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"I hang out with every set. . . . From the penthouse to the pavement but under the pavement."

-- Bono

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Column: off the record ..., vol. 16-708

@U2, January 31, 2016
By: Aaron Govern

 

off the record, from @U2

Thank goodness the end of January has arrived. For those of us who love their music, it has been a truly horrendous month, with the death of some brilliant musicians such as the co-founders of two momentous American rock bands – first, Glenn Frey (The Eagles) and, just this week, Paul Kantner (Jefferson Airplane). Yet, the impact of their deaths, whilst significant, has not quite had the same reverberation around the world as that of David Bowie.

Now I am a huge fan of U2, and have been since the very early 1980s. I have always collected their records, bought the CDs, purchased the books and magazines, and saved up for their concerts. It’s been an obsession for almost 35 years, and there has only been one other artist I have done the same for: Bowie. My @atu2 colleague, Tassoula Kokkoris, last week in her column paid a glowing tribute to him, and we each have our own personal memories of Bowie.

For me Bowie was not just the brilliant songwriter, he was a pop star, an actor (a rare thing – a musician who could actually act, and some!), a fashion icon, a superb lyricist, and above all, a true innovator. I saw him three times – in each decade of the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s. Was there or will there ever be an artist quite like him? I doubt it. The outpouring of grief has been quite overwhelming the last three weeks since his death, and earlier this week, Bono wrote in a poignant and charming essay about his hero in the memorial issue of Rolling Stone magazine.

The U2 connection with Bowie has been quite subtle over the years. Prior to being called U2, the band started life as Feedback and then became known as The Hype, the latter the name of one of Bowie’s earliest bands. And I am sure their love of Bowie’s triptych Low/Heroes/Lodger Berlin-period albums where he collaborated with Brian Eno would have had a significant influence on the choice of producer just prior to the recording of The Unforgettable Fire. Furthermore, we can expect that one of the principle choices in recording Achtung Baby in Hansa Studios in Berlin would have undoubtedly been influenced by Bowie/Eno. And one final piece of trivia, Bowie’s short-lived band, Tin Machine, recorded and released a live album in 1992, titled Oy Vey Baby, a nod to U2.

One inevitable occurrence following Bowie’s death has been the surge of interest in his final release Blackstar, and his huge back catalog, where several of his ‘70s albums are re-entering the upper echelons of the charts since their release over four decades ago. Here in the U.K., Blackstar has been No.1 on the album charts for the last three weeks, replicated in most other parts of the world, and quite a feat following the comprehensive and consistent sales of Adele’s 25 album. The irony of these sales should not be lost on the music industry. Albums will sell when the artist has talent, when the artist has integrity, and when the artist has something to say.

Proof of this may not be obvious, but very recently a report on the sales and listening habits of recorded music has been published. Amazingly, in 2015 the total sales of “current” albums (released in 2015) was less than the sales of back catalog albums (released prior to 2015) – that’s right, we are actually buying more “old” music than “new” music. And this worries me. I still find it amazing that bands such as U2, Coldplay, Foo Fighters and Muse are really as big as they are, and have been for such a considerable length of time.

But should this necessarily be surprising in a broken music business? An entire industry where illegal downloads dominate, and consumers are unwilling to part with their hard-earned cash on a CD or digital download but happy to spend the same on some high-street chain coffee shop (you know who!)? Where are the new bands to take over? Where is the next U2 coming from? I reckon the current generation of music fans has little in common with the same generation who grew up in the '70s/’80s/’90s. By that I mean, the album is dead to them, it’s almost an inconvenience to listen to! Am I mistaken in my belief? I remember in 2000 Bono declaring that U2 were back and reclaiming the title of Biggest Band in the World ... and they still are. And the fact that they remain so without much of a challenge is quite disappointing to me.

So I will look forward to later this year, with the anticipation that Songs Of Experience will be released, and probably in another technological tie-in with Apple (the world’s first virtual reality album?). The month of September will be the 40th anniversary of the formation of U2, and I can imagine that this occasion will be noted and possibly used in the promotional aspects of the album. I certainly hope so – 40 years of experience will surely make some great songs of experience.

© @U2/Govern, 2016-01-31

Any opinions expressed in this column are those of the individual author and do not necessarily represent the views of @U2 as a whole.



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