OK. Take a deep breath. I NEVER EVER thought I would agree with Sharon Osborne (the British television talent competition judge and wife of Ozzy Osborne…of Black Sabbath fame) on anything. But now I find myself having to agree with her tweet about U2’s latest venture with Apple. I’m just going to say it: U2 has joined the ranks of those excellent musicians who have sold out completely to crass commercialism. I hate it doubly because you may remember that I studied for my PhD in Ireland so I am an honorary Irish citizen so to speak.
Here is what she tweeted:
I come to this opinion with a heavy heart. You see I am one of the original U2 fans. They played the anthems to my undergraduate studies and NDT debate career. Their songs were political and religious. They sang about the troubles in Ireland in “Sunday Bloody Sunday”. They sang about MLK and the US Civil Rights Movement in “Pride (In the Name of Love)”. They sang about the violence in El Salvador in “Bullet the Blue Sky”. They were my band.
So why I am upset? Because it seems that they have completely sold out to Apple. (And full disclosure here, I do use Apple products.) I do also know they have had a long relationship with Apple. But still.
They cut a deal with the computer giant at the unveiling of the new iPhone 6, Apple Watch, and Apple Pay to promote their new album “Songs of Innocence”. Supposedly, Apple paid them and the Universal Music Group more than $100 million for the privilege. Apple’s chief executive and the band were enthusiastic at the news conference when they sang the single “The Miracle (of Joey Ramone)”. Ramone, a founder of American punk rock music, would have been horrified I’m sure.
Then, Apple installed the entire album for free on about 500 million iTunes subscribers’ devices without their permission.
People (including my students) were outraged. Late night hosts Conan O’Brien, Seth Meyers, and Johnny Kimmel lampooned them. I suspect several people unfriended them on Facebook. Ultimately, Apple had to create a website to allow subscribers (particularly younger ones who were unfamiliar with the band) to delete the album from their accounts. In the court of public opinion, it seems everyone has found both Apple and U2 guilty as charged of bad business and mediocre music.
And the music on “Songs of Innocence“? I agree with Sharon Osborne’s assessment. Sorry to say, but I’m used to albums such as “War”, “The Unforgettable Fire”, and “The Joshua Tree”. After listening to the entire album with a sympathetic ear, it just did not meet my expectations. I left disappointed with my boys from Dublin and reminded of Julius Caesar’s final words. So I say “et tu, U2?”
3 responses to “Et tu, U2?”
I must disagree. It’s utter nonsense and hypocrisy for Osborne to insist that an artist be pure of the strategies that make their art available and popular to the public. Such accusations almost always mask resentment of another’s success. And appealing to the mythical musical ethos of Joey Ramone has the discursive stability of invoking the supposed rage of the “founding fathers” in place of a thoughtful argument. U2’s song “In a Little While” was the last song Ramone heard on his deathbed in 2001. That song—like much of the album it comes from—is a far cry from the punk roots of U2’s adolescence. It’s a plaintive love song. If Ramone’s desire to hear that song isn’t a sign of his blessing, I don’t know what is.
“Songs of Innocence” probably won’t make it in my top five favorite U2 albums, but I enjoy some of the songs very much—even as I acknowledge that Adam Clayton stopped maturing as a bassist about 20 years ago or that if Bono really wanted to hit some of those high notes, maybe he should have stopped chain smoking in the 80’s. It’s simply unfair to demand that U2 utterly reinvent themselves and effect a sea change in Western musical culture with every single album. That they did so with albums like “War” “The Unforgettable Fire,” “Joshua Tree” and “Achtung Baby” testifies to a greatness of art that, rather than earning gratitude and awe, has somehow cultivated something like a sense of entitlement. What else but entitlement could possibly render U2 Brutus to a listener’s Julius Caesar? Isn’t it enough that their catalogue gives us a veritable Roman world of music in which we dwell, or must we also insist upon our supreme privilege in it? I am content with my mere citizenship.
It’s an awful impulse of nostalgia to demand “Encore.” It’ll serve”fans” right if U2 writes a song about the portrait of Dorian Gray and dedicates it to all those who expect that artistic excellence is synonymous with failing to grow or change. *climbs off high horse*
You know, sharon isn’t really an unbiased observer on the sidelines. She sort of has a dog in the fight, even an old inebriated one…
Who’s on the list of “old” rockers (Bono is in his 50’s now) that are still producing consistent art? Aren’t most just doing karaoke of their golden years?
I understand that Mellencamp has finished a new album that may have some of his best songs. Give it up for Robert Plant who refuses to live in the past…just wish he’d stop hanging out with so many Hee Haw characters.
I think Mater is right, I think it’s because there’s no where else to go when you get too old to rock on, might as well try and make money while you still can.
“The right to be irresponsible and stupid is something I hold very dear. And luckily it is something I do well.” ― Bono
[…] of my readers have criticized my critique of U2 and their shenanigans with Apple. (FYI the Irish word for this is thought to be “sionnach” meaning fox.) Quite […]