By Brian Ives
Will they or won’t they release an album this year? That’s the question U2‘s fans have been asking for months.
As previously reported, earlier this year the rumor mill had the band’s new album being delayed until 2015, but a representative for the band told British tabloid The Sun that “The U2 comeback is very much on for this year. This album has been a real struggle for them to make. It’s taken a long time and Bono didn’t find it easy. But they’re very confident now and are convinced the wait has been worth it.”
U2 fan blog @U2 recently posted an email exchange with an anonymous source from Universal (his or her name was blurred out of the screen shot of the exchange) who said that the new album would come out “this year.” But there’s been no verification that that exchange is legitimate (nor is there likely to be any such verification).
But there has been some verified recent U2 activity. Last week, French newspaper Nice Martin reported that the group were shooting a video under high security at Rivera Studios in Nice. (For those of you who are French-impaired, read the Google translation of the article here.) The article notes that cell phones were strictly prohibited and one local commented that the security was akin to when President Obama was in France for the G20 summit in 2011.
However, an August video shoot doesn’t necessarily point to a 2014 release; the band could be working months ahead of time on a video for a 2015 release.
Still, other signs seem to indicate that a U2 album is getting closer and closer to release. In a recent article, The Irish Times reported that Bono has been playing songs from the new, as-yet-untitled album, loudly, from his beachfront home in the south of France; fans often record the songs and post them online, before getting cease-and-desist orders from lawyers from Universal Music, the band’s record label.
The Irish Times also cites a music industry source who predicts that there’ll be a “single in September, album September-October, tour announced December, first date April next year,” and that “the album has been actually been finished for a few months, but a decision was taken not to release during the summer months because of holidays… There was one last, frantic scramble earlier this year to get a big single, so they got Adele’s writer-producer, Paul Epworth, into the studio.”
In fact, Epworth is just one of the producers the band has reportedly worked on this album with; others, according to Rolling Stone, include Danger Mouse, Will.i.am, David Guetta, RedOne and Ryan Tedder.
That’s a lot of names for a band who generally work with a much smaller group of producers on a single album (2004’s How To Dismantle an Atomic Bomb being one exception to that rule: Steve Lillywhite was the main producer on that album, but Chris Thomas, Jacknife Lee, Nellee Hooper, Flood, Daniel Lanois, Brian Eno and Carl Glanville all assisted on that record as well). And, at any rate, even if the album comes out tomorrow, this will mark the longest gap between new U2 albums in their career; their last album was 2009’s commercially disappointing No Line on the Horizon.
It may be that album’s failure to grab the zeitgeist that is making the band a bit trigger shy and hit-hungry. In 2011, while promoting a deluxe reissue of their 1991 reinvention Achtung Baby, Bono told Rolling Stone, “I’m not so sure the future hasn’t dried up”; the article noted that the frontman had been irritating his bandmates by publicly questioning U2’s relevance – despite the fact that they had just finished the highest-grossing tour of all time. “The band are like, ‘Will you shut up about being irrelevant?'” Bono said. “We’d be very pleased to end on No Line on the Horizon,” but acknowledged that that was an unlikely scenario.
Around the same time, Bono told The Sun (via NME) that “We’ve been on the verge of irrelevance for the last 20 years, dodged, ducked, dived, made some great work, I hope, along the way – and the occasional faux pas. But this moment now, for me, feels like really close to the edge of relevance. We can be successful and we can play the big music and the big places. Whether we can play music for small speakers of the radio or clubs or where people are living right now, remains to be seen, we have to go to that place again if we are to survive.”
Indeed, The Irish Times article reports that their sources tell them that “U2 are loath to become a ‘heritage act’ in the manner of the Rolling Stones, playing their greatest hits for baby boomers every three years or so. U2 believe they can still, 38 years into their career, compete in the singles charts against Calvin Harris and Rihanna – a faith that has only been reinforced by their belief that it was the lack of a hit single on their last album that led to its comparatively poor sales.” The article’s writer, Brian Boyd, goes on to say that Bono told him “The last album [No Line on the Horizon] didn’t have one pop song on it, and ‘Get On Your Boots’ was the wrong single,” adding that the state of the band now was even worse than the famously contentious Achtung Baby sessions: “It’s actually worse for us now than it was when we went to Berlin. If we don’t come up with a very good reason to make a new album we should just f*** off.”
No Line on the Horizon, like all other recent U2 albums, was introduced with an immense marketing blitz, which may not have helped the album, which (as Bono pointed out) didn’t have many big pop moments on it. The Irish Times article postulates that this time around, the band may employ the surprise release technique, recently utilized by David Bowie and Beyonce.
The Edge, always regarded as the band’s Buddha-like figure, was predictably more even-keeled when discussing the next album with Rolling Stone‘s David Fricke earlier this year: “We really want the songs to be right… We’re so good at starting, not so good at finishing. That’s always the way it’s been.”
One other rumor that had circulated about the foursome was that they might perform at the iTunes Festival in London next month. While there have still been no announcements to that effect, the festival still has a number of “To Be Announced” shows, alongside some rather huge bookings including Beck, David Guetta, Calvin Harris and Pharrell Williams, all acts that Bono would presumably like to rub elbows with at this juncture in their career.
But if you’re looking to hear some new Bono vocals, this much has been confirmed: he’s guesting on the upcoming album by Michael W. Smith, The Spirit of Christmas, along with Little Big Town, Lady Antebellum, Vince Gill, Jennifer Nettles and Carrie Underwood, that was announced by Smith’s website.
In the meantime, there’s still no official announcement about a new U2 album or tour.