Nights In

A Beginner’s Guide To Our Biggest Musical Export: U2

December 1 2017 marked the release of Irish rock band U2’s 14th studio album Songs of Experience. U2 are one of Ireland;s largest cultural exports ever. They have sold 170 million albums worldwide, won 22 Grammys and have enjoyed the most successful tour of all time. They have performed at the presidential inauguration of Barack Obama, the Super Bowl halftime show, collaborated with some of the biggest technology companies in the world and have even guest starred on The Simpsons. The band are also recognised worldwide for their philanthropic work with developing countries around the globe. Their achievements are too many to mention in a short piece but this success has also brought on the ire of some. Take this as your one stop shop to get you up to speed for the release of their new album. 

Humble beginnings

Bono (lead vocals), Edge (guitar), Adam Clayton (bass) and Larry Mullen (drums) first formed as part of a 6 piece band after Larry, then 14, posted a notice in Mount Temple Comprehensive School in Clontarf looking for musicians. The band would subsequently drop two members and go through a further two names before arriving at U2 in 1978. That same year Hotpress journalist Bill Graham introduced the foursome to Paul McGuinness who would become their manager. McGuinness would become known by many as “the fifth member of U2”, receiving an equal share of profits with each member of the band. As U2 continued to cultivate their Irish fan base, McGuinness managed to hammer out a deal in 1980 with Island Records and in October of that same year, their first album Boy was released. The album achieved moderate success at the charts and paved the way for what was to come. Their third studio album War would become an International hit charting at no.1 in the United Kingdom and featured such classic tracks as ‘Sunday Bloody Sunday” and ‘New Years Day’.

The biggest band in the world

The moniker of the biggest band in the world is one that is often stated in association with U2. The question remains, is this just the hyperbolic sentiments of the bands PR machine gone into overdrive, or does the statement posses some legitimacy? In order to get to the bottom of this, we must dive back into the bands back catalogue. After War came the release of The Unforgettable Fire (1984), the album opened to critical acclaim, charting number 1 in the UK and 12 on the Billboard Hot 100 in the US. The record contained one of the bands most famous 1anthems ‘Pride (In the Name of Love )’ written about Martin Luther King Jnr. All of this was insignificant in comparison to what was to come, as in 1987 The Joshua Tree would be released becoming one of the most successful albums in the world selling 25 million copies. The album yielded two number one hits in the United Staes, ‘With or Without You’ and ‘I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For’.
The 90s would prove a more experimental era for the bands sound. Achtung Baby would become another major international success and was followed by Zooropa and Pop. In 2000 when the band should have been showing signs of fatigue they released one of their biggest successes to date All That You Can’t Leave Behind: the album won seven Grammys and contained such hit singles as ‘Beautiful Day’. Two number 1 albums would follow this in the 00s. Meanwhile as a multitude of hit albums were being released, U2 would continue to increase their popularity as a live act with sell out tours all over the world. This eventually led to their ‘360’ tour (2009-2011) which would become (and still is) the highest grossing and attended tour of all time. 

The Apple fiasco

Perhaps you looked at your iPhone in September 2014 to discover the band’s 13th studio album Songs of Innocence had been added to your iTunes library. In a landmark deal with Apple, which reportedly cost the tech giant $100 million, U2s 13th studio album was made available to iTunes 500 million subscribers. It has been estimated that approximately 81 million iTunes users listened to the album in some capacity with 26 million downloading it. The move was potentially too bold though, as it angered some iTunes users who claimed the album was automatically added to their accounts. The band’s history with Apple precedes this though by some time. They partnered with Apple in 2004 for the release of their 11th studio album How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb in which the lead single ‘Vertigo’ featured on adverts for the iPod. Apple also manufactured a special edition red and black U2 iPod. 

Songs of Experience and Kendrick Lamar

The bands 14th studio album Songs of Experience was released on 1st of December. The album is a companion piece to their previous work Songs of Innocence which was principally about the band’s youth. The new album focuses on people and places significant to Bono and features none other than Kendrick Lamar. Lamar appeared on the album after U2 featured on his own critically acclaimed album Damn earlier this year. So far early reviews have been mixed to positive. While some claim that the band no longer possess the relevancy that they so desperately crave, others have said it is one of their best works this century. Regardless of this the band have opted for a traditional release this time around. 

Whats the deal with Bono’s glasses?

Bono has become known for wearing an array of dark tinted glasses throughout his career. On being asked why he did this, the singer revealed it was due to glaucoma which he has suffered from for over 20 years. And Edge’s hat? This is pretty cool. Underneath it remains a mystery though

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