Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Rewind!: To U2 or not to U2?

Editor’s note: This is part of the Daily Collegian’s St. Patrick’s Day special issue.

Let’s get the obvious out of the way early – I love U2. I have loved U2 since I first stole “Rattle & Hum” from my sister when I was 13. When I was 14, the intro to “Sunday Bloody Sunday” was the sole initial inspiration for me to learn how to play the drums. A quick glance at my iPod reveals 172 U2 songs, which includes all 12 of their studio albums and a collection of their B-sides, but does not include the four concert DVDs I also own, including the “Rattle & Hum” tour documentary. I’ve seen them live twice, and regardless of who is reading this, I’d probably be willing to do you moderate-to-grievous bodily injury in exchange for a front row seat to complete the hat trick. I therefore feel at least partially equipped for this discussion – “equipped” of course originating from the Latin root for “slobbering fanboy.”

Needless to say, however, not everyone shares my adoration for the Dublin quartet. In fact, U2 probably garners about as much widespread criticism as conceivably possible for a band that also holds a place in the “Guinness Book of World Records” for most successful world tour. U2 is certainly one of those love/hate bands, and “haters,” as they say, “gon’ hate.”

So my question is: why the hate? There’s one obvious answer that comes to mind – the four-letter-word of frontmen himself, Bono. Even as a fan of U2 and Bono, I will admit he’s a polarizing figure. Others aren’t quite as generous with their adjectives: “egomaniacal” and “loudmouthed” tend to get thrown around a lot. In reality, on the shortlist of memorable rock and roll frontmen from the last half century, Bono is objectively pretty low on the egotism power ranking list. He’s never referred to himself as a “golden god” like Robert Plant, he’s never punched out his guitarist over an in-studio dispute à la Roger Daltrey, and let’s not even get started on how modest Bono looks next to Mick Jagger.

Of course, Bono tends to get a lot of flak from the “shut up and sing” crowd. He’s somehow considered more egotistical than others, notably more big-headed lead singers not just because of his often unabashedly-political lyricism but his outspoken advocacy for the severely underrepresented – famously, those suffering from extreme poverty in Africa. Boy, what a tosser, eh?

The fact of the matter is, a lot of the accusations of egocentricity on Bono’s part tends to stem from his marked personality shift in the early ‘90s, which strikes me as odd since he was playing up something back then that’s absolutely huge now: irony. The only difference is, Bono actually did it right. His overtly self-centered characters like Mirrorball Man and Mr. MacPhisto that were born on the ZooTV tour were ironic for the sake of both entertainment value and social commentary on materialism, consumerism, mass media culture and the Information Age.

Of course, this is all simply pretext to the fact that even if Bono was as bad as people say he is, he’s still damn fine at his job. In fact, as famous as U2 is, Bono is criminally underrated in both his technical and expressive ability as a rock singer. Do yourself a favor – go to YouTube, type in U2 live, and scroll down past the professionally produced performances down to the fan-shot videos from the crowd recorded with a crappy camera made for home movies. Bono sounds better on those crappy camcorder videos than most singers do in a studio. Watch a video of U2 playing “Stay (Faraway, So Close) from their last tour, and Bono can still hit the strong tenor’s B4 at the end of the final chorus on just about any video you can find.

Now without sounding too pretentious and as someone who is admittedly not an expert in terms of music theory, the majority of “U2 haters” would probably balk at the mention of a B4 or even the word “tenor,” mostly because the narrative when it comes to U2-bashing is in fact rarely centered in music. I could go on using up far more words than I’m allotted talking about Bono’s vocal proficiency as an opera-level tenor capable of sharing the stage (as he has done in the past) with the likes of Luciano Pavorotti, or about the fact that The Edge has been teaching a masterclass in the art of less-is-more guitar playing for the last thirty years, while influencing a range of contemporaries from Tom Morello to Matt Bellamy through his effects-laden technique.

But as I said, I have personally found that with most U2 detractors, music isn’t even a part of the dialogue, and thus discussing the actual music becomes moot. U2 is just another example of a hugely popular band that tends to get derisively dismissed, especially by younger people, simply due to their mainstream popularity. Whoa, you don’t like a popular mainstream band? Heads up for this special snowflake, guys.

Because really, what leg would one have to stand on in claiming U2 to produce bad music? On one hand, music is art and art is subjective – on the other hand, you’d still be wrong. I mean, come on, we’re talking the band that made “The Joshua Tree.” The. Joshua. Tree. We’re also talking the band that chopped down “The Joshua Tree” four years later on “Achtung Baby.” Even if U2 did nothing else besides these two albums in their three-decade career, they’d still be the band that did “The Joshua Tree” and “Achtung Baby.” All biases aside, all someone would have to do in order to convince me U2 sucks is to give a substantially negative criticism of these two albums. And no, I don’t mean forming a trite pseudo-analysis on how overplayed “With Or Without You” or “One” are on the radio.

One needs only to look to U2’s footprint in modern music to see that their contributions have been largely positive. The most recognizable influence comes in the form of popular rock bands like Coldplay and Muse, but even the ever-broadening genre of post-rock clearly shows at the very least a semi-conscious absorption of the droning, melodic chime of Edge’s guitar work. They’re clearly one of the more versatile acts in the big leagues, having collaborated with everyone from Johnny Cash, Roy Orbison, Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen to Brian Eno, B.B. King, Mary J. Blige and R.E.M.

St. Patrick’s Day is a great day to celebrate the fact that the world’s biggest band is an Irish one – so stop hatin’, haters.

Dave Coffey can be reached at [email protected].

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  • J

    JohnNov 19, 2012 at 5:14 am

    “stop hatin’, haters.”

    The only thing that’s easy than being a hater is USING the phrase “hater” to defend an argument 😉

    I’ll politely say I am not a fan of U2 or Bono, but an excellent article by Dave other than that last line 🙂

  • E

    EmilyAug 16, 2012 at 11:40 am

    I love U2 and I loved this article!

  • N

    NickAug 8, 2012 at 10:44 am

    They played at Bowker in the early 80s, too, so they can’t be all that bad. 😉