When Bono told Rolling Stone in January that U2’s new album, No Line On the Horizon, “tapped into our interest in electronic music” you could almost hear millions of fans nervously grinding their teeth. After all, the last time the group jumped headfirst into electronica they produced Zooropa and Pop, two albums that many followers would like to forget.
While a lot of people hoped Bono was kidding, now that the album’s out, they can hear firsthand that he wasn’t. To put it simply, picture what Pop would sound like if it mated with How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb — there are giant riff rockers on the single Get on Your Boots, and some very un-U2-like electro synth during the intro of Magnificent.
If the band’s past is any indication, there’s no doubt plenty of fans will be turned off by the group’s experimental tendencies. Although people flocked to the keyboard-heavy Achtung Baby, U2’s supporters scratched their heads at Zooropa and pretty much abandoned the group when they released the middling Pop.
It took a return to their sweeping Joshua Tree-like melodies with All That You Can’t Leave Behind in 2000 to bring back the masses, eventually allowing the foursome to reclaim their “best band in the world” status.
Will things be different this time? Only time will tell, but let’s hope for U2’s sake that they don’t.
If anything, Bono, The Edge, Larry Mullen Jr. and Adam Clayton should be embraced for pushing their musical boundaries. Sure, it’s not a complete makeover, Edge’s trademark delay guitar is here, so is Bono’s passionate, over-the-top crooning, but at least they’re finally smart enough to realize that while a classic sounding album will sell 10 million copies, that’s worthless if they can’t keep themselves creatively inspired.
Imagine for a minute if U2’s fans stayed on the bandwagon during the ’90s. The group might not have produced Elevation or Vertigo; rather they’d be on the cutting edge of experimental music, possibly even mentioned in the same breath as Radiohead.
Yeah, that’s likely a stretch, but if their admirers had allowed them to keep reinventing themselves they’d be a far more intriguing band. They wouldn’t be as rich — the masses generally like to keep their bands as non-threatening as possible (see Nickelback, Fall Out Boy) — instead they’d be producing music that would be as timeless as anything off Joshua Tree, an album that truly dripped with originality and passion.
So, U2 might have been set back a couple decades, but it’s time to let the band do what they want. Let them write a nearly seven-and-a-half minute song (Moment of Surrender) or include haunting heartbeat-like drumming on White as Snow — the group will be that much better if they’re free to experiment.
However, just because they’re feeling adventurous here, doesn’t mean we should let them off the hook if their tunes are terrible. Go nuts, throw in a theremin solo or some minimalist ambient tones on your next disc — the only thing U2 owes to their fans is that whatever they’re going to do, they do it well.