by Joshua B. Hoe So, I have become convinced that U2 has become the John Cena of music - everyone kind of liked them at some point, many people loved or still love them, and a growing army of vocal people have grown to hate them (or at least strongly dislike them).
In other words, U2 has jumped the shark...They really aren’t “cool” anymore per se (not that I am either) and for some reason (maybe Bono’s over-the-top decades of earnestness) they are not really considered respected “cool” elders.
Nobody tries to hang out with The Edge like they do with Keith Richards for instance.
So, when Did U2 jump the shark?
My History With U2
I only told two music based lies (that I can remember) growing up:
In junior high school, I told people that I saw Rush on the Moving Pictures tour...And in High School, I told people I saw The Alarm and U2 during my Junior Year when they played in Tulsa.
This second lie was a bit odd, since U2, at the time they toured with The Alarm (for the War album), was not popular with the majority of the people that I was trying to impress. A few weeks after they played Tulsa, they played their breakout concert at Red Rocks...and, in places like Tulsa, Oklahoma...while we did have MTV, it took a bit longer for Red Rocks to penetrate.
I guess what I am trying to say is:
1) My strategy for becoming popular was often not very….strategic
2) I was very aware of U2 and a pretty big fan starting in about 1983
Only one year later, against all odds, somehow I convinced my parents to let me go with friends (and a date) on an overnight trip to Dallas, Texas to see U2 play at Reunion Arena (Unforgettable Fire Tour). They had moved up from opening for a band that never did anything again (The Alarm) in small venues to arenas in one year...impressive.
As for going to the concert, I am still not entirely sure how I pulled this off. I did not have many friends, or girlfriends for that matter, in High School….and I sure had not built up much trust capital with my parents (punk rock trouble making kid).
Thanks Mom and Dad!
Why did I love U2?
They seemed very progressive and earnest, which I really was drawn to..but at the same time kind of exotic (Irish) and sounded pretty raw (Punk) but in a very different way (Edge used harmonics and pedals in a totally different way than most guitarists).
They sang about strange causes and wars….and about equality...and social justice (and I was a Clash fan for goodness sakes).
Bono, at the time, seemed really unique and cool. Plus, how did Paul Hewson become Bono? Nobody knew….mysterious.
So, to this point:
Boy, October, War, and Unforgettable Fire...all good or great.
The College Years
Pretty early in college, I started dating and eventually moved in with a girl named Leslie who was one of the coolest girls in Dallas...seriously, totally out of my league….on guest list at every club, knew everyone...that kind of girl.
I was like her padawan learner...growing cooler but still finding my depth. I think being a drummer might have explained her embrace of me? Who knows the ways of the heart :)?
Anyway, she mostly liked really out there bands - stuff you would hear at the clubs or industrial stuff...but, oddly enough, one exception...she loved U2 too.
So when Joshua Tree came out, we listened to it a ton at home.
Of course, a few months later, I managed to make such a mess of my life, and attempt to drag her down with me….that she left me (and hooked up with one of my friends - sob).
So anyway, on that down note….Joshua Tree also good.
The Ramping Up Starts
So next was Rattle and Hum, which was also made into a movie.
This was the first time that I started to think…”maybe U2 is about to jump the shark.”
The album only had one really good new single - “Desire” - and the concert parts, were fine...maybe even great...but there was one HUGE problem.
The trailer for the movie.
The trailer has all but one of the members of U2 walking across the stage in super slow-motion against a red backdrop. They put on their guitars or sit down at the drum throne….Larry Mullen starts to play the drums...and then….in even slower motion (if that is possible)...striding across the stage like he is the second coming of Christ (if Christ wore a cowboy hat) is Bono….Crowd goes wild…..U2 Rattle And Hum speeds across the screen...and then lightning effects as Bono raises his hand……
It was all a bit much, and over the top even for Bono.
The shark is thinking about heading out and looking for some food at this point. U2 is beginning to believe their own press.
Next came Achtung Baby...I kind of remember liking this album...had some good songs like One and Mysterious Ways...And Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois were around for this one. So, I don’t hate it.
The Edge was supposedly inspired by Einsturzende Neubauten and KMFDM (I have met En Esch a few times)...not sure I hear too much of them in Achtung Baby...But I like that Edge likes them.
This album was supported by their first really over the top super high-tech arena tour - the Zoo TV tour...It was supposed to be a satire of over-saturation...but, U2 was kind of becoming over-saturated...and they seemed to be enjoying the tech and exposure as much as mocking it.
The Shark is starting to circle the tank.
I kind of have empathy for U2 in some ways at this point. I can kind of understand why they wanted to produce a total change of pace.
That said, to me, Zooropa was pretty awful.
It was influenced heavily by the Zoo TV tour...which was not a highpoint for me.
Again, part of the problem is that I have a hard time being lectured about media oversaturation by the largest band on the planet...and one making money hand over fist by being oversaturated.
I kind of think maybe I liked Numb a little...but not much...Lemon..nah.
The shark is heading toward the ramp...I would say this album was pretty much the clear line between good and bad U2 musically.
Without a doubt, the shark had left the building at this point.
This was also when they toured with the gigantic Martini Glass and a bunch of other absurd icons.
They had become too big to make personal music anymore and they were trying too hard to be on-trend and not hard enough to have soul.
I love Crystal Castles, for example, but, I don’t think that they (and yes, I will always include Alice) could have done a very good guitar, bass, and drums album.
I am virtually certain U2 never made a very good EDM band.
Since Zooropa and Pop...U2 have really only had a few moments that could be considered good (much less great). The high point was All That You Can’t Leave Behind...and I could not care less about How to Dismantle An Atomic Bomb, No Line On The Horizon, or Songs of Innocence (which seems to have also managed to be the only album ever given away for free that is universally hated).
So, pretty much at the time Bono started to wear bizarre Japanese motorcycle boots and crazy glasses (despite being over 50) they started to lose the love.
The beginning of the end started at Rattle and Hum and has been on the crash path ever since. I would put the official leap at Zooropa but the shark was still flying over Pop.
I think many people, feel like Bono tries to hard to be the voice of his generation and is a little too outspoken about his work for a multitude of causes...I am never very comfortable condemning anyone for trying to make a positive difference in the world.
On that count, I would say he should keep doing what he is doing (not that what I think matters)...the problem has been that the music has not been very good in quite a long while.
When do you think U2 jumped the shark? Or do you think I am totally insane? Feel free to let me know, I look forward to your comments!