The eve of the release of the new U2 album, How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb, finds an elevated amount of the usual conjecture about bands at the astronomic levels of success the band has achieved. People rant and rave using one of three thematic elements - "U2 sucks," "U2 rules," or a virtual shoulder-shrug of indifference. While the "U2 rules" crowd's crowing is the predictable fawning in the form of "total catalog love," it's those who complain that "U2 sucks" that usually get to say so with more creativity. The common attribute among their disdain is the disclaimer that they ruled up until X, X usually being The Unforgettable Fire, The Joshua Tree, or Achtung Baby and everything since album X has sucked, and they will usually throw in the "sell out" attack at some point, too. What it points out is that people just got attached to the band at some point in their career - that it varies so wildly just proves that the band does anything but "suck."
U2's strength has always been writing great "anthems" - but not particularly great albums. Every one one of their albums has contained at least one or two spectacular songs but only a handful of the 11 studio albums, however, are actually great as a whole. They have managed, despite the roller coaster nature of their catalog, to secure a very steady foothold on the steep, rocky terrain of the music industry. In doing so, they've become a tremendous common denominator among people. Some love them for their politics, based in "feel good" issues they may be (AIDS, Africa, etc.,) some love them for their gift of song craft, and some love them for the talented musicians they are. Everyone and anyone can be a U2 fan, it seems.
"Sell out" has been a common term used with the band, and their latest venture will, no doubt, fuel the burning hatred some feel for the band. An icon themselves, U2 has brilliantly aligned themselves with the single greatest icon of the music experience in the 21st century. The Ipod, love it or hate it (and I speak as a very recent convert to the "love it" camp,) is a bonafide, verified turning point in the history of music. One could suggest the MP3 itself as the turning point, but without a portable music player like the Ipod or its counterparts, the format was forever chained to computers. Not since the introduction of videos and MTV has something so gripped the fickle attention of the public and caused people to listen to music in a new way because of it. Someone had to come along at some point and become the "face" associated with the Ipod. What other musical acts today are more fitting of alignment with such an important cultural revolution? Few bands can successfully cross the boundaries that U2 can - age, race, and religion. U2 stands alone in finding proponents over a statistically enormous amount of people. And U2 does it over and over again - every album, regardless of its reception by die-hard fans and critics, finds its way into the hands of more people than it seems possible at this point in their career. They've done so simply by tuning in to what the people want. With a slew of admirable and increasingly formidable MP3-players on the way from competing companies, this year is arguably the biggest year the Ipod may ever see. More Ipods than ever before, and more than any other competing MP3-products, will be stashed under Christmas trees this year. U2 has wisely jumped on board for this watershed moment - the people want Ipods, and U2's making sure they're along for the ride while it lasts.