Since before the release of “No Line On The Horizon” in March 2009, rumours have been swirling that U2 intends to wrap it up soon and call it quits. At first, the band firmly denied those rumours and seemed to seal the deal by contracting with their record label for several more albums. Lately, however, these rumours have gained new momentum based on remarks that Bono has been making in interviews to the annoyance of his band mates.
For example, in the November 10, 2011 issue of “Rolling Stone” magazine Bono is quoted thus: “I’m not so sure the future hasn’t dried up,”, “The band are like, ‘Will you shut up about being irrelevant?’”, and “We’d be very pleased to end on No Line on the Horizon.“
But a discerning fan takes time to read between the lines.
After all, following that last declaration, Bono added: “I doubt that.” And in the paragraph that follows all of this, he talks about reinvention. One could say: That’s because the article’s focus is on the 20th anniversary re-release of “Achtung Baby” and 1993’s “Zooropa” with an almost overwhelming number of extras. True. But it is telling to those who pay attention.
It is proper that Bono feels compelled to question whether U2 continue to be relevant in today’s music world- and creatively healthy. For more than a decade now, nearly every band to release an album has sounded like U2. Their musical history has so influenced, been imitated by, and become a deeply integral part of the consciousness of nearly every artist recording today that it has become cliche. From Coldplay’s debut single “Clocks” on through Florence and the Machine’s recently released second album, this is unmistakable. U2 have changed the world, which is exactly what they want to do. But for what they do to become cliche is simply unacceptable to a band that have always sounded alien and ahead of their time when juxtaposed to the sounds surrounding it. It is natural, then, for Bono to ask, in effect, why continue at all if we continue in the same manner? What would be the point?
In fact, if he didn’t ask, I would be the first to wish them a pleasant retirement.
So, when that “Rolling Stone” article ends with Bono saying: “I want to take my young boys and my wife and just disappear with my iPod Nano and some books and an acoustic guitar.”, it does not sound to this fan like the beginning of the end. Exhaustion, perhaps (and given their workload since the release of “No Line” that’s no surprise). But not the end. Actually, it sounds like the exact opposite.
It doesn’t take a great amount of discernment to hear in that comment an echo of an earlier, now legendary quote on December 31, 1989. Remember when Bono said: “It’s time to go away and dream it all up again.”? Well, reinvention is in the air again, and not just the sort of reinvention that the world expects of U2 (something else they have made cliche). Give them approximately three years of “disappearing” and when U2 step into the light again: what they will bring to it will be utterly unexpected and beautiful. The catapillar will have become the butterfly. The world will gasp in horror at the loss and then fall in love all over again. U2 will change the world- again.
It won’t be easy for them, but going the hard road has always been their prefered route. The real question is: Are we ready? I believe we are. And even if we aren’t, there can be no denying that the time has come. To quote the title song of “Zooropa”: “Dream up the world (you want) to live in, (boys) dream out loud”.
Brian Hiatt, October 24, 2011, “U2 Revisit ‘Achtung Baby’ – and Question Their Future”, RollingStone.com.