Nick Hornby, see in his excellent novel High Fidelity, healing puts U2 amongst the five bands that should shot come the great musical revolution (sharing this dubious honour are Bryan Adams, the Simple Minds, Genesis and Michael Bolton). For a long time though, uncool as it may be, one could very easily defend U2. Ignoring Bono’s various pretensions; the band has always produced relatively decent work. Their 80s output, though occasionally over earnest, is generally quite stellar, and when compared to a lot of mainstream 80s rock, it’s aged well. Their 90s phase, where they experimented (tongue firmly in cheek) with dance and industrial stands as one of the sharpest left turns in rock. While their output since 2000 is ageing badly, largely because of a lot of it suffers from melodramatic overproduction (Brian Burton, not content with turning the Black Keys from a semi interesting blues band into a bland pop juggernaut, see’s that this is the case on Songs of Innocence), there isn’t really anything that stands out as being particularly bad.
Last week U2 released their latest album for free via Apple, announcing it at the press conference for the new Iphone. In doing so, its now very hard now to actually defend U2. Nobody likes to think of a band as being a business in an industry and similarly nobody wants to look at a song or a record as being a commodity, which is exactly what U2 have done. Releasing an album for free via the internet has drawn comparisons to Radiohead, who released a record (In Rainbows) through their website where fans could pay what they wanted, back in 2007. However a profound difference exists between the two. Radiohead released In Rainbows following a split with their record label, EMI, and it was meant to represent a new period for the band, where they where free to release music without any corporate meddling. U2 by contrast, where in essence bought off by Apple. Rather then giving fans the option of getting the record via their website, U2 opted to force it on Itunes users, and in return they’d advertise Apple’s new product. It would appear that most of the people that attended the Iphone launch, an indeed most of the people that followed it closely, where there for Apple’s new product, not to hear about U2. At the heart of if it, that’s the major flaw with U2’s latest move, that rather then cater to fans, who might actually want to hear their album, they opted to chase the dollar instead. U2, for better or for worse the biggest band in the world, seem quite happy just be a footnote in the announcement of the new Iphone.
The other big news regarding Apple last week, outside of the new Iphone, was that they (quietly) decided that the Ipod classic is going to be discontinued. With that, Apple will no longer be producing anything that’s sole purpose is store as much music as possible. While its true that Apple are indeed a tech company that are always looking to the future, the fact stands that, by virtue of Itunes, they’re also the biggest record shop in the world. It seems that to them music is quite literally just background noise. This could mean that its now even harder for new artist to break through and make a career out of music. Given the ubiquity of U2, giving away an album for free sends a message that all music should be free (the same criticism was aimed at Radiohead when they released In Rainbows). The message that’s been sent out is that music is an accessory, something to entice you into buying another product, rather then something that should be bought within itself.