"We've always used the limitations of the band as a creative tool almost."
Column: off the record..., vol. 14-606
February 16, 2014
Dear Rolling Stone,
You tweeted that Bono crowdsurfed over overjoyed fans. I believe you meant to say that 1,200 extras were directed to be overjoyed as Bono crowdsurfed over them. Had actual U2 fans been brought in, director Mark Romanek would have had a far more energetic audience for U2 to perform a new song in front of. Sincerely, U2 fans.
U2 isn’t Bono’s. Bono is in U2. Technically, U2 is Larry Mullen’s band. Sincerely, U2 fans.
As much as Bono is in the forefront, it bugs me when the full band isn’t included in the media. This is why I appreciate the recent cover story in The Hollywood Reporter. Hal Espen was able to get the band to touch on topics they have been talking about for decades, namely their quests for an interactive fan experience with their music and using technology to enhance their pursuits. Edge said about the band’s new manager, “All the new tech companies, Guy is very immersed in that. We're well-placed to start integrating new opportunities to meet our fans and to do cool things.”
Bono gave a bit more detail about the band’s desire to have an interactive listening experience:
“It's album artwork. Not videos, because videos demand your attention. You need to think it's supposed to be on in the background when you listen to the music -- a much more ambient experience. People could watch while listening -- the way we used to when you'd open up, say, The Clash's Sandinista! and get lost in the lyrics. 'Where are they? Where's Nicaragua?'
"This format is coming -- the relaunching of album artwork. A plasma screen, poof! Your phone, boom! While you're listening. Because music used to be an immersive medium, not just sonically, it was always the visuals, too. Elvis is an audiovisual phenomenon. The Beatles were audiovisual. It's harder and harder to get people to pay for an MP3 file, but it will be easier when you're getting something much more interactive."
To be fair, this isn’t anything new. In fact, it’s notion they have been kicking around since ZooTV with interactive television. Both Edge and Bono referred to this during the PopMart tour press conference on Feb. 12, 1997 in answering Blitz Magazine Portugal’s question. (It’s around the 3:45 mark). At the time, the band dropped the idea because it “wasn’t practical.” Now, many televisions are Internet-enabled and the interactive experience is seamless.
The album artwork or interactive listening ideas Bono is kicking around aren’t new either. Bon Jovi did it with Because We Can. Lady Gaga has taken it to a new level with Artpop. I hate to remind Bono, but even U2 has tried it with No Line On The Horizon.
We know that U2 is keen on creating an immersive app to complement the new album, and work on that has been ongoing for at least a year now. The developers have access to the entire visual history of the band, so it should be interesting to see what our immersive fan experience will be in a few months’ time.
While taking a trip down memory lane earlier this week, I was thinking about the similarities between and the lessons learned from Pop and “Insecurity” (Bono’s affectionate nickname for the new album). They’re both a sonic departure from the traditional U2 sound, produced by artists known for their club music, and released much later than the band had hoped. A key difference between 1997 and now might be the amount of pressure the band is under by the record label. Marc Marot spoke candidly about the pressure to release Pop. Through the consolidation of labels and artist management over these 16 years, as well as the proven track record U2 has, the band is in the privileged position to release the album when it’s done.
I was encouraged by what Edge said to Jo Whiley: “We’re trying to make sure that there’s no fuzzy thinking involved, it is really kept to its essential quality and in the end it’s songs. You obviously want to involve some innovative production and some new ideas, but basically it comes down to the same thing: have you got a great melodic idea and some great lyrics. If you can’t put it across on an acoustic guitar, then you probably don’t have that.”
By deconstructing the songs in this final phase of the recording process, the hope is that U2 will not run into what I call the “Staring At The Sun” problem -- overproducing a track that they can’t play live. I’d rather the band take the extra months and not regret the release.
And finally … if you’re going to follow U2’s visit to The Tonight Show With Jimmy Fallon, NBC has created the Twitter hashtag #FALLONTONIGHT.
Have a great week!