Reporting, Recording and Relaying - But Always Telling It As I See It

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

U2 and Relevance - An Ongoing Email Argument. Part 1

(Walking out of a Van Halen show several years ago, celebrating the return of David Lee Roth, my friend Mark said, "U2 has been the most relevant band in the last 30 years."  I disagreed, wholeheartedly, and argument has gone on ever since.  It has recently re-fired.  Below is the most recent incantation.)

From: David Meyer

Sent: 10/31/2011 05:30 PM
To: Mark
Subject: You Too

Two things happened today that made me think of you. First, I have been listening to a lot of Yes, recently, and it hit me that this is yet another supremely talented band that largely has flown under the radar in terms of popular support. Secondly, I heard an interview with Tom Waits. Waits is one of those guys who I think I should like, if not really like. But somehow, either I am not smart enough to recognize his genius or he is complete BS. He seems very intelligent but his music, well, I just cannot get my head around. Alos, I can barely understand him when he sings.

But all this got me thinking about U2. I am willing to concede that they are one of the most popular pop-rock bands of the last twenty years, but their music lends itself to great songwriting, some interesting musical nuances and catchy melodies. So, in terms of them being very successful at what they represent, they have succeeded. I just cannot see past a level of music that was always better than average, but never great. I don’t think they represent anything and I don’t think they influenced anyone. And by “influence anyone” I am talking about other musicians, because if we are talking about influencing us listeners, we would have to lop them in with Justin Beiber and NSYNC.

I have also been listening to Pet Sounds – which is a studio masterpiece and must be listened to in its entirety from start to finish.

From: Mark_
Sent: Tuesday, November 01, 2011 8:56 AM
To: David Meyer
Subject: Re: You Too

First of all, I feel 100% the same way about Tom Waits. Never got him myself, but feel like I'm supposed to, with similar critical acclaim to John Hiatt or Lyle Lovett, whom I think are brilliant...

As far as U2, first of all it's 30 years, not 20 - going back to my tenure of relevance comment... I get what you are saying, but I think the 'above average' comment is purely subjective, based on your not being as into them as someone like me. I would argue that the size of their library or 'body of work' is amazing and diverse. If they sound 'poppy' on one album, they don't on the next one. They have changed their sound multiple times on their journey...

• Post punk on Boy and October
• Driving drum beats and pissed off lyrics and energy on their political War album
• More ethereal on Unforgettable Fire
• Went more mainstream and on Joshua Tree
• Underrated tribute to American Blues landscape on Rattle and Hum
• Complete change to dance/electronic nuances with Achtung Baby - when everyone else was going grunge
• Continued into more obscure electronica on Zooropa
• Complete bust on their Pop album where they tried to go dance music
• Back to rock/pop roots on their last 3 albums...

They have had significant influence in a lot of alt rock bands, but other than Bono's voice, they are difficult to emulate because they have changed it up so much. Do they have the best guitarist, drummer, and bassist ever to emulate? No. But they may have the best rock and roll front man, and their whole sound is greater than the sum of their parts.

Plus, people still buy and listen to their entire albums. What brought it home for me is that they could have picked any of their hundreds of songs during their concert, and many in the crowd would have been excited. I think that deserves some props and respect that there are very few sucky U2 songs, or ones that were mailed in. And even if they are not the best musicians in the world, their consistency of good material while changing styles and staying uber popular deserved its own category of greatness!

(Not shown here was a recent, hour ling argument - tailgating at the U2 concert of all places -over the term "relevance" and how it can be defined as it relates to music.)


Kristine said...

I am wondering what the word "relevant" means when it comes to music. I thought the term was coined by Simon Cowell on American Idol, who declared would-be singers as "relevant" or "not." How does one obtain "relevance"?

Anonymous said...

To set the record straight, the comment after the VH concert was that U2 has been relevant longer than any other band, not most relevant. But I think that the esctasy and meth kicked in by then, so I forgive you...

Dave Meyer said...

Kris, stay tuned for part two.

Anonymous- but it was certainly before we almost got rolled in the 'hood.

Anonymous said...

Having been present for many, including the parking lot scene, of these arguments...I have to agree with baby on this one. To ME, relevance means that they are spread across a broad range of listeners. Their lyrics and the meaning of those lyrics hold up over time. Their body of work changes as the times change (BTW...NOBODY has done this better than U2). All you had to do on that night in July was look around that stadium at the collection of fans to make this argument. They may not be the most talented musicians but I think their sound is one of the most unique. That is one reason that they are so hard to emulate. As far as influencing bands, groups like the Killers and others in that genre would like to stand up and be counted.

On a more positive note, Tom Waits sucks. Love Hiatt and Lovett though!


Dave Meyer said...


I have never said they are not popular or very good at what they do. Just saying that in terms of relevance, they are not important. Also, if their biggest influence has been on The Killers, I think that speaks for iteslef. Stay tuned for part 2 as we delve further into the issue of relevance.

Anonymous said...

Still waiting on your definition of relevance....I believe that I have been asking that question since the parking lot!

Anonymous said...

And BTW....that VH show was one of the WORST shows that I have ever seen. This is coming from a HUGE VH fan!

Dave Meyer said...

Mark tailors the definition to neatly fit U2. I'm sure he will elaborate soon.

The VH show was pretty bad. Nothing like the gigs in Myrtle Beach!

Anonymous said...

Definition of relevance includes being both artisitically appraised and commercially successful outside of a limited fan base. To be included in the tenure discussion, you must still be putting out music at least every 3-4 years.

Anonymous said...

As I said in the parking lot...this may be a semantics discussion. That's why I want to hear YOUR definition of relevance.

Myrtle was awesome! nothing like a country version of Snoop Dogg to appreciate music!