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U2 and the Ipod

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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.

(Jump on board the beautiful lull.)

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About Tom Johnson

  • Again, if only U2 could find a way to cobble together some press for this release, it could really do something!

  • i can see it now.

    the house lights go out as the twisted chord shards of “Vertigo” kick in…

    the spot lights burn a bright circle on a scrim above Larry Mullin’s head…the curtain parts and up rises, like that danged monolith in 2001, a giant iPod.


  • ps. i’ll be picking up a copy of How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb later this afternoon.

  • Hmmm…I disagree on the comment about albums…and Achtung Baby is one of the greatest rock albums of all time.

    Also, I think the ipod is benefiting as much from the association with U2 as the other way around…I think it depends on which generation you come from who is benefiting whom more.

  • Eric Olsen

    excellent assessment Tom – I agree about most of the albums being spotty but with great songs throughout: that’s why their hits collections are so revealing and iconic. Great call on the importance of the iPod connection as well. Thanks!

  • Bill, Achtung Baby is among my personal favorite albums of all time, and is certainly one of the all-time great rock records, too.

    Great call on the reverse-Ipod issue – it may indeed be introducing the lovely white machine to an older generation of people that might otherwise see it as a fad or a toy for teens.

    Eric: Best of 1980-1990 is killer – so good there’s almost no need to own the albums unless you really are a die-hard fan. 1990-2000 seems much more haphazard to me and doesn’t have the triumphant sheen that the first set does. In fact, I often feel let down after listening to that set, wishing I’d opted instead to listen to Achtung Baby instead. The newly remixed Pop tracks on disc 1, however, are pretty cool, and there’s word that the album will be reissued soon as a two-disc edition with the original album and an entirely newly mixed version that represents the album U2 wishes they’d made the first time around.

  • being the somewhat nieve sort that i am, one thought about U2 and the ipod: maybe they really love the device and wanted to toss their weight behind it.

    lotsa big-name bands still have mp3-fear.

    maybe U2 think otherwise.

  • And iPod mania continues. I did some preliminary Christmas poking around last night. In addition to Radio Shack, the Sharper Image and Bose will be selling iPods* this season. I almost felt sorry for B&O. They will be trying to move their equally expensive, low capacity SD card MP3 player in the same market.

    *Selling the mini and 20 GB models that is. Apple appears to have limited the 40 GB and iPod Photo to itself and Apple resellers.