"There's always room in rock 'n' roll for some stuff to start happening at a grassroots level, and the most interesting stuff seems to start there."
Column: off the record..., vol. 13-548
January 06, 2013
If you follow us on Twitter, you may have seen us sharing a couple photos late last week: Bono was spotted vacationing in Switzerland and Adam was seen vacationing in Sri Lanka. None of us can begrudge them vacations -- they've earned the right to spend their time however and wherever they want, right?
Ditto with The Edge and Larry. If Larry wants to continue his fledgling acting career with another role, that's great and he should pursue the stuff that interests him. None of them need to work anymore, and that's a testament to how hard they worked in their younger years and how great they've been for decades.
Of course, the more time spent vacationing, the less time spent on new music. And the wait continues for a new U2 album.
So, how do we react as fans?
The common reaction is to bitch and moan about how long U2 takes between albums; I've kinda done that in previous OTRs, when I comment about how nice it would be to post real U2 music news for a change. And there's plenty of complaining from fans around the web -- on Facebook, Twitter, in our forum, and so forth.
But here's the thing: I think it's long past time that we change our expectations. This is not the U2 of old, when the album/tour/break cycle moved along relatively quickly. I think we collectively need to admit the "new U2" reality (and maybe some of you have admitted it already):
U2 is a part-time band now.
Let's face it: If you browse through our news library for the past few years, you'll see all four band members doing a lot more non-U2 stuff than anything. If you look at our new album page, you can scroll down to the January 2, 2011 entry -- two years ago -- when Danger Mouse was said to be "wrapping up" his work with U2. And by mid-2011, the band had decided not to release anything with the 360 tour still going on, and instead said it would probably be late 2012.
Bono just appeared on Irish radio and jokingly suggested that U2's next album might be called "10 reasons to exist" -- a reference to coming up with 10 great songs to put on an album. It won't be called that, but the next thing he said might be alarming, if he's serious: "We have about six right now."
Six? That's it? Let's hope that's a joke, too, because things are worse than anyone realizes if they only have six album-quality songs right now.
I can't say it enough: This isn't a gripe on my part. They can do what they want, when they want. This is just a realization that's been on my mind for some time now and maybe I wanted to be wrong about it. But it seems to me that a full-time, active band -- one that's desperate for relevance, radio hits and new fans -- wouldn't allow itself to go four-plus years in between albums. Nor would it let itself have only six quality songs after four years. Nor would it spend so much time away from one another and away from the studio. A full-time, active band would be in the studio, busting its collective arses to get that album out.
Think about it this way: Larry Mullen Jr., the most camera-shy and reticent member of the band, will have had time to act in at least two movies in between U2 albums. If I'd predicted that five years ago, you would've fallen on the ground laughing.
U2 certainly isn't alone in this. You could say, for example, that The Killers have been a part-time band in recent years. They took some needed time off, Brandon Flowers (lead singer) put out a solo album, and now they're back on tour with a new album that came out late last year. There's nothing wrong with being compared to The Killers. On the other hand, The Rolling Stones are a part-time band; they go away for several years at a time, put out some new songs or an album that doesn't sell well, and go on tour and play live shows to millions of fans. That's always been the example of what no one, U2 included, wants U2 to become.
Every so often, when someone finds out I'm a U2 fan, they'll ask me, "I used to love U2. Are they still around?" I've always responded with an enthusiastic, "Yep, still going strong!" or something like that.
Next time someone asks that, I think I'll need to come up with a new answer. We're all fans of a part-time band now. That's not wrong or right; it's just the way it is.
(If you'd like to discuss this, pro or con, I've started a thread in our forum.)
(c) @U2, 2013.