U2 have been working on their 13th studio album, which could see its release by the end of the year, according to bassist Adam Clayton. Though the band threatened that their 2009 collection of songs, No Line on the Horizon, could be their last, it seems Bono and company haven’t been able to leave their music behind. The group has enlisted Danger Mouse for producing duties, which marks a departure for the band, who once again worked with longtime collaborators Daniel Lanois and Brian Eno on the last record. It’s not like Danger Mouse, best known for his work with Gnarls Barkley, has never worked with a rock band or anything – he’s co-written and produced with The Black Keys on their last three albums, Attack & Release, Brothers and El Camino. So what direction will the biggest band in the world go for their next effort? Lanois recently suggested that their new sound echoes their career-changing Achtung Baby, which celebrated its 20th anniversary in 2011. Will they delve into their past to forge into the future? Here are five directions the new U2 album could be going…
The Demon Days Phase
Danger Mouse was part of Damon Albarn’s transition from Blur frontman to Gorillaz mastermind, producing their 2005 album, Demon Days. The record outperformed their 2001 self-titled debut and earned them over 6 million copies sold around the world. Gorillaz saw Albarn taking on an entirely new animated character as well as an alternative hip-hop sound that expanded his musical chops. And U2 are no strangers to developing alter egos. During their Zoo TV Tour spanning from 1992 through 1993, Bono inhabited the role of “MacPhisto,” a sunglasses-clad devil demon. Derived from the musical The Black Rider, “MacPhisto” allowed Bono to explore a more brazen, sinister side. Danger Mouse just may encourage Bono to once again explore his varied personalities, a nice fit for the theatrical frontman. Will U2 end up as cartoons a la the Gorillaz? Who knows.
The Berlin Phase
When U2 finished up touring behind their 1989 record Rattle and Hum, the band announced to a packed stadium in their hometown of Dublin that they were going away for awhile to “dream it all up again.” It was a huge risk for a band at the height of their career to walk away and create something new. Heavily influenced by bluesy Americana for the previous decade, the Irish band returned to Europe — this time Berlin and Dublin — to record Achtung Baby. And when it arrived in 1991, it was clear that the guitar strumming, rootsy U2 was as good as dead. The dark, dance-fused, futuristic electronic sound was a complete departure from their previous six albums and revealed a much more complex side to the group. On that collection of 13 songs lived “One,” arguably their most famous song to date, the radio favorite “Mysterious Ways,” and the buzzing “Even Better Than The Real Thing.” It seems taking time off to reconsider their sound has been a useful creative tool for the band and this current four-year hiatus from the studio could be exactly what they need to move in a more adventurous direction.
The Rick Rubin Phase
Back in 2008 it was announced that U2 was working with Rick Rubin on their 12th studio album, but the sessions were later scrapped. This left a big question mark for fans that had been excited to hear what the band had cooked up with the legendary producer of artists such as the Beastie Boys and Red Hot Chili Peppers. Speaking to Mojo, guitarist The Edge said, “We actually laid all that stuff to one side. Really out of deference to Rick and that set of songs we just said, OK, that’s that, and we drew a line. So none of the Rick material went into this project. Everything has been written subsequently.” Fans are still anxious to hear what was recorded five years ago, and it would be an unexpected – though unlikely – surprise to hear some of that material land on album number 13.
The Collaboration Phase
Over the years U2 has allowed collaborators to share the mic with larger-than-life frontman Bono, but for the most part their leader has been on singing duties since they began back in 1976. Although nothing has been confirmed, Coldplay singer Chris Martin was spotted outside New York’s Electric Lady Studios where the band is reportedly working on the new album. Does this mean we might be hearing a duet on the upcoming album? The band featured Johnny Cash on their outstanding (and highly underrated) track “The Wanderer” back in 1993 and have performed with the likes of Mary J. Blige, Patti Smith, B.B. King, Brian Eno and many, many more. Perhaps their latest effort will see the group expanding their horizons with some help from their friends.
The Final Phase
Speaking at a press conference at the Toronto International Film Festival back in October 2011, Bono expressed to the world that he felt his band was “really close to the edge of irrelevance.” So what does this mean for the new record? Will they pull out all the stops to regain that relevance? Or could album thirteen be their last? It’s possible. Bono certainly wasn’t feeling very confident a few years ago, though. “There’s a giant chasm between the very good and the great, and U2 right now has a danger of surrendering to the very good…When it gets comfortable, it’s not as interesting. So there may be more crap coming up.” Time will tell what the future holds for U2, but for now can we suggest the album title The Edge of Irrelevance?
-Sasha Hamrogue, Dublin