Thursday, February 09, 2006

U2

Fifteen years ago I was a huge U2 fan. I first started following them when they put out the album War. That is still one of my favorites, along with Unforgettable Fire, Joshua Tree, Boy, and Achtung Baby. I have seen them in concert three times. At one point I could recite the lyrics to every song they had ever recorded. U2 had a passion and a fervor which made their music powerfully compelling.

However, since Achtung Baby came out in 1991, U2 has lost its soul. Zooropa was worthless, and besides one faint glimmer of their former selves, Pop was just as bad. I still faithfully line up to buy their albums, hoping that they will rediscover that unforgettable fire which made them great, but their last two albums have been equally disappointing. U2 has gone from being revolutionary to being clich├ęd and formulaic.

As a U2 fan, you would think that I would be thrilled that they won 5 Grammy Awards last night. Actually, I am a bit puzzled. What in their last album makes it worthy of a Grammy? I listened to it a lot, and finally gave up on trying to appreciate it. The songs are trite and shallow and the music is pop rock drivel. Perhaps they were on to something a few years ago when they wrote "What do I do now that its all been said, no new ideas in the house, and every book has been read?"

So why does a has-been band like U2 win 5 Grammy Awards with such a dull album? It clearly doesn't have anything to do with the quality of their music. It is due to the memory of their former greatness combined with their present-day political activism. However, neither of these is a substitute for present-day musical creativity or innovation.

U2 has always been political. One of their great early songs is "Sunday, Bloody Sunday" a protest of the Irish revolution, about the bombing of a vetrans day parade in Dublin. This is a matter close to the heart of U2, being native Irishmen, and the passion of personal conviction comes through clearly in the music. "In the Name of Love" is another great anthem from U2's early days, honoring Martin Luther King in soaring, spiritual verse.

It used to be that the music spoke for itsself. Today, the music is shallow and the activism is mostly offstage. And it has gone from being personal and passionate to being forced, calculated, and staged for an audience. They are political because they think that this is what people want, not because they believe their new poll-driven causes in the same way they believed Sunday, Bloody Sunday. Instead of singing about their homeland, where there is a personal connection, they sing songs bashing America. Americans certainly have a right to be critical of our government, but let's not forget that U2 chose to move here to take advantage of the great economic opportunity available in America. U2's prosperity is a testimony that there is opportunity for anyone in America, but their songs carry the opposite message. Certain segments of the public, along with the Grammy jurists, eat it up. But those of us who remember U2's roots see through it.

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