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Column: off the record..., vol. 13-549

@U2, January 14, 2013
By: Gary Boas


off the record, from @U2

U2 is the James Bond of music. Or maybe it's the other way around.

The two have seldom crossed paths -- to my knowledge, the only actual linkage is the GoldenEye theme song written by Bono and Edge and sung by Tina Turner -- but parallels between U2 and Bond are to be found everywhere.

Let's look at four of these.

1. Reinvention

Every few years both Bond and U2 will reappear in a new guise, with new styles, new geopolitical concerns and even new haircuts reflecting the changing times (the former has, for example, the Connery, Moore and Craig years; the latter, the Joshua Tree, ZooTV and Elevation eras). With Bond, the producers will cast new actors in the lead roles. With U2, it will just look like it.

As it happens, both experienced a bit of an identity crisis in the early '90s, leading to a strong restatement of purpose. U2, of course, gave us their masterwork, Achtung Baby. Bond gave us GoldenEye, which incidentally featured the Bono and Edge-penned theme song.

(Ian Ryan wrote eloquently about this in a November OTR -- right about the time Skyfall, the latest Bond film, was released.)

2. Extensive catalog of hit songs

Sure, all kinds of movie soundtracks produce hit singles. But how many film franchises can boast such a long and consistent string of successes? How many bands, for that matter?

The James Bond hits date back to Goldfinger in 1964. The titular theme song, by the great Shirley Bassey, reached No. 21 on the U.K. charts on No. 8 on the U.S. charts. Including "Goldfinger," the Bond films have yielded 11 Top 10 hits in the U.K. and seven in the U.S.: among them, Paul McCartney and Wings' "Live And Let Die" (1973), Duran Duran's "A View To A Kill" (1985), Madonna's "Die Another Day" (2002) and Adele's "Skyfall" (2012).

U2 have scored a mind-boggling 34 Top 10 hits in the U.K. -- beginning with "New Year's Day" in 1983 -- and six in the U.S (18 on Billboard's Rock Songs chart). It's been a few years since they last cracked the Top 10 in either country, but "Get On Your Boots" (2009) reached No. 12 in the U.K. and No. 37 in the U.S. -- quite an achievement for a band then entering its fourth decade.

3. Bond Girls/Supermodels

James Bond has cavorted with Ursula Andress, Honor Blackman and Britt Eckland. U2, with Christy Turlington, Helena Christensen and Naomi Campbell -- the latter of whom, at least, is also kind of dangerous.

4. Questions of Relevance

The James Bond franchise turned 50 last year, and Skyfall -- the 23rd movie in the series and Daniel Craig's third outing as the super-spy -- poses questions about Bond's continued relevance in a shifting cultural landscape. "So this is it?" he asks when Judi Dench's M wonders whether the world still needs either of their services. "We're both played out?"

Of course, the question also applies to the franchise itself. After a half-century of high-speed car chases and baccarat games, is it time to hang up the cloak and dagger? Is it possible the Bond movies have simply run out of things to say?

U2 -- Bono, at least -- has gone through a similar bout of self-examination. In the wake of the 360 tour, the singer very publicly fretted that the band was on the verge of irrelevance (see, for example, here and here). So much so that the others finally told him to shut up about it.

Anyway, given the historical parallels, U2 can take comfort in the performance of Skyfall. The movie, which has taken in more than $1 billion at the box office worldwide, is already the most successful Bond film of all time. Everyone's favorite secret agent, it seems, is still everyone's favorite secret agent. Chances are, U2 also aren't going away anytime soon.


(c) @U2, 2013.

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