Trust the Gene Genie

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

For those who saw, last week when the Chicago Tribune's Greg Kot reviewed U2's concerts in the windy city, he gave the band an essentially solid review but got on them for selling out, more or less. He said they've started to go the way of the Rolling Stones, not taking risks and going for the easy road. Bono took offense. So much so that he requested a face-to-face interview with Kot to make his case for why U2 is as good as its ever been and why rock needs the support of music critics.

What came out of the interview is intriguing stuff. One could argue Bono almost bushes the boundaries of fan loyalty. Turns out he doesn't think much of prog rock. If rock's going to survive and compete it has to be radio friendly and prog rock isn't. But it was his comments on U2's own experiments and fan-fave "POP" that caught me nearly off-guard (I argue Bono can never completely catch you off-guard because you always know he's going to say at least one thing completely half-assed).

Says Bono, "We had 10 years of experimentation. We decided to rope it in, and tie ourselves to only one thing. And that's the only discipline. Is it a great song? Is it fresh? Experimenting in rock is at its best when you dream from the perimeters and bring it back to the center.

"We did our 'Zooropa,' we did our 'Passengers,' even our 'Pop' experiment. 'Discotheque,' we viewed it as our response to Peter Gabriel experimenting. We wanted it to be our 'Sledgehammer.' Imagine if 'Discotheque' was a No. 1 pop song? Now that record makes sense. We didn't have the discipline to screw the thing down, and turn it into a magic pop song. We didn't have the discipline to make 'Mo Fo' into a loud concoction of rock 'n' roll, trance crossover. We learned from that album. We'd become progressive rock! Ahhh! It's on us!"

To which Kot (and really the rest of U2's serious fans) groaned: "You're killing me now. I thought those '90s albums were great. I didn't understand 'Achtung Baby' right away. But after seeing the tour, I realized it was your best album. I still feel that way. And I loved 'Zooropa' in that way, and 'Passengers.' I even liked 'Pop.' To me, you guys were showing us how it should be done. You were [screwing] with our heads and making great music. You were doing those weird ballads from 'Pop' as an encore at Soldier Field [in 1997]. I loved that you were so far out on a limb with saw in hand, and you were trying things, pushing things. And now you never play songs from those albums anymore. What happened?"

And that's when Bono dropped the bomb. Five or six years ago this would have gotten me really excited. I love "POP" -- by far the most underappriciated album of the group. But we've all heard the story of how the band was rushed to finish it because of the impending tour and the resulting album was really considered unfinished by the band. I would have loved the idea of them going back in the finish it. But not now. Not after reading what Bono said, not after the last two staid albums they've released. It makes me worry what will happen to the music. Anyway, I'm getting ahead of myself. Here's the bomb Bono dropped:

"There is still talk about the band going back in and fixing 'Pop,' actually going in… because the bones [of a great album] are there. It didn't communicate the way it was intended to. It's my daughter's favorite U2 album, and people are warming up to it now. But it was supposed to change the mood of that summer [1997]. An album changes the mood of a summer when you walk out of a pub and you have those songs in your head. And you hear them coming from a car, an open window. It changes the mood of the season. Instead it became a niche record. And I know you're a man who appreciates the niche. And I'm glad you appreciate that one, but that's not what it was intended to be. With 'Pop,' I always think if we'd just had another month, we could have finished it."

So there it is. It's post-structuralism at the fringe. Can you go back and tinker with your creation once its already been consumed by the masses. I guess George Lucas has answered that question for us. It'll be interesting to see what U2 does.

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