Especially when you’re the biggest band in the world. You’ve been at the peak of creativity for 30 of your 40 years… or have you?
There is no standard for brilliance. Some would say money equates success. Making a huge profit from your music would put you in rarified air. Having the public love you until you fail them with your next release or birthday (yours or theirs). Or you’re a critical darling, your views and shares are in the billions of streams, your performances are in demand and the supermodels line up. None of this is a true real measure of success. Art is subjective, sometimes in fashion, sometimes not. Time is fleeting, and with time all tastes change.
U2 finally released Songs of Experience last week and I couldn’t wait. In my anticipation, I’ve been reading as many reviews as I could find. You see I love seeing what others think about the stuff I love. Am I the only one who loves it or am I part of a larger community? It doesn’t help me form my opinion but I get a kick out of whether I agree or not. So, as I’m pursuing the critical reviews for Songs of Experience, I’m noticing a large amount of condemning pontification. I’m not against reviews, they are almost as important as the art… because the personal aspect of how music touches each of us is the backbone of what PCTV is.
In 2014, there was a backlash against U2, you might remember it. They made a deal with Apple to give their album away to iPhone users for free. Rather than getting their money from each of us they were paid a lump sum by Apple. Did this have an effect on how much you will like the bands next record? From the reviews I’m reading, it did/does. Every one of the reviewers mentioned it in their review. I was one who got the record on my iPhone for free and I have to admit, I was overjoyed!!! Whether it was U2 or you and your brother, I always love to get free stuff, especially music! It doesn’t matter whether I like it or not. But not everyone saw it that way. It was a classic case of a marketing campaign that backfired spectacularly, a musical version of New Coke. I saw it as a ploy by Apple to push iTunes, but the public saw it as U2 selling out. The band of the people selling out to the largest corporation on the planet. Does this have an effect on the way people see the new album? It seems that most of the aggravation was that people couldn’t easily delete the record from their iTunes account… I guess that’s traumatic for some people, for me… not so much.
I believe the issue is what should we realistically expect from our heroes. They make music that we adopt as our own. They don’t owe us anything really, it is we who have to decide if the music fits our worldview. We live with it, love to it. What happens when the new music doesn’t elicit the same response from us as the previous music? Are they at fault, did they somehow fail us, or did we just grow away from them? Even when an artist is putting out single after single in a very short time, can the quantity stand up to our musical love tests? No, music is the only thing that is always received with 100% emotion. It doesn’t matter what went in to making a song, we ALWAYS value it by our own standards. We state that we want our musical heroes to push the envelope and create something new and awe-inspiring.
And when it succeeds we bask in the glow, whether it is Prince, Hendrix, Kanye West, Guns and Roses, Michael Jackson or U2, but when it comes up short we wonder what happened, where did it all go wrong. Why did they change, I liked them the way they were. Why can’t they keep making songs the way I want them too? Each of us places an individual creed of acceptance upon it and to what level. I love AC/DC but rarely have I romanced a girl with it.
My question is this: Would I even recognize a brilliant Beatles song, if it was made in today’s market? Can a band that I hold in high regard live up to those standards every time they put out music? Do I measure each release by my personal interpretation of what are the greatest hits? Paul McCartney still records and tours but his newer stuff doesn’t hit me emotionally like his older stuff. Is that his fault? Does that make it any less worthy?
But I wonder if any of us can really, subjectively see how good a piece of music is if we’ve followed a band for 40 years. That music has become one with our being. I mean U2 has been at the top of music for so long, I consider them my generations Beatles. Consistently amazing songs, both on record and live, and groundbreaking live shows. Always challenging, always striding along the edge of the creative boundary… and they are one of the few bands I know of that the more you listen the better their music gets. U2 seems to accept that to remain creative they must challenge expectations, realizing that sometimes it won’t succeed. I applaud them for doing that. Sure I would like to hear more songs that sound just like Mysterious Ways but that would be a retrograde action and that just isn’t what U2 is about. I’m really not sure we can realize brilliance in music anymore. Especially when it comes from a band that we hold to such a high standard of expectation. So love what you love the way you want to love it. That’s what music is all about anyway!