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March 7th, 2009

article in the Dubliner @ 07:37 pm

icymorning:
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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(no subject) - (Anonymous)
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From:icymorning
Date:March 7th, 2009 07:25 pm (UTC)
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you're welcome! :)
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From:tranquil_eyes
Date:March 7th, 2009 07:18 pm (UTC)
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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.

They also posed the age-old question: 'Are we human or are we dancer?' *headdesk* So yes, I'd have to disagree there. Especially since U2 didn't set out to make a dance record as such.

On the issue of Coldplay being an embarrassing version of U2.. In my experience it's just not the case. If I tell fellow 20-something year olds U2 is my favourite band, they give me a look, half-confused and half-sympathetic. If I talk about Coldplay instead, they'll tell me how great Viva La Vida is, even though they're not usually a fan.

On the whole, this is an interesting article though. I've never really thought about U2 from Dublin's view, especially now in the current economic environment. I've always thought that U2 were a little too big for the times though. Somehow they've managed to overcome that with each release but this new album, with its change in sound probably won't chart as well as HTDAAB. It really is a back to basics sort of climate now.
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From:icymorning
Date:March 7th, 2009 07:24 pm (UTC)
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They also posed the age-old question: 'Are we human or are we dancer?'

hahahahaha, I remember the fuss over that line, people trying to figure out what they could possibly mean... I took an interest in the Killers early on, mainly because of the indie phenomenon "Somebody told me" was at the time, but always thought they were riding on a hipster wave; "Sam's Town" surprised me in an agreeable way, but I'm not too bothered by their latest opus. Somehow comparing The Killers to U2 is a dead-end. No matter how charismatic Brandon Flowers tries to be, they're just funny pop versions of the Pet Shop Boys.

Oh, how I hate Coldplay, but I know what you mean. I'm 25, and since I'm pretty much evolving a punk/americana/classic rock scene, sort of, without closing any doors, I've had those looks you're talking about. U2 will never click with the hardest of them all simply because they're successful, and this is still a world in which it's a sin. At first I thought O'Connor was too worried, but I'm sort of sharing these concerns - I expected NLOTH to be a little more in touch with what's going on, this terrible climate.

Mind you, I was in Dublin to see my favorite band of the moment (bar U2 of course! :p) The Gaslight Anthem, play at a local venue, and their Springsteen meets Strummer attitude, coupled with incredible lyrics is totally what I need, and what a lot of people need I think (and given the critical acclaim of their second opus) at this moment. I like to believe U2 would be fans of The Gaslight Anthem, but the singer often referred to Van Morrison and Joey Ramone as his idols, and I wish U2 could be in touch with these ideas, these feelings, of being stuck between a rock and a hard place but reaching out for hope everywhere you can, "laying a kiss on a storm/tossing it outside of your window" as one of the Gaslight songs go...

ETA some songs of the new album do refer to some of those feelings (I'm particularly fond of Cedars of Lebanon and Moment of surrender), but they're not as specific somehow. There is a lot of reflection, distance, and introspection in NLOTH, which makes it magical, but not the urgency O'Connor mentions in his piece.

wow, word vomit, sorry 'bout that.

Edited at 2009-03-07 07:28 pm (UTC)
From:picassoed
Date:March 7th, 2009 07:50 pm (UTC)
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I'm 18 years old and I've been a U2 fan since I was 13. I've also liked Coldplay (though not half as much) for around the same length of time and it's only with the release of their last two albums that they've become this popular with the people you're talking about. But the reasons U2 aren't viewed the way Coldplay are by some 20 year olds are the same reasons we love them. U2 don't do mediocre; they go all out and you either love them or you don't.
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From:icymorning
Date:March 7th, 2009 07:53 pm (UTC)
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I agree. U2 have always had their own little world, their own touch, their own thing. Whatever they do, they don't half-ass it, so to speak. They're perfectionists of their own methods. Coldplay sounds too much like compromise.
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From:tranquil_eyes
Date:March 7th, 2009 07:57 pm (UTC)
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I like The Killers well-enough; sometimes shouting along/at Brandon Flowers is just what the doctor ordered ;) but I've read a few reviews of their music that have said they lack substance and soul and I'd have to agree. Still, some of their tracks are amazingly catchy.

It's not just the tall poppy syndrome, I don't think. Younger music listeners didn't grow up with the anthems of U2 so they don't think of U2 much at all. I'd have to say I used to be part of this group. When a band is older than you are, no matter what they do, they don't come across as fresh and hip to a casual listener (especially when you're young and you don't think about what you're listening to). I mostly know either people who are slaves to mainstream radio or hardcore indie fans, and neither have high opinions of U2. =\

I think the biggest concern is that NLOTH doesn't have any of the anthems that people come to expect from U2, and that's what people are looking for at the moment. Hm.

Gaslight Anthem sound interesting, I'll check them out. I understand what you mean but I'm not sure that U2 are less in tune with what's going on now. Their music seems so, but their sentiments don't. I guess it's a matter of opinion but I think the reason why I latched onto Breathe, is the idea that there's a lot of bs in this world, people trying to sell us things and just pure information overload that we don't know what to think anymore. And yet, we all manage to overcome that and get on with our lives and not only that, we 'walk out into the streets with arms out'. I really adored the idea of us all performing minor miracles every day. ;)

I think I just word vomited back :P
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From:icymorning
Date:March 7th, 2009 08:03 pm (UTC)
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I'm in so much agreement with what you said, I think I sprained a muscle in my neck just nodding :)

Yeah, check them out - www.myspace.com/thegaslightanthem. Their singer, Brian Fallon, is pretty awesome on his solo stuff too.

Back to the band at hand - I agree with what you say about Breathe. I think NLOTH is more timeless, intemporal than O'Connor (and perhaps myself) wish it to be. It's not "chronicles of 2009" but more like "long, 16:9 landscape shot of a decade" type of description. I like the idea, the first decade of this new millenium is coming to an end, and none of the expectations have been met. There has to be a conclusion to write in there somewhere.

I'm not ~exactly~ sure of what I'm going to say, but I'm going to drop the bomb anyway - O'Connor says that Dubliners don't give a crap about Bono's humanitarian quests (and I bet U2 fans are equally divided on the issue). It seems that Dubliners would want U2 to give back what it took from them and from the city. To be an Irish band, and not just this international monster machine. It's sort of the feeling I had when I read the so-called tax controversy, which was stupid and irrelevant. Maybe they need U2 to talk to them, about them, for them right now, especially right now, and not having to go super far away to find their inspiration. I may be totally off the mark here though.
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From:tranquil_eyes
Date:March 8th, 2009 12:44 am (UTC)
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Haha *hands you a cold compress*

Yes, NLOTH misses the zeitgeist a bit somehow, although to tell the truth, that's not what I look for when I listen to music.

I've never been to Ireland so I could be totally off-mark, but if the Irish are in this rut because of unabashed capitalism, then Bono and co. are just a natural target to lash out at. The problem is that U2 have been an international monster machine, so to speak, for so long; it's part of what makes the band I think. As much as Dubliners might wish otherwise, I'm not sure how much U2 can speak for them now. They're aware of how negative everything is at the moment, but they've also been acknowledging that things will turn out right for them, no matter what.
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From:icymorning
Date:March 8th, 2009 08:43 am (UTC)
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I agree. I'm an expat so I don't know if I can speak for Dubliners, but I've never really expected U2 to cater for my specific Irish needs. (I was born in 1983, so by the time I became conscious of the world around me, they were already a monster machine). I actually appreciated the fact that some band from North Dublin like I was could do something that big and have that much appeal. I dont know if I want U2 to go back to their Out of control roots right now, but it's true that the city is going through some really, really extreme times. There's a lot of social unrest, it's palpable. But I don't think U2's the ones they should necessarily turn to.


i also added you as a friend :p
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From:tranquil_eyes
Date:March 8th, 2009 11:28 am (UTC)
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I think if they were to return to their Boy roots, it would be pretty disingenuous for them. Really, it's too much to expect any band to write music that will lift a whole country etc out of the doldrums. U2 sell a lot of albums, yes, but they don't sell any more than say, Britney Spears (unfortunately). It's just that they sell consistently and over a longer period of time.

With musical tastes as diverse as it is now, I don't think there are any bands that have the potential to comfort whole societies. U2 is touted as the last megaband, and I think it's pretty true. In any case, it's all turned into a personal thing now, what bands you turn to.

haha friended you back because I need more U2 + politics in my life :D
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From:bloodfever
Date:March 7th, 2009 11:08 pm (UTC)
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I think it's quite smart for U2 to not go down the protest song road this time. It would be a bitter pill to swallow for a newly retrenched person, or someone in danger of losing their house, or someone stressing about job security, etc, to sit down and listen to how hard these multi-millionaires have it, how angry they are about the current times.

What do they have to be angry about? Fuck the Wall Street FatCats? These aren't exactly human rights violations we're talking about.
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From:icymorning
Date:March 8th, 2009 08:36 am (UTC)
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haha i agree. If the main argument of the piece, which seems to be that U2 are Dubliners and need to be in touch with Dublin (although he sort of lost that train of thought halfway throught rh article), maybe it's about realising that U2 aren't just any Dubliners. they're Dubliners who have lived everywhere else for a very long time - and thus can't address just Dublin anymore. I don't know.
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From:reecord2
Date:March 8th, 2009 02:03 am (UTC)
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I know I'm utterly disregarding mountains of heavy discussion, buuuuut.... the Killers are NOT better looking than U2! Even without their silly mustaches!
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From:icymorning
Date:March 8th, 2009 08:37 am (UTC)
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Hahaha, honestly. Larry Mullen, Jr? In competition with the Killers? Nah.
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From:roads_outgrown
Date:March 8th, 2009 07:16 am (UTC)
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I think the idea that an album five years in the making is going to magically shift at the last minute and address the problems that really only fully revealed themselves in 2008 is a little unrealistic.
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From:icymorning
Date:March 8th, 2009 08:40 am (UTC)
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I may be wrong, but even if the author sort of wants U2 to cater to a specific Irish audience (if I understood his Dubliner point correctly), I feel like U2 needed to make this album themselves. In the giant four-part interview they made for Hot Press, they all, separately, insist on how important it was for them to just go into the studio and make music "for music", as The Edge puts it, without a specific release agenda, without a deadline. Using the Unforgettable Fire wiz kids again feels like wanting to catch some feelings again. Maybe NLOTH is the album they wanted to make, not the one they should have made.
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From:roads_outgrown
Date:March 8th, 2009 08:57 am (UTC)
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Yes, this.

I object to the idea that they 'owe' anyone an album. The only thing they owe 'anyone' is to make the best album they can. People can take it or leave it based on that.

Articles like this just make me think, 'entitlement much'?
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From:icymorning
Date:March 8th, 2009 09:06 am (UTC)
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Absolutely. As much as I appreciate the love Dublin has for U2, the pride they have in them, and the fact that a magazine as respectable as Hot Press would fight tooth and nail for U2, at some point you have to let your children go. The first part of the article is all about how O'Connor keeps on bumping into Edge or Bono wherever he goes. (I know it's frequent). It doesnt mean they have to be chained to the proverbial Dublin radiator.
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From:ayajedi
Date:March 8th, 2009 12:45 pm (UTC)
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Interesting article
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From:tiffiny
Date:March 10th, 2009 04:33 pm (UTC)
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HAY GURL HAY

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