January 02, 2004

U2004 Pontifications

My late-breaking entry in @U2's predictions:

2004 is looking to be one of the meanest, nastiest twelve months in history. Any self-righteous theologically political rock band will have sensed this intrinsically some time ago, and will have either run screaming and wailing into the comforting arms of nostalgia, or instead will have decided on blundering gamely inside the gaping maw of mass media to suffer gross misinterpretation and crushing overexposure before being mercifully cut off from all supporting record conglomerate cash flow, leaving the field to the bland ravings of hyper-hip art rockers, loopy hip-hoppers, and libidinal pop tarts.

Bono, being the stubborn bastard he is, will gallantly lead his semi-skeptical bandmates into the coming year’s swirling maelstrom with a confidence bordering on the delusional, but, I predict, will somehow emerge relatively unscathed, retaining for U2 a phoenix-like avatar status among their peers despite a slew of assaults upon common sense, practicality, good taste, and other sick and twisted enemies of rock & roll. Plus, since people seem to put stock in such things, a Hall of Fame nomination to boot.

U2 can’t do this without a killer album, and I don’t mean a safe return to simplicity like “All That You Can’t Leave Behind” or “Electrical Storm”, and certainly not in disjointed, throwaway narratives like “The Hands That Built America”. No, for me, this record is going to need an epic scope on a personal scale in order to come across as not only relevant to today’s wretched times, but to stand up to the high points of their own back catalogue, since U2 are in effect competing with themselves at this point despite any protestations otherwise. That’s a lot to expect from a middle-aged group of rich Irish dorks, and I don’t blame them for giving two fingers to bogus pontifications like that.

Still, sonically this might be a corker. If Edge can interpret the “Psychocandy”-riffage of Black Rebel Motorcycle Club into whatever he’s doing, I’ll be interested, even if that only amounts to a kind of name-dropping, selectively pruning endeavor which might just disguise how much of a third-generation theft it would be. Elaborate sonic appropriation was all that “Achtung Baby” was at its roots anyway, and I went for that full bore.

Well, went for it because of the lyrics on top of that theft, anyway. Bono’s lyrics are going to need to be top notch here as well, or else he’ll have to resort to a delivery that may be beyond his physical range these days. Let’s face it, folks, the two or three lyrical cracks showing on “Pop” burst into a gaping hole of banality on the vast majority of U2 tunes that followed. Valiant though his globe-trotting, world-saving ambitions may be, Mr. Hewson needs to balance that energy with his verbiage-generating reserves, lest we all be afflicted by more “Elevation”-style nursery rhymes.

U2 have more leeway from prickly geeks like me when it comes to touring. The 2001 tour waited a long time to degenerate into a victory-lap jukebox affair, and until that point we were treated to a very well-rehearsed band charging through our favorites and their favorites, with a (relatively) dynamic setlist. The shows, as most of you know, were fantastic, if you could actually get a ticket for them. If the album’s good (or the promotional campaign is, at any rate- Olympic tie-ins, anyone?), I may yet again end up waiting in line for hours before scoring expensive, last-row arena seats. Oh well. I hope U2 will take the good aspects of Elevation and run with them- namely, showcasing a wide variety of their material for as long as possible, or at least the older stuff that fits well in context with the new album, before shoving a live version of their 80’s hits album down our throats when James Henke and Cleveland come calling. A new version of “We Will Rock You” would also be nice in this vile election year.

Even so, lots of this is small potatoes compared to my other pressing musical questions: will PJ Harvey’s new album be as awesome as the last one? Will Elbow finally break Coldplay’s stranglehold on the all-powerful demographic of 25-45 year-old-women, or will R.E.M. finally regain that crown? Will people finally get sick of the ruling Strokes-White Stripes oligarchy of uber-cool? Will Radiohead float off into the proggy ether again? Will Wilco continue to quietly demolish everyone else? Will my brother still insist that Pearl Jam is the greatest live band ever? Will sniping critics ever stop saying “Rock is dead!” Will my own musical myopia ever allow me to become a rock star in my own right? (easy answer for that one: No, you twit.)

Oh, one other thing: I predict that I will, at some point in the future, write an article about U2 that will be criticized as insufficiently fawning and hopelessly stupid by someone on u2france.com or some other French fansite. This actually happened in the wake of my lukewarm Elevation show review (discovered thanks to a Google vanity search)- apparently my Cali-yankee sensibilities so offended someone in Gaul that they publicly mocked my fandom and my intelligence. Welcome to the majors, Mr. Hobbs.

Anyway, I hope your coming year in U2 brings you either exactly what you wish for or exactly what you deserve. I’ll probably get a heaping helping of both.

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