Where did it all go wrong?
Stop it. You’re better than this.
I’ve tried to love the new album, but “Songs of Innocence” is just … meh. Don’t get me wrong — there are some really good spots on it, but nothing great. And there is really no excuse for that. I understand that we hold you to a higher bar, but you’ve only brought that on yourself. So I know it’s petty and may seem unfair that I’m calling foul on this one, but I’ve got good reason.
First off, it took you five years to put the damn thing out. Five years of building it up, dropping hints, pushing back release dates and throwing us a pair of half-baked teaser tracks. You had our attention, but it was definitely getting to the point where there was no way it could live up to the expectations you were building. The “Chinese Democracy” jokes weren’t unfounded. And you should have known better. You’ve always worked best under pressure. You said so a dozen times in your autobiography!
I suspect the biggest problem is that you’ve lost your confidence and are overcompensating. This quest for relevance is unneeded. You’re U2, the biggest band in the world. Relevance shouldn’t be a question. Because of this idea that you’re suppose to compete with the Taylor Swifts of the world, you’ve only allowed your music to get watered down. You don’t need to compete with them. They come and go. None of them will have the track record that you’ve produced. None of them will ever write a “Pride (In the Name of Love).” In fact, the silliest part about all of this is that most of those artists have spent the better part of their career trying to duplicate your songs. Now the stuff you’re putting out sounds like you’re trying to copy them. That’s insane!
Why didn’t you just go with the work you did with Danger Mouse? The album was done and probably much more interesting than what we eventually got. Were you scared because there weren’t as many bland, big choruses? Instead, you took those tracks and gave them to the creators of mediocrity to rewrite for you. Ryan Tedder? You thought the dude from OneRepublic could write a better version of your song than you could. WTF??? Grow a pair and believe in yourself. Stop trying to be the biggest band and work on being the best band. Sure, I haven’t heard all of the songs the way they were when Danger Mouse was the only one behind the board, but if the few tracks that didn’t get tinkered with that made the final cut are any indication, you could have had a critical masterpiece on your hands. Instead, we got “Every Breaking Wave.” Which is what, like, your fourth attempt at rewriting “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For”?
As for the way you released the record, I’ve got no qualms here. I was more surprised that so many people threw as big a fit as they did over the direct-to-your-device method. It’s completely possible that for as much hatred as this plan received, it was probably this campaign’s saving grace. Had you just released it in the standard way, I’m not sure anyone would have cared. The singles didn’t set any fire to the airwaves. It may have just come and gone. So in this case, well done stirring the pot. Any publicity is good publicity, right?
Honestly, I think the most embarrassing part of any of this has nothing to do with the music. I’m more surprised that no one is making more of a fuss about that artwork you went with. You took your 53-year-old drummer, shirtless, put him on his knees, and had him wrapping himself around his 19-year-old son, also shirtless. It’s not only weird, but extremely creepy. I mean, I get it. The whole album is about trying to reconnect to your past, to that younger you, and transporting from a father to his son is an interesting way to get there. But that picture is just … wrong.
You’ve said that there is a sequel to this LP coming “soon,” so I’m going to give you the edge here. You get to have a mulligan on this one. But remember who you are. You’re U2. Act like it.
Kyle Meredith is the music director of WFPK and host of the nationally syndicated “The Weekly Feed.” Hunting bears was never his strong point.