (icymorning) wrote in u2,
schlachthof fünf

article in the Dubliner

I was in Dublin this week :) So I picked up a copy of the Dubliner which, unsurprisingly enough, was a U2 special - more than 8 pages devoted to the release of No Line on The Horizon and focusing on how the band reflects the city, as well as how Dubliners perceive the band, more than three decades after they started out. It's a very, very interesting article mixing the social, political and cultural undertones. The previous issue of the magazine (called "why we still love Dublin") expressed the complexity of being a Dubliner, how to relate to the Irish culture when it's become such a diverse city, and how to deal with the past 5 years and their financial comfort to being at the rock bottom of the recession right now.

Because U2 are Dublin kids, have always been and will always be, this article touched me and made me think in more ways than the other pieces. (I also bought Hot Press, that has a fantastic interview, and am now regretting not to have a scanner).

Anyway, that's too much rambling, so, as an expatriate Dubliner, without further ado, I present you Brendan O'Connor's piece...

As Dubliners, we live with U2 all around us. (There's the spot they filed the 'Gloria' video. Bono buying veg...) They have always reflected the psyche of their hometown. But it's been a long four years since the release of their last album, and Dublin has changed. Do they represent a world of excess that's long gone? And will we hold that against them?

If I walk out of my house, onto the main road, and look just to the left, I can see a set of traffic lights where, a few years back, I was stuck behind some tosser in a car he couldn't drive. We missed one whole turn of the green lights because the guy didn't move, and I was about to get seriously road ragey... when I realised it was Bono. I could be wrong, but I think he was driving a Ford Cortina.

Back out of the house and looking to the right, I can see the spot just before Ringsend where I was driving one day, listening to How to dismantle an atomic bomb for the second or third time. There was a guitar bit playing and I was thinking to myself, that Edge is pretty good when he wants to be... at that second, the Edge drove past. In an old Merc, if I'm not mistaken.

After that I can walk either way: out to Sandymount Strand, where U2 have posed for some of their most iconic photos this side of the desert; or into town, the route I walk into work every morning, past the studios where U2 record a lot of their work. Covered in graffiti, most of it messianic, this is a place of pilgrimage. There will often be foreigners dressed in black - old enough to know better - hanging around outside. With the studios on my right, the Grand Canal basin, from the video for 'Gloria', is on my left.

I could go on. So could anyone who lives in Dublin. Rarely has a band and the mythology surrounding them been so rooted in a place as U2's image and meaning are rooted in Dublin. And it's more than geography. U2 are not just from Dublin - they are a Dublin band. A band that always reflected the psyche of this city. A band that has always been very much of Dublin. They evolved from being hicky, New-Wavey types, to being a bit hippie-ish and second-hand clothesy and spiritual, to being modern and postmodern and iconic and slick and confident and brash. And all the time it reflected this developing city, and with each incarnation, U2 seemed appropriate for Dublin at that moment.

This is why I think U2 are probably worried right now. Because right now, this city, U2's touchstone, is in unprecedented flux. They haven't a hope of catching the psyche of this city now because this city is changing too fast, almost on a daily basis. And, despite their constant reinventions, they just aren't that adaptable. It takes years to put the U2 package together each time. The package - from the music to the visuals to the shtick - is very well thought out. It all fits together and it can't just be changed like that.

On the day I write, the first reviews of U2's new album, No line on the horizon, are coming out. They tell stories about sessions with Rick Rubin, subsquently abandoned, then off to Morocco and London and Dublin with Brian Eno and Daniel lanois and Steve Lillywhite and sitting around for months getting everything just right. How will Dubliners digest stories of U2 larking about in Fez with a posh public schoolboy ambient musician, all of them having a jolly time, tinkering around with drum sounds - on top of daily news about job losses and strikes?

Times like these should give rise to protest songs, to a culture like punk. I can see bands like the Specials, the Clash, or early U2 soundtracking Dublin in 2009 - bands that sound spiky and urgent and albums that sound as if they were recorded in one day. Albums full of anger. I worry that people in this town are going to find something vaguely obscene about U2 right now. Do they represent a culture of comfort that no one here identifies with anymore? Are they going to be swept away, just like prog rock and ambient made by 50-years-olds was the last time?

The truth is that most of us in Dublin don't give a fuck about people in Africa right now. Neither do we give too much of a fuck about Barack Obama. Neither do we give a fuck about Bono prancing around the place with his superrich celeb buddies in the South of France. There was a time when we thought, fair play to him, because in our own little way, we were doing well too. So we didn't begrudge him his yacht and Robert de Niro and Brangelina and supermodels and what not. But old-fashioned Irish begrudgery could be on the way back. The disappointment of our own lives could be driving us back to the traditional Irish point of view - that anyone who sticks his head above the parapet is a wanker, that anyone with too much to say is a wanker, that smart-arses are wankers, that people on the telly are wankers, that rich people are wankers, that celebrities are wankers and that ultimately Bono is a wanker.

It's a tough one for him. Because we all know too much about his fabulous life now. No wonder U2 are scared. The adoring masses who greet Bono - or indeed ignore him - anywhere he goes in Dublin could rapidly turn into an angry mob. There's a lot of anger around this town, and it could start alightning on anyone who looks conspicuous.

Then again, U2 are always a little bit worried at this point of the unleashing process aren't they? They've admitted that they approach each new outing as an audition, a job interview. And at their level, you can't take it for granted that people will still like you after three or four years' absence - over four this time.

They're in a fairly fast-moving game, a young man's game too. Things change while you're away. A lot has changed this time. There's an 1980 revival, so there are lots of little U2s around. There are new contenders, and the guys from the second division are still plugging away, trying to go Premiereship. Coldplay are still going and they are, more than ever, like a shit, embarrassing version of U2, albeit one that had a massive-selling album last year. Then there's the Kings of Leon. Everyone from Ronan Keating to the secretary who doesn't even like music says they love Kings of Leon these days. And the Killers, who can do the one thing U2 never managed, which is to make stadium pop, and to infuse their bombat with elements of dance music without it feeling like a human ear grafted onto a mouse's back. And they're younger and better-looking and weirder than U2 as well.

Pop music has shattered into millions of tiny pieces of late, and it's becoming harder and harder for acts to appeal across the board the way U2 need to do. It's hard to know if there's a place anymore for guys who are nearly 50, doing music for dads. Then again, this is a band who saw off rave with a few Paul Oakenfold remixes and by adding to their basic colour palette of black and white and red all over.

Of course the business model has changed too. The last time U2 brought out an album, the music industry was beginning to flag a little and they had to be a bit creative with formats. This time, the business model that allowed you to flog CDs for €20, or even €10, a pop is dead. They're releasing into a market where it's estimate that just one in ten music downloads is paid for. They could release in eight different formats and it would still be nigh on impossible to sell the millions of units they need to keep being the U2 we know.

The only way you can get away with being as ridiculous and as OTT as U2 is by being huge. Just ask Louis Walsh - number ones and sold-out stadiums silence the critics fairly effectively. And so, as long as U2 are selling milllions of albums, it doesn't matter than half the people think Bono's a tosser. Because millions of people love him. You get the impression that that's important to U2; they need the validation of being huge. So the prospect of releasing a product for the first time into a world where most kids don't pay for music anymore must be a little scary. Of course, you would argue that U2 are perfectly positioned to ride the crest of the new music industry business model. The album will just be a marketing ploy around which to flog tickets for a tour, a tour at which they'll sell hugely overpriced tshirts and hats and sticks of rock.

But of course that won't be enough for U2. Because they aren't just a touring band. They're not like the Rolling Stones or Status Quo or Oasis or other oldie acts who tour around, trotting out the hits to massive crowds, with no one buying their new albums. The difference with U2 is that they are still relevant. That is the miraculous thing about U2 - people like the new stuff. So they need to sell the new stuff - again, if only for the validation.

U2 don't take huge sales for granted. And neither should they. Their album sales have declined steadily since The Joshua Tree and while How to dismantle an atomic bomb's nine million or so sales is not to be sneezed at, it's not up there with the likes of Usher or Dido or Madonna. They certainly didn't take anything for granted in the making of No line on the horizon. We've heard about how Rick Rubin was ditched as a producer, as the band went back to the security of Brian Eno, Daniel Lanois and Steve Lillywhite. They give the production team songwriting credits this time out - where once Paul McGuinness was the fifth member of U2, now it is clear that Eno, Lanois and Lillywhite are fifth to seventh members.

And then there were the delays, the constant last-minute tweaking and the up-to-the-wire re-recording. Depending on who you believe, the postponement of No line on the horizon's release from the original date of last November was because the band had lost confidence in themselves and the recorde, or else because they didn't want to go up against the Killers on the release calendar. Either way, they're a little bit scared and they're taking nothing for granted.

Maybe I'm worrying unnecessarily. And U2 - all seven of them - are probably worrying unnecessarily as well. By the time you read this, I'm sure No line on the horizon will be well on its way to becoming their biggest album ever, and U2 will be a beacon of light amidst the gloom of Dublin.

If I was Bono though, I wouldn't talk too much more about how the album title was partly inspired by the view from the window of his house in Killiney.

Ok, that was long, but I have to say I agree with the part on how U2 seems to appear too big for the social and economic times, that they perhaps have lost the touch on what matters to their primary audience. I also believed that they should have gone back to their early 80s roots in terms of melodies and songwriting. I was pretty excited when they collaborated with Green Day in 07. I believe they have the capacity to make the punk record Dublin - and their international audience - could be interested in right now. All this stories about Bono looking towards Beyoncé and Girls Aloud are just diminishing U2's legitimacy to me. (or maybe he was just trying to please his daughters).

All in all, I know it was a very long article, but I found it very interesting and would like to know what you guys think.
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