U2 Album Review: Songs of Experience

U2 Album Review: Songs of Experience
Angela Pancella

Songs of Experience coverThe Bono who’s imagining himself already dead is cheerfully unconcerned with whether or not you think his rhymes are dumb.

And you know what? I do think a lot of the rhymes on SOE are dumb, but I’m going to side with Bono here against my own aesthetic. My aesthetic is entirely beside the point.

Bono once said that the best way to appreciate Michael Jackson was to pretend he was singing in a language you couldn’t understand. That’s not quite the way to best appreciate SOE, but it’s a hint. I think Bono is singing in a language he doesn’t fully understand. We’ve been here before…all the time, in fact. U2’s willingness to let their reach extend waaay past their grasp seems to give them access to places (or maybe A Place) where language collapses, yet, bless him, Bono can’t shut up about it.

Bless him, because at least he’s not trying to hoard the experience. What he’s found, he wants to give away. Luckily Bono’s in a band, because what language struggles to say comes out in a melody just fine. And so a sentiment like “Love is all we have left,” which would sound stupid if spoken, rings out and resonates in the core of my being when I hear it sung.

This is a great album because it has that mysterious quality U2 had in their songs before they could play instruments. Now they can play their instruments, and Bono has developed unmatched command of his vocal phrasing. The miraculous thing is that they’re not relying on these honed skills. They get out of their own way.

A few words about Leonard Cohen and David Bowie before I go–two heroes of Bono’s who did in fact release songs that serve as their farewell letters. As much as SOE is ringing changes on musical/lyrical ideas from throughout U2’s catalog (most directly from Songs of Innocence, but homages to older songs are sprinkled in too), it’s also reaching out beyond self-reference, and invocations of Cohen and Bowie are especially loving and playful.

“I saw you on the stairs,” Bono sings on “The Little Things That Give You Away,” “You didn’t notice I was there.” It’s a sly tip of the hat to Bowie’s “The Man Who Sold the World,” of which Bowie had once said, “I guess I wrote it because there was a part of myself that I was looking for.”

And then there’s “Love Is All We Have Left” (which, with its strings and crooning, may be putting Bono in dialogue with Bowie’s “Nature Boy”–remember the message the title character imparts). When Bono sings “Hey, this is no time not to be alive,” it’s quite the snappy comeback to Leonard Cohen’s “Hey, That’s No Way to Say Goodbye.” Only Bono could get away with chastising Cohen for exiting the planet!

Contributor:
Angela Pancella
Contact:
apancella@gmail.com

U2 FANS: CALLING FOR YOUR PROPOSALS

U2 fans are the hearts and minds of a great U2 Conference. We can’t do it without you and we wouldn’t want to try.  You can be on the programme in a variety of ways:

  • giving a presentation
  • speaking on a panel you’ve organised with friends
  • leading an open-call round-table discussion on a topic of your choice
  • presenting a poster display
  • sharing your own creative expression of your U2 fandom

There are many ways to contribute and we are open to your suggestions. Leave us a reply below if you want to talk through your ideas, but we need a proposal submission from you to make it official. Submitting your proposal is easy. Check out our full Call for Presentations for more information about the POPVision conference theme, but we also invite general U2-related topics, particularly related to U2’s latest album Songs of Experience. The deadline for proposals is December 31, 2017.

Here are some suggestions (and that’s all they are: suggestions!) to get your thoughts started:

  • If you became a U2 fan during the POP era, how did it define you? How does it separate you from U2 fans born of other eras?
  • Did you attend the PopMart Tour? How does it stand up next to the other tours?’
  • How should Pop be regarded in the U2 catalog? As one of their best albums? A mistake or failed experiment? Was it a necessary step for U2?
  • What connections do you see between Pop and Songs of Innocence and Experience? How are both U2 eras related and what progression do you see from Pop to Songs of Experience?
  • In what ways is Pop underrated or critically successful compared to other records of the time?
  • Seen as the great “unfinished’”album, what has been the real impact of Pop in U2’s catalog and career?
  • Have the single mixes or The Best of 1990–2000 remixes changed your view of Pop?
  • Is the Pop album itself paradoxically the least important part of U2’s POP era?
  • Do you prefer the irony, parody and hyperbole of the POP era to U2’s more straight-ahead approach to messaging in the Songs of Innocence and Experience era? Which U2 is more effective?
  • Do you want more music from U2 like what’s on the Songs of Innocence  and Experience albums, or do you miss the experimentation, weirdness and genre-bending of the band in the 90s?
  • U2 have not released an anniversary remastered version of Pop. Should they do so and if so what should a deluxe edition include?
  • Do you feel so strongly in favor or against the Pop album that you would be willing to participate in a panel discussion with other fans?
  • Are you a musician and do you perform Pop songs as part of a band? Has it changed your appreciation of U2’s achievements on the album? Would you be willing to talk about playing the songs?
  • How much of the “pop” aesthetic of Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein and related artists did U2 absorb and employ? How did U2’s use of this imagery relate to the initial emergence of the Pop Art movement?
  • Did U2’s Pop Art homages stand in contrast to the album’s content? Did Pop Art’s spiritual overtones and pathos find commonality with U2’s long running themes?
Individual presenters should submit all in one Word document: a paper title; a 300-word abstract; presenter information including full name, institutional affiliation/independent scholar/student status; contact information; and, one-page listing credentials and recent publications, presentations or other notable activities. Individual paper presentations should be about 15 minutes long.

Panel proposals should specify either three or four presenters and should be designed to finish in about 60 minutes. Panel proposals should submit all in one Word document: a title for the panel; the name of the panel chair; a 200-word abstract describing the panel’s purpose and theme; a 200-word abstract for each presentation on the panel; presenter information for each panel member, including full name, institutional affiliation/independent scholar/student status; contact information; and, one-page listing credentials and recent publications, presentations or other notable activities for each presenter. 

Poster display presentations should submit all in one Word document: a title for the poster; a 150-word statement explaining the thesis for the presentation and the method(s) of demonstration on the poster; the anticipated size of the poster; presenter information including full name, institutional affiliation/independent scholar/student status; contact information; and, one-page listing credentials and recent publications, presentations or other notable activities. An image may be placed in the Word document to help demonstrate elements of the poster.

Performances or other creative presentations should submit all in one Word document: a title for the presentation; a 150-word statement explaining the thesis for the presentation and the method(s) of demonstration; the anticipated duration for the performance, size of space needs, technical support needs, etc., presenter(s) information including full name, institutional affiliation/independent scholar/student status; contact information; and, one-page listing credentials and recent publications, presentations or other notable activities.

We welcome proposals not fitting into the above categories. Please ask for submission advice. 

Delegates who also wish to chair a session not their own should also submit a separate Word document including full name, institutional affiliation/independent scholar/student status; contact information; and, one-page listing credentials and recent publications, presentations or other notable activities.

The deadline for all proposal materials is December 31, 2017. Submit all proposals to U2Con2018proposals@gmail.com. Every effort will be made to notify all who submit a proposal of its status by January 15, 2018. Registration for the conference will open February 1, 2018 and all presenters are expected to pay the registration fee.

 

Catherine Owens: U2Con 2018 Keynote Speaker

 

Credit: Johnny Savage

CATHERINE OWENS

Catherine Owens is an Irish artist living and working in New York City. Her work is largely installation based, originating from ideas that evolve through drawings, painting, sculpture, photography, film, video, sound and virtual reality.

Owens has exhibited works at Feldman Gallery, New York, Morris Healy Gallery, New York, Yokohama Museum of Art, Japan, the Kerlin Gallery and the Hugh Lane Gallery in Dublin Ireland.

As well as her own solo art practice Owens is known for her collaborative work with U2. As creative director of screen imagery for animation, film and video, she created visual content for five U2 world tours from 1992 – 2010, from ZooTV to U2360°.

She directed and was a producer on the first digital 3D film (U23D) made for Imax theatrical release in 2008. Shot in South America, its creation spearheaded a series of major technological breakthroughs in 3D filmmaking. The New York Times hailed it as “The first IMAX movie that deserves to be called a work of art.”

Using the technical and production knowledge gained while collaborating on large scale global projects over the last 20 years, Owens has incorporated this information into her current work, creating a series of LED based light works that seamlessly bring technology and mark making together.

In November 2017 she will exhibit a series of new LED light based Triptych painting and a 360° soundscape at Kustera Projects in Red Hook Brooklyn.

Other collaborative projects include directing visual content and animation for the San Francisco based group Kronos Quartet and for the Chinese Pipa player Wu Man, whose Carnegie Hall debut featured an intricate 20-minute animation composed of watercolor paintings.

Owens has attended four Lincoln Center Director’s Labs in New York as a guest artist and was a keynote speaker at SIGGRAPH in 2008, where she spoke about working in 3D under the title; Giving Technology Emotion: From the Artist’s Mind to U23D.

In April 2010 she traveled to India to make a 3D documentary about Kumbh Mela, the largest spiritual gathering in the world that takes place once every 12 years.

And in 2012 she shot her third 3D film project, a documentary on the Irish Dancer Colin Dunne – It was broadcast on the BSkyB 3D and the Sky Arts network in November 2012. The Theatrical version was launched at the Jameson Dublin Film Festival in February 2013.

In 2014 she launched “Field Prints” a set of prints representing impressions of the vistas found close to her studio in the Blackwater Valley, Co. Waterford, Ireland.

Owens has spoken widely about the interaction of Art and Technology, recently delivering speeches at the ‘VR On The Lot’ conference at Paramount Pictures, Los Angeles, ‘The Art Of VR” Sotheby’s, New York and INSPIREFEST, Dublin Ireland.

Stuart Bailie: U2Con 2018 Keynote Speaker

 

Credit: Carrie Davenport

STUART BAILIE

Stuart Bailie is a music writer and broadcaster based in Belfast. He has been a music industry professional for 30 years, writing for NME, Mojo, Uncut, Q,  The Times, The Irish Times, The Irish Independent, Classic Rock, Music Week, Belfast Telegraph and Hot Press.

He has written U2 cover stories for NME, The Sunday Times Culture and Alternative Ulster and has covered the band for many more publications. He wrote the sleeve notes to the U2 Go Home: Live from Slane Castle DVD and was Associate Producer of a BBC Radio 2 documentary on U2 in 2001.

In his feature on U2 for NME in 1992, while discussing with Bono the contradictions implicit in rock ‘n’ roll, he mentioned to Bono that William Blake’s poem “The Marriage of Heaven and Hell” tries to reconcile similar contradictions. He then heard Bono reply, “I know. I’ve just written a song for our next record called ‘Songs of Innocence and Experience,’ after reading Blake,” making Bailie quite possibly the first person outside of U2 to know – in 1992 – that U2 was planning to release music inspired by Blake’s poems Songs of Innocence and Experience. (Thanks to Dirk Rüpke at u2tour.de for bringing this to our attention.)

Bailie lived in London for 11 years and was Assistant Editor of NME from 1993-1996. He also wrote sleeve notes for Clannad, Nanci Griffith, Steve Earle and The Waterboys. He wrote the authorized story of Thin Lizzy, The Ballad Of The Thin Man, in 1997. He was the writer and narrator of Still In Love With You: The Gary Moore Story (BBC TV, 2011). He was the author, originator and narrator of So Hard To Beat, a two-part documentary on the story of music from Northern Ireland. (BBC TV, 2007), and a scriptwriter for BBC Radio 2 documentaries on U2, Glen Campbell, Thin Lizzy and Elvis Costello.

Bailie wrote the Arts Council of Northern Ireland’s essay on popular music, A Troubles Archive Essay and is currently writing a book about music and conflict in Northern Ireland, to be released in 2018. He blogs at www.digwithit.com.

 

 

“Let’s Talk, Please” @ U2CON 2018 BELFAST

Would you like to spend a few days with real people, in real time, in a real place having really spirited discussions, debates and discoveries about U2? Are you tired of being lured into arguments online, shut out of conversations and blasted with quick quips? Does all the posturing make you wonder if it’s possible anymore to disagree and remain friends? Or even find friends?

Would you like to share, learn, challenge someone and be challenged yourself about U2’s music, work and influence, all to come away feeling not only your fandom was nourished but your heart and mind flourished?

Me too. I want to go there with you and you and you …

Let’s meet in Belfast, 13-15 June 2018. Belfast’s learned how to meet up and talk it through, like they did in 1998 to achieve the Good Friday Agreement. Belfast’s a city for conversation. Pop might be U2’s most divisive album among fans, so we should have plenty to talk about. And then there’s all the rest about U2, ourselves and our worlds we could talk about too.

“A chance to connect with long-time and just-met friends from around the world, a space in which conversation with complete strangers was always easy due to our common vocabulary, a great exercise for intellectual curiosity and the celebration of amazing music.” — Angela Pancella, U2CON 2013

At the U2 Conference 2018, you’ll find fans of U2. You’ll also be with fans of music, art, activism, social engagement and change. You’ll be with people who want to grow and know how to stay smack in the middle of a contradiction and turn it into something positive. U2 fans have no problem holding their own with scholars, teachers, journalists, critics and clerics. We try to bring everyone together because we know it’s about everyone, together, talking and listening and building the future we want.

“The uniqueness of the conference was in this blend of fan, academic, and activist audiences. None overshadowed the others but each brought their particular interests and specific energies to the conference. I had a blast just meeting other U2 fans from all over the world and from all walks of life.” — Daniel Kline, U2Con 2009

Join us.

Read more about our POPVision conference theme.

Read more about what past attendees have said.

Submit a proposal for what you’d like to talk about by December 15, 2017.

Or, just registershow up and lend your voice to the conversations. Everyone is welcome.

Please stop fighting, please
Let’s talk, please – “Please (live from Rotterdam), Bono

Taking U2’s Familiar Story A Little Further, With Room for More

Book Review: Neufeld, Timothy D. U2: Rock ‘n’ Roll to Change the World. Rowman & Littlefield, 2017. 238 pages.

Neil R. Coulter

In the forty-plus years of U2, many people have written about the band (including the band members themselves). Through all of that prose a familiar biographical story has taken shape. No matter the storyteller, certain key moments are always highlighted: Larry’s notice pinned to the bulletin board at Mt. Temple Comprehensive School in 1976; three of the band members’ connection to, and eventual departure from, the Shalom community; changes in U2’s sound on The Unforgettable Fire; international superstardom by the time of The Joshua Tree; dreaming it all up again for Achtung Baby; political activism. There’s a comfort in hearing that story rehearsed every so often – especially as the band continues to inspire appreciative devotion from its fans with each new tour, album, or bit of news. For their fans, U2 is a kind of family and hearing all the old family stories makes for a good time.

Tim Neufeld’s U2: Rock ‘n’ Roll to Change the World is the most recent book to take us through the story. If you have followed U2 for a while, you probably know the story pretty well by now. Neufeld’s book really isn’t for you.  It’s a solid introduction to the band but it offers only a little for the die-hards. After a helpful timeline, showing “Cultural Events” along the left side and “U2’s Career” on the right, Neufeld guides the reader through a quick tour of the band’s history. In telling the story, he draws on other well-known sources, especially U2 by U2 (2006) and Bono: In Conversation with Michka Assayas (2005), but also many other book chapters and interviews spanning U2’s career. Each chapter looks, in chronological order, at a phase of U2’s development.

I particularly enjoyed the first chapter, “Growing Up in Ireland,” in which Neufeld explains the historical background in Ireland that led to the decades-long Troubles, which so colored the lives of U2’s members. In just a few pages, he does a fine job of setting up the Dublin of U2’s youth, helping the reader understand the questions the band members struggled with as they became U2.

The final two chapters of the book look at broader themes that resonate throughout U2’s history. These two chapters read as individual essays, distinct from the narrative flow of the rest of the book. In chapter 7, “Faith and Art,” I appreciated how Neufeld showed faith to be not a static identity that a person either has or doesn’t have. Rather, faith is dynamic, a kind of companion that accompanies a person throughout his or her journey. This is evident in the overview of ways that U2’s faith has informed their activity. That those activities have changed over time demonstrates the difficulty in grasping what a living faith really is. Chapter 8, “Social Engagement,” also shows U2’s journey, in relation to political activism and dreams of a better world. The shock at the injustice in the world, evident in U2’s words and actions in the 1980s, has matured into a quieter, but still intense, way of realizing the ideals the band members have never left behind.

From the book’s title, I had assumed that more of the book would take the approach of these last chapters and examine the “world changing” ways of U2. Though the retelling of the band’s story is good, I was expecting a deeper level of analysis of the band and their interaction with the world through their skillful use of the authority their celebrity gives them. Neufeld suggests many avenues with great potential for future writing about U2, and I look forward to the ways other authors will dig still deeper. I wonder, for example, how a political scientist might investigate Bono’s leadership in global debt-reduction; or how a sociologist would analyze the context of the Zoo TV tour and its construction of community amidst contradictions and irony; or how an economist would reflect on the effect a U2 tour has on a city or nation? These are big topics that come up in any retelling of U2’s story, and I often wish that some of those points would be further teased out by specialist who might see things that we’re missing.

Neufeld’s writing style is accessible and free of jargon; the book doesn’t presume any previous knowledge of U2’s history. For me, however, the tone of the writing was at times too general — for example, saying that “As the calendar turned from one decade to another, the world was an anxious place” (70) is too quick and ambiguous a way to describe the global context which U2 attempted to engage. And, when Neufeld talks about an uncomfortable moment of the Zoo TV tour, when a satellite linkup brought war-traumatized Sarajevans to the concert’s video screens, it seems wrongly abrupt to write, “It was an intense and awkward incident, leaving Larry to believe that the band might be guilty of exploiting Sarajevans for the sake of entertainment. Many people outside the U2 franchise felt the same” (83), but then leave it there and move on to the next part of U2’s story. I was looking for more than simply the facts as they happened; I also wanted some commentary to help me process it all.

For newer U2 fans who want to learn more about the band’s story, it can be confusing to decide which book to read first. If you are interested in U2 and haven’t yet read U2 by U2, then that book should be at the top of your list. Relatively new fans would do well to read U2: Rock ‘n’ Roll to Change the World next. I hope some of those fans will then respond to Neufeld’s implicit invitation to keep filling in the spaces, to help us enjoy and understand U2 from a wide variety of perspectives.

U2: Rock ‘n’ Roll to Change the World is available from Rowman & Littlefield and Amazon.

The U2 Conference Art by Beth Nabi

The U2 Conference is extremely grateful for the creative work of Beth Nabi. She re-designed our main U2 Conference logo (and its many color variations), advised on freshening the look of the website and created our U2 Conference 2018 POPVision logo

Nabi is an Associate Professor of Art and Design at the University of North Florida, Jacksonville, and the creator and curator of the The U2 Tattoo Project.

She presented a talk on “What You Don’t Have You Don’t Need It Now: How the World’s Most Iconic Band Got There Without a Logo” at the U2 Conference 2013, and brought The U2 Tattoo exhibit to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in September, 2016, as part of the Rock Hall’s celebration with @U2 of U2’s 40th anniversary.

Here’s is a sample of Beth’s art for the U2 Conference.

                                   

New Entries in the U2 Studies Bibliography

We’ve recently updated the U2 Studies Bibliography with these six new entries:

Fast, Susan. “Music, contexts, and meaning in U2.” In Expression in Pop-Rock Music. Ed. Walter Everett. New York: Routledge, 2008, 33-57.

Galbraith, Deane. “Meeting God in the Sound: The Seductive Dimension of U2’s Future Hymns.” In The Counter-Narratives of Radical Theology and Rock ’n’ Roll: Songs of Fear and Trembling. Ed. Mike Grimshaw. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014. 119-135.

Huliaras, Asteris and Nikolaos Tzifakis. “Personal Connections, Unexpected Journeys: U2 and Angelina Jolie in Bosnia.” Celebrity Studies. 6.4 (2015): 443-456.

Neufeld, Timothy D. U2: Rock ‘n’ Roll to Change the World. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2017.

Williams, Michael. “One but not the same: U2 Concerts, Community and Cultural Identity.” In Identity Discourses and Communities in International Events, Festivals and Celebrations. Ed. Udo Merkel. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015. 242-259.

Williams, Michael. “Politics as spectacle: U2’s 360° tour (2009-11).” In Power, Politics and International Events: Socio-cultural Analyses of Festivals and Spectacles. Ed. Udo Merkel. London: Routledge, 2014. 174-190.

Please visit the full U2 Studies Bibliography for more resources.

Stimulating Intellectual Discussion, Premiere Rock and Roll Reading

Happy to see this review of U2 Above, Across and Beyond by Peter Roche of AXS.com on June 23, 2017.

Brush up on your Bono with brainy U2 book

It’s one thing to say a favorite band has fallen off your radar after a certain point in their career. Maybe there was some peculiar album you didn’t care for, some phase where the group decided to “experiment” or “evolve.”

Sounds familiar, right?

But it’s quite another thing—a personal thing—to insist a band has lost its way. After all, it’s their way to “lose,” right? Isn’t that the nature of art?

So it is with U2, an act we couldn’t get enough of in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s—but whose last two studio albums barely blipped on our radar screens (notwithstanding all the “free album” iTunes hubbub for Songs of Innocence).

What happened?

The band members would probably tell you they grew, they matured: They evolved from the spirit-driven, punk-inspired Dublin quartet they once were into open-minded uber-rockers who recognized that the world was their stage. But we also grew, and the ‘90s and ‘00s flooded our free time with other exciting music worthy not only of rocking out to, but evaluating with critical ears.

We were in junior high when The Unforgettable Fire lit up our senses—kids without a care in the world, save the ones Bono deemed worthy of singing about. Twenty years on, we’re all married people with fancy college degrees and fulltime jobs, mortgages, and kids. So any singers and guitarists vying for what little attention we have left these days had better be on point.

Bono and the boys succeeded with 2000’s All That You Can’t Leave Behind, which proved a welcome return to the band’s jangly, intimate guitar rock of old. But they started losing me again with How to Build an Atomic Bomb (2005). So much so that I didn’t even pick up No Line on the Horizon (2009) until weeks after its release, only to discover none of it clicked with me.

Maybe you could sing the whole of War (1983) and The Joshua Tree (1987), but can’t name a single entry on Songs of Innocence (2014) outside “The Miracle of Joey Ramone.”

Still, we’d be the last to level a finger at U2 and accuse them of letting us down, right? Were you sometimes disappointed by their changes in direction? Disinterested in some of their post-millennial music? Sure. Maybe you just haven’t given their last two albums much of a chance, and that—if anything—you’re secretly pleased the band continues to test its boundaries, planting its heels in untrodden musical territory instead of revisiting the well-worn paths.

That’s the nature—the essence—of art. Love it or hate it (or both), the music of U2 has always forced listeners to reckon with it.

Plenty of reckoning was done at the 2013 U2 Conference in Cleveland, Ohio. Held in conjunction with the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (whose Director of Education Jason Hanley participated in panel discussions), the gathering invited fans and academics alike to consider (and reconsider) the legendary Irish band’s contributions to rock, to pop culture…to global consciousness.

Conference Director (and Cedarville University Professor of Literature) Scott Calhoun encouraged conference attendees to reassess the myriad ways Bono and his band have impacted or otherwise influenced the cultural Zeitgeist with their music, their message, even their (ever-changing) image.  The results of that open challenge—presented at the conference, and now available in the aggregate on Rowman and Littlefield’s Lexington imprint—is a new book “U2: Above, Across, and Beyond.”

As is the norm with a Lexington publication, Above, Across is less a fan book than it is a college-worthy appreciation of its subject.  Specifically, it is an octet of eight separate essays (or Interdisciplinary Assessments) scrutinizing various aspects of U2’s mostly-impressive oeuvre, and whose topics are thematically bound by Calhoun’s edict to thrust the transitive qualities of the band’s work under the microscope.

Put another way, these writers walked “Where the Streets Have No Name” to help find what Bono was looking for, what we listeners found, and what remains lost (whether deliberately or not) in the ether of U2-dom.

And that the authors do, with varying degrees of success—but with a common, undeniable passion for their subject.

Welshman Christopher Wales (NLA University College) tackles the group’s “Collaborative Transactions” by studying how U2 have enacted its art and interacted with its fan-base over the years in a communion of what social psychologist called “sensemaking” and “sensegiving.”  Drawing on the tumultuous (but invigorating) 1990 recording sessions for “One” at Hansa Studios in Berlin—as well as the Davis Guggenheim documentaries It Might Get Loud (2008) and From the Sky Down (2012)—Wales suggests that the whole of the band is indeed greater than the sum of its parts, that “the hats” (Bono and The Edge) and “haircuts” (Larry Mullen and Adam Clayton) carry one another through the creative process so as to realign themselves and reinvent their sound (and appearance).

In “Trans-valuing Adam Clayton” Rock Hall research assistant (and musicology Ph.D. candidate) Brian F. Wright argues why Clayton’s role in U2 is far more critical than the bassist’s naysayers would it.  While Wright agrees Clayton probably derived his propulsive, root-note style from so-called “unskilled” punks like The Ramones, Sex Pistols, and Joy Division, he argues that Clayton’s preference for simplicity is both conscious and creative.  Dissecting the bass lines for three key U2 cuts (“With or Without You,” “New Year’s Day,” and “Beautiful Day”), Wright makes a case for the “active” quality of the bassist’s rhythms and its tendency to lend movement to the songs, whether said lines be in the forefront (“New Year’s Day”) or background, as subtle support mechanism for Edge’s textural guitar meanderings (“Beautiful Day”).

Heck, Wright even provides sheet music (and tablature) for the songs, should you care to grab your four-string and have a go.  Cleveland rocks!

RMIT University lecturer (and club culture enthusiast) Ed Montano uses his “Translating Genres” article to discuss how U2 “replaced its 1980s monochromatic aura of sincerity with a 1990s multicolor façade of irony” on Achtung, Baby(1991), Zooropa (1993), and Pop (1997) by incorporating elements of the EDM (electronic dance music) so prevalent in clubs.  Pointing at songs like “Lemon,” “Mofo,” “Discotheque,” and “Daddy’s Gonna Pay for Your Crashed Car,” Montano explains how Bono and company drew from disco (Studio 54), techno, and acid house (The Hacienda) and collaborated with (or mimicked) D.J.s like Howie B. and Paul Oakenfold to bring a fresh, danceable color palette to its work.  More importantly, Montano mulls over the significance of EDM in the balance between the group’s “gender” (masculine rock versus female EDM) and the musicians’ deliberate efforts to lampoon themselves (authenticity versus inauthenticity).

In “A Transcendent Desire” scribe Arlan Elizabeth Hess (Vermont College of Fine Arts, University of Padua) gets sidetracked debating the “Irishness” of U2 by her own (however noble) attempt to counterbalance critical homophobia aimed at other emerald isle artists, like drag queen Panti Bliss (Rory O’Neill).  Hess—an expert on Irish lit and “the Troubles”—is most effective when debunking John Waters (Race of Angels) claims that Irish-ness has more to do with one’s reaction to an historic oppression (colonization) than anything else—including one’s birthplace.

“For Waters, it follows that Zoo TV was the result of centuries of exceptional Irish leadership, struggle, and adaptation,” she poses.

Hess feels Waters too easily dismisses the band’s “unique musical collaboration [and] artistic vision” when appraising U2 albums and tours—as if any other musical collective would’ve dreamt up the same music and stage shows under similar circumstances, based simply on shared “cultural inclusivity.”  Hess also touches on themes of equality, justice in her discussion, and examines Bono’s schizophrenic pulpit / performer shtick using Leszek Kolawksi’s “priest / jester” template.

English professor Fred Johnson (Whitworth University) plays archeologist in U2’s “Transmedia Storyworld” by excavating the bits and pieces of ephemera (albums, movies, books) U2 have produced over the last three decades.  Not a morsel was arbitrarily dispatched, argues Johnson—for while the songs and photos may have derived from an organic, genuinely artistic source, the members of U2 enjoy final say on what goes out into the world.  In other words, the band has created its own story—its own wunderkammer—(and continues to do so), carefully selecting which stuff (and how much of it) is put out into the world for mass consumption, depending on what its goals are at the time.

“The glittery trapping of the Zoo TV tour was clearly put on, an obvious performance,” surmises Johnson.  “Yet they were a performance that the simulacrum band of the ‘80s would never have approved.”

In “Transmitting Memories” Flinders University senior lecturer Steve Taylor sifts through Bono’s in-concert “lyrical departures” from the recorded versions of key tracks to arrive at an understanding of how the band memorializes people, places, and events during performances—thereby manufacturing unique new moments for the ticketholders in attendance.  Spring-boarding from his discovery of a shout-out to the thirteen-years-dead Frank Sinatra in a live version of “Until the End of the World,” Taylor comments upon Bono’s many mentions of past concerts, prior locations…and dead people (Eunice Shriver, Greg Carroll, buried miners in New Zealand) from the stage, and how these seemingly unscripted one-liners establish both an oral history of the band and a “collective memory” for concert audiences.

“What would motivate such changes?” Taylor ponders.

Calendrical repetition, verbal repetition, and gestural repetition conspire upon U2’s gargantuan stages, weaving a ritualistic tapestry the band tosses over audiences like a playful papa blinding a laughing toddler with her “woobie.”  There’s more than meets the eye when Bono waves at Larry behind the drums, thrusts a finger in the air, or points his microphone at fans in the front row.  These are “concert-rical” connections that make each show special and enhance the universal appeal of each tour after the fact.

Remember Bono’s white flag at Red Rocks (Under a Blood Red Sky), or how he danced with a girl from the audience at Live Aid?  These small, spontaneous gestures mean a lot in the long run, says Taylor, establishing a fascinating “fixity” to how we recollect what the band has done.

We first saw U2 at Cleveland Municipal Stadium in October 1987 (on the third leg of The Joshua Tree tour). And it wasa transformative and magical concert—rife with ritual, studded with signature moments and yes, brimming with bricolage “now part of the toolbox of found objects that the band can employ in the future,” as Hamilton puts it.  The show did feel intimate, but we’re guessing that had more to do with our companions (and the booze) than anything the band was doing visually (we’re assuming it was U2; we couldn’t actually see Bono [and his broken arm] from the nosebleeds, and this was before the age of the Jumbo Tron).  They could’ve piped in a recording from some a previous show on the tour and thrown a lookalike band up there, and we wouldn’t have been the wiser.

But that’s just nitpicking—and from some thirty year on, no less.  We take Hamilton’s meaning, and will make it a point to pick up “U2 360 at The Rose Bowl” DVD as suggested.

Above, Across, and Beyond may tickle a few nostalgia tendrils, but it’s neither fanzine nor officially-sanctioned scrapbook.  This is heady stuff written by individuals who’ve given serious thought to U2’s “missteps, disappointments, failures…and ordinary problems.”  There are no glossy pictures of the group, young or old (there are no photos at all).  But there is ample (and stimulating) intellectual discussion of the Irish band’s “proclivity for change” in a world that doesn’t always welcome it.  And each of the eight articles (none longer than thirty pages) makes for an easy-to-digest, hour-long patch of premiere rock and roll reading.

“U2:  Above, Across, and Beyond—Interdisciplinary Assessments” on Amazon or order directly from the publisher by clicking here, then catch U2 on their Joshua Tree 30th Anniversary Tour.

U2 and Music Theory Series Debuted on @U2.com

Professor Christopher Endrinal, Florida Gulf Coast University, writes about U2 and music theory in “Theorectically Speaking,” a new series on @U2.

Theoretically SpeakingHave you ever been listening to a familiar song and suddenly noticed something new about it? This happens to me all the time, especially with U2’s music. If I hear something new or particularly interesting, my music theory training instinctively kicks in and compels me to dive deeper. That’s what this series, “Theoretically Speaking…”, is all about: an exploration of U2’s music through the lens of music theory.

His debut article is Rhythmic Representations of Uncertainty in ‘Zooropa.‘” 

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