So: IS U2 Still Relevant?

I’ve been a fan of this band since I first heard “I Will Follow” while doing my homework back in 1980.  I have all the albums, many bootlegs and a bunch of box sets.  I’ve even travelled as far as Moscow to see a gig.  And yes, I’ve interviewed them many times.

But now, I need a break.  I’m beginning to wonder if after 35-plus years, it’s time for them to retire.  Not because they’re incapable of writing any more good music; I’d never count these guys out. But maybe a good time to go. While they’re on top.

The 360 Tour grossed $736,000,000 million.  It was the biggest, most expensive and most successful rock tour ever staged.  Will anyone (including U2) ever do better?  I’d bet against it.

U2 has to be thinking along the same lines.  Why else would they be hedging their answers about releasing new material or what might come next for them?  Maybe they should quit while they’re ahead.

Others–fans and non-fans alike–have wondered aloud about U2’s relevance in a post-CD world.  Check out this article from MacLean’s that explores the whole notion (complete with some pretty pictographs.  I like pictographs.)

Read the comments, too.  There’s plenty of pro-ing and con-ing going on.

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 30+ 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.

14 thoughts on “So: IS U2 Still Relevant?

  • October 31, 2011 at 5:46 pm
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    Tony La Russa just retired after winning the World Series. R.E.M. called it a day when they realized they were done trying to top themselves. Maybe U2 should do the same.

    The problem is these guys are addicted to being rock stars. What would they do for the rest of their lives? Just look at Brett Favre. It's hard to suddenly stop doing something you've been breathing since you were a teenager.

    So while they probably should…they won't.

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  • October 31, 2011 at 5:47 pm
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    Relevance is a loaded word. If a band adapts other genres already established without forging new territory themselves, are they relevant? If they stop speaking to political and social issues out of an embarrassment of personal wealth, are they relevant?

    The U2 brand has been a license to print money for a long time, but in this newer world of corporate and financial rule that the OWS movement is fighting, they resemble too much the oppressors. How much money do you need to make and still keep raising service fees/concert ticket prices/merchandise prices?

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  • October 31, 2011 at 6:04 pm
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    Alan,

    You kind of ask too questions there – is U2 relevant or should they retire? I think they stopped being relevant a long time ago (perhaps even after War was released, at least for me.) I don't think they have become a mockery of themselves which is where one might say they should just give up and retire. I don't think they are there and perhaps if they tour every once in awhile it will keep the fans happy. I don't want to disappoint hardcore fans because I think they are irrelevant in today's music scene. So relevant? No. Should they just quit? No. The trick is to catch yourself before you become modern rock's Spinal Tap.

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  • October 31, 2011 at 6:05 pm
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    ^^two not too, damn I hate those mistakes and I can't edit it! Forgive me.

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  • October 31, 2011 at 6:13 pm
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    We don't need U2 anymore. There are much better bands out there these days, like Coldplay and Muse.

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  • October 31, 2011 at 6:27 pm
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    Alan, I tend to agree with BillG that U2 is no longer part of the current music scene. I think the test here is do 15 to 25 year olds listen to U2's music? I doubt it. This age group represents what is currently listened to and what is new in development. There is normally an excitement factor to consider as well. This excitement factor has not been there since Joshua Tree. Regarding their retirement, that is their decision but if they did everyone would understand. They still bring in crowds for concerts and can make new music – but they run a risk of repeating their current library of music and looking old. I'd hate for that to happen. They should follow individuals in the sports and business worlds and become consultants and advisors.

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  • October 31, 2011 at 7:01 pm
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    @Destiny While Coldplay and Muse are both fantastic bands which have forged their own paths, they definitely both pay homage to U2 on different occasions. Coldplay makes no secret of trying to outdo U2. Muse would have been neck and neck with U2 at Glastonbury, had Bono's back not given out and they actually performed.

    U2 is a pain in the arse because they make the guys 20 years younger than them continually push themselves even to be put in the same camp. In many ways they are still setting the bar as to what it means to be a world class rock act. And U2 isn't quitting.

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  • October 31, 2011 at 7:49 pm
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    I could care less about U2 and have never been a fan. But ultimately, fans determine relevancy or not, and if U2 can sell almost a billion dollars worth of tickets over a couple of years, I'd say that's a pretty good sign that they're relevant. Their music may not be seen as cutting edge any more, but their influence on pop culture is still massive.

    Alan, you may want them to stop because you're afraid that they'll suffer from over exposure, or somehow tarnish their past rep, but I guarantee that there are millions out there who would still love to see them play and hear anything they produce.

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  • October 31, 2011 at 9:24 pm
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    Everything before and including "Achtung Baby", U2 were considered a relevant and influential band. Then like all bands who reach their peak, they try to outdo themselves, experiment, push the boundaries musically (and in U2's case, visually) and it backfired because they strayed from the sound that appealed to their fans.

    "Pop" was a critical failure, initially the overproduced spectacle was doomed because they didn't have the solid tunes to back it up, so now they're back to the fail-safe rock'n roll formula and playing their signature hits and concert. Pre-90's were a different time. They sort of paved the way for arena-sized bands with a social conscience. Now, it's just so common place especially with the sheer saturation of music.

    Music-goers in 2011 have a short attention span. They want their music fix fast, intense, and quasi-controversial/bizarre. People want to be entertained by a freak circus. This is why it'll be hard for another U2-type band to come again.

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  • October 31, 2011 at 11:27 pm
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    Relevancy is an interesting question – U2 has long passed the equilibrium between Commercial/Critical success, but they still occasionally have that Critical success that propels them forward without having become the next Rolling Stones – Yet

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  • November 1, 2011 at 12:22 am
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    relevant to whom? you can never be all things to all people. as long as they keep pushing the envelope with things like the 360 tour, putting out catchy, quality music and and creating interesting side projects like from the sky down, they'll always be relevant to me.

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  • November 1, 2011 at 12:35 am
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    U2 has long departed form the field of relevance and firmly entrenched themselves in the field of entertainers. And man, do they entertain. I guess it's celebrity – they're famous for being famous now.

    The bigger the global appeal, the less focused their political edge became. That said, their relevance is not direct in their message (which became pretty lame for the most part), but many bands (Coldplay and Muse, Editors, Kings of Leon to name a few) go for that "wall of sound" effect that U2 really brought to a generation. Additionally, if you listen to the Zooropa and Pop albums today, it becomes pretty apparent that the sound on those albums was ahead of its time.

    On top of that, these guys are eye popping live. My pals and I have seen some bands that are regularly labeled as "big bands", from The Police to Aerosmith to Rolling Stones, but U2's 360 tour blew them all away. We looked at each other after the opening song and said, "So, that's what rock stars looks like." They have "it" and "it" hasn't gone away yet.

    Bono is an evangelist – As long as he and the boys want to preach, they will get crowds of disciples.

    Just to give context, this thread looks pretty popular, based on the number of responses. Love 'em or hate 'em, the fact that they get this many comments seems to be proof that they are still "relevant".

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  • November 1, 2011 at 2:00 am
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    U2 should stop doing music (and I'm talking about music, not money) 20 years ago, just after AB.

    Since then, they had few good tunes that they could had added to U2's boxes/collections/reissues as "new" tracks for those souvenirs.

    What about the 360? Well that could be their "reunion" tour and they would earn the same revenue or even more.

    Talking pure music, their basically done. Talking about business… well they'll be alive as the beatles remain alive, as long as they or their families can earn a dime out of the "lost" tracks they have.

    Sorry

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  • November 1, 2011 at 7:46 pm
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    NLOTH to me was an album and a great album at that. Breathe was an opener for the 360 tour and was / is a great song. Was that album a catchy radio album? No, but to put it on and listen it is great. Unknown caller is a great live track, in Sept 2009 at the Rogers Centre that song blew me away. So in my humble opinion they are still very relevent.
    Since then I travelled to Michigan and Pittsburg to see this very relevent band live and was blown away each time!
    Cheers

    Reply

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