I know what "acceptance" is. I know because back in 1996, part of my court-ordered rehabilitation included attending AA meetings twice a week.
There's plenty I don't remember from that year, but one thing I do remember is that I loved U2. Everyone did. I graduated high school in '97-a full decade after The Joshua Tree-and U2's greatness was still beyond debate. Their induction into the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame seemed inevitable. Still does.
Now I accept, despite my subconscious clinging to things that were relevant in my youth, that I no longer like U2. And I believe you feel the same, whether you know it or not. Let's call this article "Your Intervention."
My journey as a recovering U2 fan began last November, when they released How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb. As with their previous album, I was a little disappointed, but I thought there were some solid tunes. What I didn't understand, however, were the accolades heaped on the album from friends, colleagues and every major music publication (and on a minor level-this one). I recalled having the same feeling back in 2000, but, like the Catholic Church, I was still in denial.
Perplexed, I decided to listen to every U2 release. What I found, in a Samuel Jackson-like "moment of clarity," was that U2 has been making the same album since 1991. That year they revamped their sound with Achtung Baby and became what I like to refer to as "mecha-U2"-an all-consuming behemoth of a band. Every album since has the same general formula: a grandiose first single and a couple of soul-searching ballads followed by an epic world tour in which Bono sings in the middle of an illuminated heart or some shit.
The metaphor is that Bono is singing his heart out for you-his great mass of denial.
Recently, untouchable bands like R.E.M. and Metallica have not only fallen out of graces with critics, but also with fans. So if my logic is correct-and for argument's sake, let's just assume that it is-then why is just about everyone in the world reluctant to criticize U2? One viable theory is what psychologists refer to as "battered-woman syndrome," in which humans will return to an abusive ex because neural patterns in our brains often purge past trauma, and we, to put it simply, only remember the good times.
I was like this for years-not only with U2, but also with Prince, a guy who hasn't made a groundbreaking album in almost 20 years. Yet I keep buying his records even though I know deep down I'll only get hurt in the end.
Another reason we find it difficult to criticize U2 is the super-statesmanship and philanthropy of Bono. But despite his altruism, trade-summit appearances and White House social calls, Bono has not penned a recalcitrant "political song" since "Bullet the Blue Sky." Hell, Pete Townshend gave almost every pound he earned to charity, but that doesn't mean Face Dances isn't a shitty album. And, brash as it seems, U2 has not made a momentous single since "One." In Rolling Stone's recent list of the 500 Greatest Songs, there's not one entry after 1991. And though self-appointed best-ism is a sham, they may be on to something. When was the last time you threw on Zooropa for the intent purpose of listening to "Numb" or "Lemon"?
U2 are the best crack dealers in the game-they sell a product completely based on the consumers' first high. They sell out every show and go platinum multiple times-all because we're trying to recapture that life-changing moment when we first experienced U2.
The youth know better than us, because they're unburdened by memory. If you asked a 17-year-old kid back in '87 if U2 was a good band, they would have answered, "Yes, definitely." Ask a kid in '97 the same and he probably would have said, "Yeah, sure." Ask a kid in '05 and he'll probably laugh and answer with a resounding, "Hell no!"
Now, this hardly means U2 is no longer relevant. All it means is that the band is no longer relevant without its past. Despite how they market themselves (and, like Madonna, that is one of their Darwinian skills), they're an arena-rock band that everybody in the minivan agrees on. Instead of revealing new ideas, they're feeding us old ones we love-or loved.Once we accept this, U2 will no longer be acceptable. Like The Who said on that album that wasn't Face Dances, "We won't get fooled again!"