U2 'Leave Behind' Pop Foray

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11.1.00 - Reuters

By Dean Goodman

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - The last time U2 played in Los Angeles, 65,000 fans watched the Irish rock quartet go through their paces at the site of the 1932 and 1984 Olympic Games.

Now fast forward three years to October 2000 and U2 are playing for 250 fans on a studio soundstage.

The performance was taped for USA cable TV show "Jimmy & Doug's Farmclub.com," which would not warrant their attention but for the fact that "Jimmy" is Jimmy Iovine, a former U2 producer who now runs their U.S. label, Interscope Records.

U2 are promoting a new album, "All That You Can't Leave Behind," the 10th studio release of their 22-year career. They play four new songs, one of them, "Elevation," twice, and wrap with the 1983 tune "Surrender" during the taping last Friday.

Then they answer a few questions about the album, the state of pop music and singer Bono's pet topic of third world debt. This being Los Angeles, they can barely be heard above the din of the jaded crowd. But you will not hear them complain. At one point Bono proclaims, "Death to whingeing rock stars."

As super-rich rock stars go, U2 have always seemed fairly normal, weathering occasional backlashes against their soapbox stands with good grace. Still boasting the original lineup, they continue to live in Dublin, where all attended Mount Temple Comprehensive School. It was there that drummer Larry Mullen Jr. decided to form a band and put up a notice.

Irish Export

With Bono (real name Paul Hewson) on vocals, The Edge (Dave Evans) on guitar and Adam Clayton on bass, U2 would go on to become one of Ireland's best-known exports.

"Because we were mates, I suppose from the beginning, there's a lot of real respect and trust there between the different members of the group," Edge told Reuters in an interview. "We're pretty tough with one another. It's not necessarily like we go into a U2 session and everyone's completely polite. Everyone is prepared to tell you exactly what they think when it comes to it."

From their early days, U2 gained notice for their fervent live performances and provocative songs such as "Sunday Bloody Sunday" (about the violence in Ireland), "Silver and Gold" (apartheid) and "The Unforgettable Fire" (nuclear holocaust). Their 1987 album "The Joshua Tree" sealed their reputation as superstars and won the album of the year Grammy.

Unlike their previous releases, U2 will not launch a simultaneous tour, opting instead to wait until next March, when they will kick off an arena tour -- probably in Miami, U2 manager Paul McGuinness told Reuters at the taping.

Of course, the album could be off the charts by then, but Edge is not worried. "We didn't feel like rushing out there because we wanna just spend a bit of time figuring out what we wanna do and give ourselves a bit of breathing space to make some videos. We've always hit the road pretty much immediately and everything else then becomes a bit of a scramble."

U2 were last on the road for the 1997-98 PopMart world tour, which kicked off in Las Vegas seven weeks after their "Pop" album's release. Its electronica foray confused fans and it sold a modest 6 million worldwide, about a third of what "Joshua Tree" did. The stadium extravaganza began shakily and a satirical take on consumerism didn't go over well in America.

"We're used to playing with some heady concepts and expecting everyone to weigh in there and follow. I think we just left people scratching their heads a little bit," Edge said. "I would have to say it's more that we didn't communicate what we were up to very well."

Should the band have to communicate? "Should we have to?" Edge repeated, choosing his words carefully. "We never would play down to our audience or try to spoon-feed them. But at the same time if you're going to call your album 'Pop' and (the tour) PopMart, those words have got so much baggage."

Everything hinged on one three-letter word: Pop. U2 meant it in a broad, pop art sense. Many people viewed it as a synonym for lightweight and decided they did not want anything to do with it. U2 have not decided on a name for their next tour but it is a safe bet they will consult some dictionaries.

Recycling Baggage

Edge said the new album should be easier to grasp because they tried to strip sound and production to the essentials. They recorded it in Dublin with longtime collaborators Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois, who worked on 1984's "The Unforgettable Fire," "The Joshua Tree" and 1991's "Achtung Baby."

The album title comes from a line salvaged from an unused tune and recycled on the track "Walk On," a ballad dedicated to Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi: "The only baggage you can bring/Is all that you can't leave behind."

"It's an attempt to say that what made it to the record ... is literally just the songs that we couldn't possibly leave off," Edge said.

The first single, "Beautiful Day," topped the European pop charts. Edge said U2 is engaged in "a bit of a lively debate" about the next, which seems to be a tossup among "Walk On," "Elevation" and "Stuck in a Moment Without You," a gospel-tinged track about a friend's suicide.

Expect the debate to be settled amicably. Edge said he has not been on the wrong end of Bono's fist for 20 years and attributes the band's longevity to the lack of rivalry.

Mullen, 39, keeps the band on its rock 'n' roll course. "He's anti anything pretentious, anti anything too arty, flowery," Edge said. "Larry is generally going to tell you something's too long or it's too slow or where is the melody."

Clayton, 40, is a "naturally avant garde" bass player who, like Edge, was born in England. "He's got a great sense of the loyalty factor. He's always there backing everyone up."

Bono, 40, has the vision thing. "He's a great guy to have on your team because he's got incredible energy. He's dogged, y'know. He'll just keep on pushing."

And Edge described himself as the music guy. "I tend to start a lot of the ideas or come up with chord patterns that we can toss around, or whatever. I'm the guy who's hanging on to all those great demos -- we should try this one again."

Bono writes most of the lyrics and Edge most of the music. But the whole band gets credit for the music, which Edge sometimes feels is a little generous. "As well as feeling like I have maybe a much larger responsibility than Adam and Larry for music, I know that they make me look very good," he said.

"And I guess that's the way a band works: People are in bands, hopefully, and I know in our case, because we're better than we would be as individuals."

Copyright © 2000 Yahoo! Inc., and Reuters Limited. All rights reserved.

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This page contains a single entry by Jonathan published on November 1, 2000 12:18 AM.

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