Come Wednesday (September 6), U2 will release “You’re the Best Thing About Me,” the first single from their upcoming album, Songs of Experience. It’s also expected that they’ll announce that the album will be available December 1.
This single almost comes a year to the day that longtime U2 producer/confident Steve Lillywhite gave me his iPhone at a music conference in Singapore and played me one of the mixes of the song considered for the album. His mix–I think it was called “The Throbbing Mix”–is not what we’ll hear on Wednesday, but it’s close. (U2Songs.com has a deep dive into the genesis and recording of the song here.)
Some may find the release of the single on a Wednesday as rather curious, but if you know what U2 is trying to accomplish with this album, it makes plenty of sense.
U2 knows that they’ve neglected radio over the last couple of albums and are making a concerted effort to have hits in the old fashioned way. Wednesdays and Thursdays are when the majority of radio stations have music meetings, the day they decide what songs to add and drop from their playlists. By releasing the song Wednesday, it’ll be sure to be top of mind for program directors and music directors.
The choice of “You’re the Best Thing About Me” as a first single isn’t a surprise, either, because it’s the most pop thing on the album. It will surely be at least considered for a playlist add not only at rock but at CHR, AAA and Hot AC stations. I wouldn’t at all be surprised if it were distributed in format-specific radio mixes, too. (Update: There are a couple of mixes available.)
I am puzzled, however, at the band not making their other new song available for streaming, purchase or even distribution to radio stations. “The Blackout” is a fine rocker in the vein of “Vertigo” crossed with “Beautiful Day.” It certainly has a better chance with rock stations than “Best Thing.”
U2 posted a live version that was recorded in Amsterdam last month on Facebook. Had a .wav/MP3 been available to rock stations, might have at least been given some feature airplay through the long weekend. Yet unless you ripped the Facebook stream, there was nothing a station could play.
But according to BDS airplay monitoring, exactly ZERO stations across North America had done that as of Saturday night. Not. One.
It seems that the live version of “The Blackout” was some kind of trial balloon designed to gauge fan interest via Facebook. U2 manager Guy Oseary knows how to read the tea leaves of social media metrics, so maybe the song was some kind of sacrificial lamb, statistically speaking.
I know that from talking to U2 insiders that it’s always been Bono’s rule to never release an album that doesn’t feature at least five songs he can sing with confidence and pride on the subsequent tour. From what I know about Songs of Experience, it contains some pretty strong material.
Songs of Experience is an important album for U2. The Joshua Tree 30 tour was in many ways a set-up for its release, a way to get the public excited about the band and its back catalogue. Like many heritage acts, U2 has probably seen sales of their older material drop off in the era of streaming and a nostalgia tour like JT30 was no doubt conceived to jump-start interest in their older albums.
SoE will probably be the last under U2’s 12-year deal with Live Nation. With the agreement set to expire in 2020, this record and the tour in support of it could be the finale to a career that began in September 1976. They’ll want to go out in a blaze of glory. How they orchestrate that remains to be seen.