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Thanks for sharing

By Chris Colcord

Fort Wayne Reader

2014-09-23


It's hard not to feel just a little bit giddy when you see a hugely successful American company screw up in a majestically public way, which is why I've been giggling nearly non-stop since the Apple/U2 debacle began over a week ago. In case you missed it, or in case you're one of the 6 people in the universe without an iTunes account:

On September 9th Apple had one of its patented, weirdly religious-looking "product release" events to announce its new line of gadgets and gizmos, and after presenting this year's innovations the iPhone 6, the iPhone 6 Plus, the Dick Tracy-like Apple Watch, the "Apple Pay" feature that turns your phone into a credit card CEO Tim Cook coyly presented the "piece de resistance" of the event a massive release of U2's Sounds of Innocence CD, available immediately (and for free) to 500 million iTunes users. The largest album release in history, Apple gleefully trumpeted, and within five seconds the CD immediately loaded into every iTunes user's library. Bono and the band showed up at the event, of course, and there was thunderous applause from the chosen guests in the auditorium after the announcement. Saving the best for last, the CEO said, convinced of the magnanimity of the gesture. You're welcome!

What Cook and the Apple geniuses didn't anticipate, though, was that the free release didn't exactly evoke massive gratitude from the Apple customers. Almost immediately, in fact, the response to Apple's grandiosity was less "Wow! Free U2 CD!" and more "How do I get this crap out of my library?" The avalanche of negative publicity got so bad that after a week Apple had to initiate an entire support site dedicated to removing the album from a user's library. After paying U2 a reported $100 million for the release, the "recall" inflicted a PR black eye on the usually infallible techno company, and turned the saintly, venerable Irish rock band into some sort of international punch line.

Of the two massive conglomerates maimed by the Sounds of Innocence debacle, I'm convinced that U2 will bear the brunt of the ridicule for the longest. Apple is Apple, after all, and after a month or two of negative press, people will forget about its hand in the event and will instead focus on the new stuff: the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus are already setting pre-sale records, the watch is a techno-geek's dream, and the "Apple Pay" feature will probably revolutionize the way people pay their bills. But I think we can safely say that the album release will become the pinprick that finally pops the balloon of U2's grandiosity, once and for all. Already commentators are traducing U2 as merely a "dad rock" band, which is unfair, I think, for, love them or hate them (and I hate them), U2 has managed to remain relevant for far longer than any other "catalog" band. As Sasha Frere-Jones of The New Yorker once pointed out, U2 is virtually the only "catalog" band who gets a greater response at concerts from its more recent hits ("Vertigo," "City of Blinding Lights") than from the old songs from the 80s. Contrast that to concerts by dinosaurs like Paul McCartney and the Eagles, who only get responses to songs that are forty or fifty years old.

But all that's gone now for U2, who managed to stave off irrelevance for years by cannily riding the knife's edge of technology and modernity even as they approached the dinosaur years of their existence. And of course they'll still sell out concerts and millions of (traditionally released) new albums and Bono will probably win a Nobel Prize or get knighted or something but the days of them being taken seriously as Rock's Big Deal and Moral Voice are done. For once you've become an object of absolute ridicule it's almost impossible to ever get that gravitas back.

I can't say that I'm displeased by the inevitable degradation the band's going to face, for I've been exasperated by U2's piety and humorlessness for years, ever since I first heard Bono's insufferable asides from the live Rattle and Hum LP. ("Am I buggin' ya?" he says at one point, talking about Mandela or MLK or apartheid or whatever. "Don't mean to bug ya.") And I've been a little bewildered by the weird transformation of the band's social/political face over the years--from Christian Band to Social Activist Band to Bizarre Techno Geek band who seemed to have replaced the Almighty with Steve Jobs as their Supreme Deity.

It's easy, in hindsight, to point out the inherent, obvious flaws in such a misguided move as the album release, but really, you just have to shake you head at the whole venture. The sheer numbers of iTunes users should have at least given a clue as to the inevitable response--the greatest selling of all time, Michael Jackson's Thriller sold one-tenth as many copies as the Sound of Innocence release, and that was after 30 years in the marketplace. 500 million people that means one out of every 14 people on the planet would be forced to listen to Bono and Co's phoned-in latest. (It's a moot point, but the initial reviews of "Sounds of Innocence" have been brutal.) No band, no artist could please a fraction of that 500 million. Or, to put it in proper "U2 language," 500 million is approximately the same number of people worldwide who go without sanitary water every day.

If there's a silver lining to the whole Sounds of Innocence mess perhaps it's that maybe, just maybe, recording artists will think twice about trying to become multi-dimensional "brands" and obscene plutocrats and focus instead on just being rock stars. For it seems that as soon as an artist hits it big, suddenly they're holding press conferences to announce their new line of clothes or perfumes or energy drinks. Making millions of dollars and getting a constant ego boost isn't enough, anymore, no, now everybody has to be Donald Trump. And I know, I know, it's a free country, more power to them, what's wrong with getting new "revenue streams," etc., but Good Lord--does the world really need Hillary Duff tank tops and Usher underwear and Justin Bieber perfume? Aren't they just content to make lousy music? And I'm not saying that rock stars should just make millions of dollars and sleep with groupies and trash hotel rooms, but. . . well, actually, yes, that's exactly what I'm saying. That's what they should do. That should be the extent of their contribution to society. You need to stick to your strengths, after all.

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