Tuesday, September 23, 2014

If It's Tuesday, I Must Get Some Things Off My Chest

If you haven't already read the piece in Salon titled "How U2 became the most hated band in America," it's HERE.  It's worth the effort and I don't have much to add, though I wanted to go on record by saying that I always liked U2, not loved U2, especially the later records from "Achtung Baby" on, that seem to be reviled by so many.

I remember seeing a commercial for Ford trucks and hearing a new John Mellencamp tune as its soundtrack and thinking how Mellencamp was such a hypocrite, until I read an interview a few weeks later where he said, "Where else can my music be heard? No one plays me on the radio anymore. There is no radio." I actually felt bad for John Mellencamp.

The U2/Apple stunt is a far cry from recording a demo for a guy in a suit and having him finagle some airplay on some 500 watt local radio station. But I don't care. There are worse people out there than Bono and the music he makes with his band is far better than alot of the unlistenable crap that gets more respect.

Since 1991, the Rolling Stones have released 6 live albums (5 of them rotten) and 3 mediocre studio albums. Since 1991, U2 has released 7 studio albums, 3 of which became some of the biggest records of their career. Apples and oranges? Maybe. But the way the Stones have conducted themselves, with their extravagant tours and odious ticket prices (and boring set lists) and the aforementioned inferior output, is certainly fodder for some serious ridicule which miraculously, never comes. Yet when it comes to these two bands, the disparity in respect is laughable.

There's no need to remind me of the history or the difference between the greatness of "Sticky Fingers" versus the greatness of "Achtung Baby." I'm already there. I know of the Rolling Stones contribution to music. I am a Stones fan. This is not about who is a better band. I am just always intrigued by what it takes to make music lovers with deep and varied tastes in styles and genres, stick with something that they know no longer delivers and not bother at all with something that just might be worth their time. Or worse, just hate someone enough, that there is no need to hear the music at all.

"Songs Of Innocence" is worth the time. It is not better than "Sticky Fingers." It's not even better than "Tattoo You." But it is a whole lot better than anything the Rolling Stones have delivered in the last 23 years...except for "Stripped." I love "Stripped."


misospecial said...

I've been thinking about how the Stones have a remarkable teflon coating since Jay Smooth said he heard Brown Sugar recently and actually paid attention to the lyrics for the first time and was shocked by the racism and misogyny, and I wondered why the Stones got away with that shite all these decades. Is it because the bad-boy umbrella makes it seem like no big deal, just a subcategory of "edginess"? Somebody cited an Exiles-era piece that talked about how the Stones had fallen in love with the black South, particularly black women. I am also a Stones fan (how can you not be?)—at least their older stuff. But I do find this element creepy and offensive and I wonder, how do they, how have they always, gotten away with it?

So I can't answer your question, just add another to it. I suppose it's possible to affix yourself so firmly in peoples' minds as being badass and edgy that nothing you can do will knock you from that perch in their minds.

William Repsher said...

I think the U2 "controversy" is indicative of the kind of hype and nonsense that the internet, and the befuddled media by extension, is all too infamous for. Nobody hates U2 ... a bunch of overgrown babies got onto their social media and whined about getting a free album they didn't want. All this claptrap about infringing on privacy and not respecting boundaries ... I checked into iTunes that night, for the first time in years, and had the option of downloading the album for free as already-purchased. No trust was violated. My civil rights remained intact. I downloaded the album ... and it kind of sucked. But I appreciated the gesture.

What U2 and Apple did was a nice gesture that any iTunes user could politely accept or decline. Would you actually hate anyone for giving you the option of owning their album for free? What is this complete and utter horseshit? Have we grown this soft?

We have a generation of people who see how this works ... create a ruckus on the internet, and the media picks up the ball and blows the issue into a firestorm of bullshit. I've seen this method of hyping an issue employed to do anything from blatant self promotion to situations that were borderline fascist. And it will often ruin people's lives once the overall media gets hold of it ... only to be a blip on the screen a week later when some other faux controversy takes hold. Last week, U2, this week, football players beating their kids, next week, Jihad Joes returning to our shores from Syria. It's always something.

But "most hated band"? Where in the hell did that come from? Why? Over this utter non-issue? Really? According to whom exactly, and once those people are pointed out, how do we account for the millions of people who quietly downloaded the album and didn't make a peep? I give up!

Sal Nunziato said...


I think U2 were getting the hate long before last week's stunt. You nailed the controversy with your opening sentence, but I must disagree with "nobody hates U2." Check this comments section over the next 24 hours.

Bulletins From Mars Hill said...

I Concur!

Shriner said...

The brouhaha over this was (to me) one of the ultimate definitions of the over-used phrase "first-world problems".

Do I hate U2? No. Have I grown tired of U2? Probably. "Beautiful Day" is the last song of theirs I actually remember as being good. "Atomic Bomb"? "Horizon"? Have them. Can't remember a single thing about them, either...

I don't resent any band for still being around, but there are only a handful of bands/artists (Neil Young, Paul McCartney jump to mind) that have been around for decades that I haven't completely stopped caring about their new music (The Rolling Stones would be one of them.)

I listened to the new album. I kept my free copy. Will I listen to it again? Maybe. Probably not right away as I have so much other stuff I'm more interested in listening to again...

William Repsher said...

Sal, I'd tell the commenters, you really don't like U2 ... or maybe my concept of actually hating someone or something is different. If I hate you, I'd be amenable to physically attacking you. Hate is a strong word ... I don't take it lightly. Again, it's this hysterical internet version of "hate" where every emotion is amplified to the nth degree ... which only underlines to me how emotionless so many of these people are, which is what happens when you play with devices all day long. You become so disconnected from reality, and real emotions, that everything becomes hated, or epic, or awesome, or insert adjective here that insinuates overkill.

U2 has been fielding this sort of crap for years, even before Rattle and Hum, but that was probably the first big shot they took for Bono coming off as a bit pompous. And I'll often agree with the criticisms. I did check out the comments section with one guy, claiming to be an alt music DJ in the 80s in college when The Joshua Tree came out, and passing off the album as "jock rock" or something.

Really? I was that age, too, and so far into indie music that I rarely bought anything on a major label. I was also smart enough to recognize a great album when I heard it. But that's indicative of the sort of moronic faux hatred that I'm addressing here.

Anonymous said...

"Stripped"--the road, sadly, not taken.

peabody nobis said...

Alrighty then, a topic we can sink our teeth into!
I don't hate U2, I have simply found their music boring and repetitive for the last 20 years. "Achtung Baby" was the last release from them I found enjoyable.
And the Stones...my God, what a mess! The live releases of the last 20+ years are horrible because the Stones sound HORRIBLE now! They sound as if they don't even bother to rehearse because they DON'T CARE ANYMORE!
As far as the racist stuff, I always wondered how they got away with the line in "Some Girls" dealing with black women.
And Mellencamp, God Bless'em, but his new album is just a complete bore. No hooks or real melodies, just him sounding like he's reading his diary.
For a guy who wrote some great pop tunes back in the day, he sure sounds bitter now. Yes, radio is no more, but if you want people to listen to, and enjoy, your music, you need to sound like you're enjoying it yourself.
Maybe he should check with Robert Plant...

Mike said...

I had a long drive to VA this past weekend and listened intently to the new U2 record in its entirety from beginning to end. And although I didn't like all the songs (don't think that they were all great), I was struck by the production, which was stellar. As a producer, musician and studio engineer with a lot of recording under my belt, their production and the sound of their record really sets a bar that few can match. The vocals sit where they should and you can actually discern the lyrics (whether you like them or not is another thing). The drums and bass are tight and differ song to song accordingly. And the guitar sounds are varied and cool. Some really good playing overall. And it is not so limited that there are no dynamics- it is a very dynamic production. There are so many homemade recordings today that just don't have this level of detail to the production. And most pop and country recordings now are so slammed that you really don't get any sense of dynamics at all. U2 will never be the Beatles or the Stones as far as writing goes, but they do strive for making great sounding records.

Anonymous said...

Hello all...no, please remain seated,

I don't get a lot of the vitriol surrounding U2. Can Bono sometimes be annoying? Of course. Does that annoyance distinguish him in any way among entertainers and artists? Not especially...at least in my book.

On to the Stones. As a life-long Stones devotee, let me engage in a little chronological comparison. U2's first album, Boy, was released in 1980. Thirty four years later, they released their current album, Songs of Innocence. The Stones released their first album in 1964. Thirty four years later (well, give or take) they released Bridges to Babylon. So, thirty four years on, whose album stacks up better? For my money, it’s no contest – U2. At the very least, U2 still seems to record as a band.

Jeez…did you ever look at the credits for Bridges? It still annoys the ever-loving crap out of me that the cool guitar part in “Saint of Me” was played, not by Keith Richards, but by Waddy Wachtel playing-in-the-manner of the aforementioned Mr. Richards. Guys, really? Would Bono ever bring in the Coldplay guy to lay down a track? And Keith’s guitar tech gets a co-writing credit (for Thief in the Night)???? Bet that sat well with Bill Wyman. Ahem.

Finally…I, too loved Stripped, with an important qualification. If you haven’t listened to that album in a while, do yourself a favor and listen to Wild Horses, focusing first on Keith’s acoustic playing. In my view, it’s spectacular. Thirty some-odd years after writing it, he plays the song beautifully, combining strums, fills and runs in ways that both echo and expand on his original playing. But then….listen to Ron Wood’s playing on the same song. Twenty years or so after he joined the Stones, he still hadn’t worked out a good sounding guitar part for himself. Go ahead and listen for yourself. Amirite?


Gene Oberto said...

My conjecture is that this is exactly the model the band was looking for. If they had put the album out as a regular release their payback would have been abysmal-at least for this band. This way, Apple, with pockets like a black hole in space, PAYS U2 $100 million. As far as U2 is concerned, they were paid in full for services rendered.
U2 had nothing to do with the "free" gift. This band's history says that they do not play for free. And, true to form, they didn't.
As to the Stones, well Mick has tried to stay trendy his whole career. My amazement is that they still stand today. Remember, nobody bitched about Sinatra who continued WAY past his prime. When you accumulate the amount of fans they have deposited in their account, they could and are just living off the interest.
One more thing, you can't judge the past through the prism of today. Misogyny ran through the blues and into the early 70s rock. Ike Turner and Tina, hell, Louis Prima and Keely Smith. There is nothing like a dame.
No one said anything back then is because in the context of THAT time, no one thought it out of line.

Heather Taylor said...

U2 was my "first". In eighth grade, "The Joshua Tree" turned me from an interested-in-pop fan to a true, rabid follower of a band. They were my first concert, Bono my first man-crush. They changed, they grew, veni, vidi, vici since 1991. Bono and the boys are bigger than life. So are their albums (maybe why we hate them) and so are their concerts (maybe why we love them). It's what Bono does with a lot of his money and fame that makes me continue to love and support them - attempting to make good in the world, heal the sick and feed the poor. If being a big celebrity helps Bono (practically by himself) what it takes some major, industrialized nations to do, God bless this band.

Eric said...

if u listen to u2 backing jagger on gimme shelter at MSG benefit..u hear the pedigree difference in keef's band......

also, what is under the Edge's skull cap?

William Repsher said...

Mellencamp addendum: listened to his new album last night. It's actually better than the last few grumbling/earnest folkie efforts, some higher-shelf melodies finally appearing again. I didn't bear him any ill will for the Ford truck/This Is My Country fiasco. The only problem with that situation was overkill. If you were a football fan, that fall, you couldn't escape that commercial. In any given game, you would hear that song at least 20 times, to the point where people started getting sick of hearing it.

But think about it. Who builds Ford trucks? Who buys Ford trucks? His fan base. It wasn't much of a stretch for me to accept him using a company like that to advertise his song, ditto Bob Seger earlier with "Like a rock" which suffered from the same commercial over-exposure. And I think "My Country" was his last great stab at populist-anthem greatness, consciously trying to write "Small Town" or "Jack and Diane" again. When I hear the song now on the iPod, I like it.

Robin said...

Thank you!!! Could not agree more. And the comments some people were making about how "invasive" it was for Songs of Innocence to show up in their iTunes (I had to download it though). I mean people were actually saying and not in jest, "I feel raped" Really??? I could tell watching the Apple event that day that the band knew there'd be a backlash, you could see it, there are worse things than U2 playing (quite well) at an Apple event and sharing some free (and quite good) music. Actually, people do hate them, actually it's Bono they "hate" as they "hate" Michael Stipe. I don't think they actively "hate" Larry and Adam, even if they don't respect their musicianship. The lead singer it seems, especially a politically/socially vocal one is always laying themselves out there and their voice becomes what you do or don't often like about a band. U2 is going through one of those "they aren't that important" phases in the media. I think it will change once they really become seniors and/or retire. ;) @misospecial-I love the Stones but I always thought "Brown Sugar" was arrogant- beyond it's "great tune/great riff", it's Mick supposedly commenting-tongue in cheek- on the U.S. and slavery, you know mocking "us". He needs a history lesson. You know because the British are so innocent and never settled here. ;)

A walk in the woods said...

Great points William about how frivolously people sometimes use strong emotional words these days - great point, and a more salient one than just music talkin'.

As for U2, and the Stones, and other big bands, I don't think of them in terms of "I don't like that band" or "I don't like that band since '94" or such. For me, every band - every piece of music, actually - is always assessed on a song-by-song basis.

So I'm not a big U2 fan, but there are individual songs of theirs I think are perfect - "Trying To Throw Your Arms Around The World," "The Sweetest Thing," "Beautiful Day" and a couple more.

Why would I cordon them off and say I "hate" them, when they might come up with a new "Vertigo" that I kinda like?

There are very few bands that rise above that song-by-song pass/fail test for me - that is, bands or artists for whom I basically like every single song in their catalog (more or less). That short list includes:
- Bob Dylan
- Beatles
- Paul Simon
- Stones

So for me, the Stones can do no wrong. And U2 can do wrong, but sometimes does right.

kevin m said...

a little late to this party but my 2 cents nonetheless.

this is a tough one as I love both bands. but let's start with u2.

I like the new record. I don't love it. but I remember loving "no line on the horizon" when that came out and now I cringe every time I even think of "sexy boots". there is no real hit single on "songs for innocence" and that is a good thing. it seems that on the last 3 releases, u2 seemed to be trying too hard to get radio airplay. with "innocence" that is not the case and I think with time and songs being played live, that I will really grow into this album.

as for those who feel violated by the apple release, get a life! there's a lot more to complain about than getting a free album even if you don't like the band. just delete it and move on.

as for the stones, yes, they haven't released a great album since "tattoo you". I think if you take certain songs off of the last 3 releases and combine into one, you'd have a classic. instead, there is way too much filler since "steel wheels". since 1994, I always leave a stones show saying that is it. mick is too old, keith is wasted, etc. inevitably, they return and there I am clapping along and several hundred dollars poorer. but really now, I just can't validate anymore to my wife or myself why we need to go see them again if they come back.

to u2's credit, I really cannot fathom them doing what the stones are doing now.

Anonymous said...

I happen to like both bands, but find your take on The Stones off base. The band has been attacked (often on their own fan sites and clubs) for being irrelevant and too old since the mid 70s. The U2 giveaway is good and I've listened to it more than once, but I also enjoy recent Stones output (not all of it, but there are shiny rocks among the rubble)and the last time I saw them (Chi. 2013), they were great with a fun set list. Of course, hopping a bus afterwards and catching The Detroit Cobras at a club made it an adventure for us.