Op-Ed: U2’s “Songs of Innocence” release was a mistep

By Kieran Graulich

Via TIME

As if no one saw it coming, “Songs of Innocence” is slowly turning out to be a bad decision for U2. For those who may still be unaware, in the wake of the announcement of the new iPhone 6, U2 revealed that their new album, “Songs of Innocence,” would be downloaded, for free, onto every iPhone through the notorious Cloud. Although U2 did distribute their own album for free, no one really had a choice whether or not they wanted a new U2 album on their phone.

Several musicians and public figures have spoken out against this unorthodox and slightly egomaniacal release, even Bono himself has apologized for it: “Oops… I’m sorry about that” said the U2 frontman, “I had this beautiful idea. Might have gotten carried away with ourselves. Artists are prone to that thing, a touch of generosity, a dash of self promotion, and deep fear that these songs that we poured our life into over the last few years might not be heard.”

Despite insulting artists worldwide and admitting that he desired to cancel out every other band in the market, Bono made an attempt to reconcile for his mistake by offering a process to delete the album.

I took this opportunity as soon as it was presented to me.

However, I was in a place in which I was willing to forgive U2. Many others were not. Amongst the naysayers was a contributor to the “noise” Bono referred to: Black Keys drummer Patrick Carney.

Carney, never one to hold his tongue, told The Seattle Times that U2 “devalued their music completely. [It] sends a huge mixed message to bands that are just struggling to get by. I think that they were thinking it was super generous of them to do something like that.”

Carney does bring up a good point: whereas the vast majority of bands struggle their entire careers to get their music heard and appreciated, U2 forced this recognition on anyone who owns an iPhone, not even having to try to write a quality album or even an impressive single. Carney himself only managed to find a spot in the mainstream in the past five years with the album “Brothers,” released in 2010. Carney, along with his musical partner Dan Auerbach, spent ten years finding an audience and establishing themselves as artists. U2’s mandatory giveaway must have seemed like a slap in the face to the hard work that he has put in for the past decade.

Yet, Carney does acknowledge that U2 was at least under the illusion that they were being generous, and though one could argue that U2 did act upon some misguided form of generosity, even that is questionable. “We were paid,” said Bono, concerning how the deal with Apple was brought about, “I don’t believe in free music. Music is a sacrament.”

U2 didn’t exactly do a single generous deed in the entire process, in truth: Apple paid for the music and gave it to their fans, and U2 allowed it because it would lead to several million people owning their new album. However, was Carney correct in saying that U2 “devalued their music” with the release of “Songs of Innocence?” Possibly.

In the month and a half since the release “Song of Innocence,” the album has been downloaded 26 million times, yet how many of those downloads did U2 actually have to try for? The band could have released an album of Bono gargling salt water and the album would still be on everyone’s iPhones. In an attempt to get everyone to listen to their music, U2 also greatly devalued their image. The negative reactions to the release of the album have definitely hurt U2’s public image and influence, more-so than if they were to just release an album of lesser quality in traditional form.

While I don’t think U2’s career is over, being that the band has survived far worse than this, “Songs of Innocence,” as Carney points out, was a definite misstep. Perhaps if anything “Songs of Innocence” will teach the band the consequences of an inflated ego and self importance.

Then again, I wouldn’t hold my breath.

Kieran Graulich is a staff writer. Email him at music@nyunews.com

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