U2 Proves Rock is Dead. And So Is the Album
The below is the latest blog entry from music-culture blogger and general curmudgeon, Bob Lefsetz. In it he plainly and clearly argues that the release of the latest U2 album — through giving it away for free via Apple’s iTunes platform — was yet another red flag that rock music AND the album as a viable art-form is utterly entirely and completely dead. He argues a lot of things in the article below. Much of it makes sense and rings true. One of things he emphatically states is that no one has time to dig through 11 songs on a rock music album (or any album for that matter) and therefore U2 wasted years creating their newest magnum opus. They should have just released a 4 song EP instead. You can read it below for yourself. Frankly I don’t have the time to respond to Bob’s ideas — and THIS gives testimony to just how accurate he is in his latest treatise on the rapidly changing cultural world around us.
For my part, I CAN say this. Everyone knows that I am an avid U2 fan. I own all their albums and buy them as soon as they come out or soon afterwards. I have seen them live in concert more times than I can count. But have I heard this new one yet? Nope. Do I even own it? Nope. And they’re giving it away for FREE!!! Yet I still don’t own it. Yep. This fact proves Bob’s point more than I’d like it to. To further prove the validity of his statements below, he is right in these assertions as well: I didn’t want to go to iTunes to download the album — while at the gym I obviously wasn’t able to do this. What I wanted to do was LISTEN TO the album. As in STREAM IT via Spotify. But U2 made the irreversible error of making the album NOT available on Spotify for at least a month or two. By that time no one will be talking about or interested in the new U2 album. We’ll all be discussing something else entirely. So they lost that shot. The next place I went to try to hear the new album? YouTube. Just like Bob predicted we all would. And as can probably be guessed, the new U2 album is not yet available on YouTube. So they dropped that ball too.
This is why, three days later I still don’t own the new U2 album. And I’m an actual FAN. Forget about the ex-fans or never-have-been-fans or the flat-out haters. They’re all having a field day making fun of and insulting Bono and company. They’ve become the punchline of the hour, the battering ram of the week — right after Ray Rice, ISIS and Ferguson, Missouri.
It’s a damn sad day when one of the greatest musical acts of all time can become so lambasted, negatively perceived and devoured by mainstream society for such a small and simple mistake. It’s even more disturbing that Lefsetz appears to be right not only in his assertion that rock music has lost all credibility and influence in modern Western society AND so too has the album as a viable art-form SIMPLY BECAUSE no one has the time for either of them. Especially for yours truly, who still bathes in the illusion that I make my living from recording and releasing albums of primarily “rock” music. Oh well. Oh well. Oh well. Better luck next time.
What follows below is the article by Bob Lefsetz. Happy reading. Feel free to share your thoughts.
NEWS FOR A DAY
No different from a rape or a murder, but with even less legs. In today’s world it’s not about making an impact, but sustaining. Could it be that Bono’s been living too long in the echo chamber, hanging with forty and fiftysomethings who think they rule the world but truly don’t? Yes, older people build the tools, but it’s young people who utilize them. The older bloke will lament the loss of the record shop, the younger person has never been. If you want to make it in today’s marketing culture you must be online 24/7, picking up the nuances. Because it is about cred and it is about cool but if you think the old rules apply, you probably can’t name a YouTube star.
This is an analog of the above. Here today, gone tomorrow. How could the band be so stupid as to believe anybody would actually play their music, especially the 500 million it was pushed to. Where’s the afterplan? Nonexistent.
We live in a pull economy. Nothing pisses off the audience more than pushing something they don’t want and didn’t ask for to their devices. Even if you don’t download the album, it’s sitting there in your purchases, pissing you off.
Did you have iCloud turned on in iTunes? Even those who wanted the album weren’t quite sure how to get it.
How many tracks did PSY have? One!
No one’s got time to listen to a complete album, especially when it’s pushed upon them, that’s just too much material. Yes, a nascent artist on his way up might have people check out more tracks on his album out of curiosity, but no one’s curious about U2, they already know everything about them. One must factor in that we’re all overloaded with stimuli and you must point us to the paramount item and make it digestible in a matter of moments. If we love it, we’ll want more. If we don’t, we’re never going to get to the rest of your opus that you spent years creating.
Make it an EP. Four tracks. People haven’t finished Piketty’s tome. It would have been better off as a magazine article. People bought it, they just didn’t read it, who’s got the time?
Now what. Where’s the game, where’s the jaw-dropping viral video? Where’s the element we can all point to and talk about. If anything, we’re talking about the stunt, not the music.
They’d have been better off releasing it on YouTube, that’s where the digital generation goes for music. iTunes is a backwater. It may be the number one sales outlet, but it’s not the number one music platform, not even close.
Put it on Spotify. Try to look cutting edge. Meanwhile, having the quality of your music trumpeted by Tim Cook is like having Ed Sullivan say your tunes are good.
This is the problem vexing filmed entertainment/video, there’s not one platform with everything. But in music we’ve solved this problem, Spotify and YouTube have all the tracks and you can access them for free, but putting hype over practicality, U2 failed to see they were playing in a walled garden, to their detriment.
This was a stunt, poorly executed. Everybody forgets that despite all the hoopla about naming your own price, “In Rainbows” was a disaster, with only hard core fans familiar with the material. Yup, Radiohead may be independent, but they’ve done a good job of marginalizing themselves.
And at least Beyonce had the videos, somewhere to click to.
And Weird Al had videos too, but after a week, few cared.
Because at the end of the day we only care about the music. And U2 didn’t cut that one indelible track that stops us in our tracks, that we want to listen to again and again and pass on. Sure, the song they played at the Apple soiree was good, but good is no longer good enough.
Furthermore, when Bono talked he lost all charisma.
This looked like nothing so much as what it was, old farts using their connections to shove material down the throats of those who don’t want it. It’s what we hate so much about today’s environment, rich people who think they know better and our entitled to their behavior.
Don’t listen to the press. Rock writers are antiques who are underpaid who are in it for access and free tickets.
And the business press doesn’t care about the music.
And the old fart fortysomethings who talk about this music should be ignored. It’s no different from a Jason Isbell fan testifying about his tracks. No offense, but it’s a tiny world. Sure, U2’s is bigger, but until U2 cuts a track that makes the rest of us care, we don’t.
Meanwhile, Jason Isbell had a hit today, he tweeted: “U2 PHONES IT IN.”
Yup, that’s Internet culture, where someone who raises their head above is fodder for criticism.
But it gets worse.
“But trotting out aging Irish rockers after you’ve wowed the world with the first glimpse of the glorious Apple Watch? That’s not thinking different. That’s a pity-f__k for a band that’s lost its edge, and an unfortunate bum note for a company that’s rarely perceived as tone-deaf.”
All over the web people are criticizing U2. And that’s where music now lives, online.
So, so long Bono and crew. You’ll continue to sell tickets, but you’re no longer au courant.
So long rock that does not break through on Top Forty. U2 would have been better off cutting a country track, that would have been a better fit with a fighting chance of airplay.
So long albums. If you’ve got an hour to listen to once that which must be listened to ten times to get you’ve got no life, but everyone does, and they’re the center of it, glued to their devices, and to distract them you’ve got to be pretty damn good and the talk of the town for an extended period of time, U2’s new music is not.
So long stunts with no aftermath. If you’re not in the news every damn day, you’re getting it wrong. The biggest pop stars are the Kardashians. Ever notice not a day goes by without them in the news? Bono, et al, would be better off hanging with the sisters than heads of state, at least if they want to have a hit.
And so long the fiction that Guy Oseary would do a better job than Paul McGuinness. There might be a patina of new school, but this album release is positively old school.
Here’s how it goes:
Make everyone aware.
Put tickets on sale.
Make it an event, a la the Stones, i.e. if you don’t come now, you may never be able to experience it again.
Trump up traditional press so wankers believe there’s something happening.
But there’s not.
Because “I Will Follow” was inspired. It sounded like nothing else. It had urgency. It had attitude. You needed to hear it again. It was so good you wanted to hear what else the band was up to.
The new album is paint-by-numbers disposable.
Today we have to pull you into our world. And we only hold you in our bosom if we believe your music is repeatable and deserves our time.
Bono’s on top of the world, he’ll reject everything I say.
Rapino and Oseary will keep shoveling, hoping to keep this alive.
And you and me?
WE’RE ALREADY OVER IT!