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Has U2 Reached Rolling Stones Territory of Irrelevance?

Look, I’m a fan of both U2 and the Stones, but there comes a time when a group reaches a point in their career when they transition from being a band of the moment a band of the past. No one has cared about any new material from the Stones for decades. When they tour, all anyone wants to hear are the hits.  U2 has entered that same territory.

With a world tour set to start in Vancouver next month–they’re rehearsing at the Pacific Coliseum right now–U2 is about to start promoting an album that isn’t getting any significant support from radio.

For example, outside of Quebec where 9 of 43 U2-friendly stations played “Every Breaking Wave” 38 times last week, the song received just 6 spins in the rest of Canada. That’s out of 153 stations that historically supported the group. In the US, only one station is promoting the song with any gusto, giving it 30 spins last week. Anyone else who’s playing the song is spinning it fewer than 10 times a week. In all of North America, the song has received airplay just 28,000 times since the release of  from Songs of Innocence back in SeptemberThe first single, “The Miracle (Of Joey Ramone),” has been aired less than 27,000 times.  Both numbers are shockingly low for a band of U2’s stature.

When we at the Edge considered the record, we have “Miracle” a couple of weeks on the playlist before we tested it with our audience. They responded with a big yawn. When we tested more U2 songs, the audience offered a big “meh.”  (Keep in mind that we’re talking an audience of 18-34 year-olds. For many of them, U2 is their parents’ band.)

The album itself. It’s nowhere to be found on the Billboard Top 200 or on Canada’s Top 200 chart. Then again, the band did give away 500 million free copies through that deal with Apple, so it’s not surprising that it’s not charting.

As for this upcoming tour, there seems to be a seriously lack of buzz. Yes, it’s sold out but where’s the excitement that accompanied virtually every other tour the band has staged? Yes, there’s no way anyone could possible top the 360 Tour–that’s one for the ages–but shouldn’t there be more talk about the Innocence + eXPERIENCE roadtrip?  What, exactly, can fans expect? Why should anyone care about these shows? It hasn’t been very well defined, has it?

Maybe it’s management. This is the first album and tour under Guy Oseary, Madonna’s manager, who took over from the retiring Paul McGuinness. If Paul were still in charge, would things be different?

Or maybe the band is just going through some challenging times, what with Bono’s serious bike injury last year and the deaths of some close friends recently.  Or it’s possible–even likely–that U2’s strongest material is behind them. Play the hits, boys. That’s what the fans really care about.

AtU2, one of the better U2 sites, takes a look at the situation. They admit that it’s worrisome. Read their whole article here.


Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 40+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

Alan Cross has 38410 posts and counting. See all posts by Alan Cross

One thought on “Has U2 Reached Rolling Stones Territory of Irrelevance?

  • For me, U2’s last moment of relevancy was All That You Can’t Leave Behind. But this seems to happen to almost any successful artist who stays in the game long enough. Perhaps it’s because they’re not hungry any more, or they surround themselves with people who never tell them when they suck, or perhaps the muse just visits less often… and when she does they’re distracted by their yacht. Even McCartney, Neil Young and Prince aren’t immune from this.


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