Adam Clayton: “We Might Not Want to Connect With Other People.”

There’s a lot I enjoyed in Steven Hyden’s interview with Adam Clayton for Grantland, which Hyden embedded in his review of the start of the tour in Vancouver and his analysis of the highs and lows of U2’s career thus far. For example, point to Hyden for thinking of Proust when thinking of Bono:

Here’s a grandiose analogy that Bono might appreciate: If Marcel Proust had been inspired by an old Ramones song instead of a madeleine cookie, Remembrance of Things Past would have resembled Songs of Innocence and its accompanying tour.

“The Pride of U2”

I’m giving a point to U2, however, and its Pop album specifically, which Hyden calls a “halfhearted electronica LP” and then makes the seemingly compulsory big-box-store of suburban music criticism’s digs on what ended an extraordinary decade of musical adventurism for U2:

Songs of Innocence is U2’s worst LP — the filler is weaker on other “worst U2 LP” contenders like Pop and No Line on the Horizon, but the peaks on Songs don’t approach those other albums’ high marks.

That said, Hyden remains strong with plenty of smart observations, such as :

For a band like U2, whose debut LP came out 35 years ago, believing that the denizens of a youth-obsessed pop marketplace would want a record about the growing pains of middle age forcibly implanted on their phones is delusional, bordering on self-destructive.

For my money, though, not only the game point but the grand-slam-moment goes to Adam Clayton’s reply to what motivates U2 to keep making records. Here’s the front-runner for most-buried U2 lead of 2015:

Up to now, inclusive of this record, we wanted to make music that could communicate to the most people, that could be played on the radio. We were conscious that we wanted to be relevant to this time. That’s not something that we might always want. We have a very loyal, strong, intelligent audience. We might make music just for them in the future. We might not want to connect with other people.

Wow. Granted he triple qualified with those mights, but it’s really got me wondering what music made just for U2 fans might sound like. I asked a long-time fan this question at lunch the other day, and he said: “It might sound like any of U2’s albums!” Yes indeed, even like Pop.

Hyden’s reply was smartly sensible yet again:

Clayton’s thinking seems totally reasonable and refreshingly self-aware. As a fan, it makes me hopeful that U2 might once again make an album for people who already like U2. But there’s another part of me that feels a little sad. If U2 becomes interested in only catering to a niche, is that really U2?

How about you? If U2 makes music in the future for just their audience – which includes you – what would you like it to sound like? And if they did, would that make U2 more or less U2 to you?

26 Responses to Adam Clayton: “We Might Not Want to Connect With Other People.”

  1. Heidi June 4, 2015 at 10:33 am #

    I feel like U2 always makes the records I want to hear… And as a person who just turned 40, and am going into a big period of personal reflection on my life, I feel SOI really hits the spot for me. Sure, kids younger than me won’t get this album, but U2’s long time fans sure as heck do.

    I personally have never experienced a bad U2 album. Ever. All of their albums have something in them that suits me at particular moments in my life. This is why they are my favorite band.

    • Brad June 4, 2015 at 12:35 pm #

      I agree with you on all points, I am turning 42 this month, and have been a lifetime fan of the group – and feel much the same way as you.

      One thing to note – I have two daughters, one is 7 and one is 12. They both love SOI. They do like other U2 songs as well, but they really like SOI.

  2. IzzyStradlin June 4, 2015 at 10:37 am #

    Yes, this Biggest Band in the World thing is garbage. U2 were in very creative places when doing their best work. Not hanging out with the guy from One Republic.

  3. jjcruiser June 4, 2015 at 10:54 am #

    I loved Adam’s comments. I thought the author was a little arrogant, but that’s what you get with Grantland. Overall, though, it was an interesting article, as was the discussion of it on the atU2 forum.

    What I didn’t say in that thread but was thinking is that I don’t think the band owes me anything anymore, if it ever did. They should make as much or as little music for whomever they want. Not to be too vague, but if they write good songs they will be good songs. I don’t particularly want Passengers 2.0, as I really only liked two songs on there, but if that’s what they want to do so be it. No band in history can touch them for how much amazing music they’ve made and played. They could retire tomorrow and probably never be caught as a result of the changed music publication landscape. Do people realize the Beatles made a similar amount of studio albums but quit touring? Or that the Stones haven’t made an interesting and relevant album in decades?

    It’s all gravy at this point. The guys are 55. I hope they have another few albums in them and at least one more major tour; if I’m being conservative it’s only because I want to manage my own expectations.

  4. Irisdsm June 4, 2015 at 11:00 am #

    Their music touches deep in the soul. That’s it. Not everyone will get that but yes, U2 fans will…Always. U2 only need to keep doing what they’ve always done – write songs from the heart without ever needing to fit in a genre or trend or category of any sort. This is one of the many reasons U2 have been successful all these years. U2’s undying uniqueness makes their music timeless.

  5. Tim Neufeld June 4, 2015 at 11:02 am #

    Great question, Scott, to which I have a three-word answer: Songs of Ascent.

    • Matt Staniz June 4, 2015 at 2:29 pm #

      YES! Songs of Ascent!

    • Deliot June 6, 2015 at 11:01 am #

      Wow… Tim… Posted my response below, then read yours. I think we’re on the same wavelength 🙂

  6. Rachel June 4, 2015 at 1:28 pm #

    I think that after having such a successful career, U2 have the luxury of being able to make music for their fans and to stop trying to impress people who are determined to remain unimpressed. If they actually did that, their music might become better than ever, since they will be making music freely, without the burden of trying to have a hit with the kids. I really hope they consider this.

  7. Teriek Williams June 4, 2015 at 8:11 pm #

    You can’t be relevant and but not want to connect. U2’s most spirited days where when they took risks. U2’s post-2000 work has been obligatory back-to-basic albums with the kind of gimmicky “reset” button phase too many veteran artists get into. If U2 want relevance, they need true risk & reinvention. Without it, they’re dying dinosaurs vaguely humming a familiar tune that sounded better the first time they played it.

    Sure “Beautiful Day,” “Elevation,” “Vertigo,” “City of Blinding Lights” & “Every Breaking Wave” are great songs, but those are great parts of mediocre wholes. It really sucks having to hear better wholes from U2-derivatives like Radiohead, Muse, Coldplay, Temper Trap, Keane, Noel Gallagher, The Killers, Interpol or indie newbies like Nothing but Thieves & Bootstraps, whose work leaves stuff like SOI under the dust.

    • jjcruiser June 5, 2015 at 5:08 pm #

      I’m going to assume this was just trolling because no one can really think this, right?

      I’ll take the bait: I don’t think one of the bands you’ve made has recorded a single song that is better than 99% of U2 songs. Wild Honey maybe. But probably not even Babyface. And certainly none of their work is even worthy of comparison to SOI, let alone “leaves stuff like SOI [in] the dust.”

      • Teriek Williams June 9, 2015 at 1:14 am #

        The “troll” label is a cliche. If I dissent, then I’m a troll. But if we want to use those labels, you’re a “fanboy.” U2 & Radiohead often duke it out as my favorite artist, but neither band has 99% great material. There’s good, great, mediocre and bad stuff. “Get on Your Boots” is not better than “Supermassive Black Hole,” “Bitter Sweet Symphony,” “Clocks” or “Sweet Disposition.” If it was, why aren’t U2 playing it or any of the No Line on the Horizon album on their latest tour. When has U2 not played songs from their previous album 14 shows in? 3 songs for Pop were played regularly on the Elevation tour in 2001, and even songs from October were part of U2’s regular setlist for years. Both are considered their worst.

        And if SOI isn’t in the dust, let’s do a little objective analysis. U2’s SOI and Radiohead’s In Rainbows were both given away for free. In Rainbows debuted #1 in the US/UK, went Gold, won a Grammy (with a nomination for Album of the Year) and earned the best reviews of Radiohead’s career since Kid A & OK Computer. SOI barely hit the Top 10 in the US, got mixed reviews, lots of hate over it’s release style (needlessly) and can’t get a single song decent radio play. SOI got a Grammy nomination, but I read several articles criticizing that. The Grammys & Rolling Stone are the only major places for love for SOI, and both have been biased in favor of U2 for decades. Rattle & Hum was the last mixed Rolling Stone review for U2.

        SOI and NLOTH didn’t cut it critically, commercially or connect with the larger audience U2 once appealed to and admittedly want to attract, because it doesn’t appeal beyond the people like you who wouldn’t dare to give them a bad review about anything. That appeal can only be won by a band who is willing to take risks and challenge themselves instead of following the same standard for 15 years. Essentially, U2’s in their Pop phase again. They’ve gone too far, too long with the same formula. It’s time for a real change.

        • Bartolo June 25, 2015 at 2:11 am #

          Teriek – you are on to something, and i feel ya.
          Love u2 since I was a teen listening to War. Unfortunately, the last 15 years of new u2 music has been painfully mediocre.

          Reflecting back, it seems to me that the u2 innovation and drive died during POP. Don’t get me wrong, I love 1/2 of POP, but hate the other half. The backlash against them for that horrible half of POP seems to have turned the band completely to where they’ve been the last 15 years.

          Still love their great work from their first 17 years – and still go to their shows to hear them for that outstanding work. Somehow, someway, they need to get their mojo back – garage band to unsettled artists, kicking against repeating themselves – would love to see them somehow get out of their comfortable settings and “dream it all up again”.

          • Teriek Williams June 28, 2015 at 2:50 pm #

            U2’s albums since Pop have a strong half, followed by a mediocre end. It’s difficult for artists to innovate and experiment 30 years in, but the artists who have the best chance of doing so are the ones unconcerned with being “the biggest band in the world.”

            U2’s not in that space, and because of it, they’ve become a bit too content and the music is reflecting a pedestrian safeness. SOI itself was a blandly produced effort to boot, and it’s release method made them seem out of touch, the opposite of what they wished to achieve.

            SOI sounds better live, but I hope the next thing is different because at this point, U2 doesn’t need to try to make “Beautiful Day” over and over again. Even if they went in the direction “Invisible” seemed like it was taking them (Kraftwerk-style electro-rock), I’d be happier (especially if the other opposite is “Moment of Surrender” or “Iris (Hold Me Close).”

  8. JMom June 5, 2015 at 1:13 am #

    Firstly it’s great there’s some content on this blog section. It’s been neglected for too long!

    I think most longtime U2 fans are a bit irritated by the band’s efforts to get radio play etc. Bruce Springsteen is still relevant and making artistically sound albums without employing the latest pop producer.

    That said I’ve been pretty happy with Songs of Innocence. The only two U2 albums that disappointed on release were All that you can’t leave behind and How to dismantle and atomic bomb. I felt at the time they were playing it too safe. In hindsight though, I love those albums now.

    I pretty much have the attitude that whatever these guys decide to do next, I’ll be ok with it. I count myself very lucky to have my favourite band make interesting new music after more than 30 years. Not many people can say that!

    People tend to forget that with the release with Achtung Babe, U2 were prepared to lose the “pop kids” and stick with the “real U2” fans. When they released Zooropa (without proper single releases) and Passengers (love that by the way) – they were not that interested in the radio play issue.

    It was only with the bad American reaction to Pop and PopMart that they got burned and got cold feet.

    I would love for them to get back that sense of adventure of the 90s, but accept it will probably never happen again…and I’m ok with that.

    These four guys have earned the right to follow any direction they wish to pursue. I will follow.

    • Teriek Williams June 9, 2015 at 1:52 am #

      Your estimation of Achtung Baby isn’t exactly right. U2 were earnest post-punk/roots rockers. U2’s 90s era rejected straightforward rock and embraced European dance/industrial music. Their image shifted to self-depreciating satirists. Some of their 80s admirers bailed but they acquired Gen X fans. Pop went too far for some. U2 hit “reset” but haven’t evolved from their musical conservativism since. 2000-2006 were good years for U2, but the direction is stale after 15 years. Gen X still likes U2 a lot, and it took a different direction to reel them in. U2 isn’t doing that with Gen Y.

      The 360 Tour was bold and daring. Look how successful that was. It’s the highest-grossing tour ever. The album it supported was mediocre, safe and didn’t live up to the band’s expectations. But is SOI sonically different from NLOTH? And their latest tour hasn’t sold out, something I never thought was possible. U2 might need to do the Springsteen thing, and say, “I’m 55, forget radio. Let’s satisfy ourselves with a bold adventure regardless of how anyone feels about it including our fan base.” Radiohead did that with Kid A. David Bowie did it with each album. U2 did with Acthung. They survived trends because of it. By the way, Bowie’s latest album was a hit with critics and his fans.

      Springsteen’s renaissance is largely due to his fearlessness, genre variety (in pop, rock, folk) and work with Brendan O’Brien who delivered great albums by Stone Temple Pilots, Pearl Jam, Incubus, Lifehouse and Train’s earlier roots-rock albums. O’Brien also whipped Springsteen into shape, as well as AC/DC with their last two well-received albums. Maybe U2 need to call him up, not Ryan Tedder who’d be great if he weren’t a victim of the pop rock style that dictates OneRepublic and other bad bands with potential (Maroon5, Train, Imagine Dragons).

  9. Nick June 5, 2015 at 1:20 am #

    Yes have connected with enough of the other peeps by now let U2 elevate US now only as time is running out on them and fast:

    If they have still continued to genre please, please get up off your knees, please come home to your most loyal fans until the end of the world …

  10. Geoff June 5, 2015 at 8:42 pm #

    I just went back this evening and listened to the Roxy show again. Granted, I know they can’t suddenly decide to play to 500-seat clubs exclusively, but the band I heard was thrashing it. Urgency. Playfulness. Spontaneity (at least seemingly so). Since the first time I saw them was on the ZooTV tour, the only times I’ve really gotten a chance to hear that band is on the early bootleg shows.

    I write all that to make the point that if U2 is going to play music just for U2 fans, then I think that means they should just. Play. Music. I’ve loved the shows I’ve been to–especially those during ZooTV when the convergence of music and multimedia was so fresh. But I’ve often seen it written that even the band acknowledges that there’s something special about the four of them in a room, just playing.

    So…if they lose relevance, so be it. Give me the boys, on a stage, no props, no video screens. Just straight-up songs. I think SOI is somewhere in the middle of their catalogue thus far–not the best, not the worst–but Song for Someone and California both sounded great that night. The first they won’t play in full-band format (we won’t even mention the SBS club performance), and the second they apparently think is only worthy of a rotation slot the first month in.

    I hope that by the end of the tour the screen is just a tool and not the star. They may be in their mid-50s, but they can still play the crap out of some rock-and-roll. And I know they’re trying to tell the narrative of growing up in mid-70s Dublin with all the visuals. But I think the Roxy show proves that if they just went out and played, no frills, they’d still be the best damn band in the world.

  11. Randi June 6, 2015 at 1:37 am #

    I agree with a lot of people they’re long time fans. At 32 years in it’s more about the music, but then again, hasn’t it always been. Zooropa was the experiment to end all experiments but,…like all U2music, had it’s purpose while Edge falling off the stage had none. If an experience is what you make of it, then 32 years of an experience with U2 is what makes life complete.

  12. Deliot June 6, 2015 at 10:59 am #

    >>it’s really got me wondering what music made just for U2 fans might sound like.

    It might sound like Songs Of Ascent.

  13. Deliot June 6, 2015 at 11:07 am #

    >>But there’s another part of me that feels a little sad. If U2 becomes interested in only catering to a niche, is that really U2?

    I think the band will reach the true zenith of their capabilities when they say, “what music do we want to make for OURSELVES”. So no focus on the charts, no focus on expanding the brand to new fans, no focus on the current fans. On a certain level, SOI seems like a bit of a move in that direction.

  14. khyber jones June 10, 2015 at 7:15 am #

    I didn’t like the Hyden article, particularly his observations on Songs of Innocence. In my opinion, the Deluxe version is a compelling record that is one of their better, most interesting records. This tour is incredible. I had the chance to see it in LA and they did a fantastic job of connecting the audience to the new songs. People I know who are not diehard U2 fans liked listening to those tracks. That connection didn’t happen on the last tour. As for connecting on the radio, though it is much more difficult in this new era of music than before, it is still possible. They just won’t be able to do it with a traditional U2 formula. Ironically, songs like “This is Where You Can Reach Me Now”, “Crystal Ballroom” and “Lucifer’s Hands” are the way to stay relevant and to challenge the charts. On those tracks, the band is adapting the U2 sound to a new framework via Danger Mouse’s production. Those tracks stay away from the anthemic rock ballad format that they’ve used so well in the past and instead get people to focus on the music where no one instrument dominates but every role contributes to something that is greater than the sum of the parts.

  15. Eddie Sears June 11, 2015 at 9:15 am #

    U2 are a great band who can do anything they like as far as i’m concerned. They don’t have to answer to anyone. When we’re all dust, their music will still be heard. It’s simple, melodic and timeless.

  16. DWilbur3 June 11, 2015 at 1:09 pm #

    I want them to make what they WANT to make….THAT’S where the true soul of their music will shine……and if I like/love it, great….if not, so be it….

  17. Teriek Williams June 15, 2015 at 2:08 pm #

    Check out U2’s performance of “Lucifer’s Hands” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?t=185&v=78wapjkno8k).

    Despite being a b-side, the song was positively reviewed by many critics (some saying it would have been a better placement than some of the songs on Songs of Innocence). It’s more experimental in sound and composition than most songs on SOI, and the reaction, as Bono describes was “the loudest crowd of the tour.”

    Guys, Experiment MORE.

  18. X, Y or Zee June 23, 2015 at 7:15 pm #

    I want them to stop trying so hard. The new generation don’t like try hards.