Tuesday, September 16, 2014

U2: Songs of Innocence...and Stupid Outrage

So, yeah, about this free U2 album that I’m supposed to hate the mere existence of…

Seriously, internet: this is your idea of an important problem?  Juxtaposition is a funny thing sometimes: in my Facebook feed for the last few days, the pros and cons of free U2 often sit side by side with a series of photos and interviews of Tibetans conducted by the Humans of New York page.  If you’ve ever heard the phrase “first-world problems” and felt a little unsure as to its meaning, looking at these two things side by side will have you up to speed in less time than it takes to, say, download a U2 album from iTunes.  Unfortunately there’s not much I can do to help the Tibetan people, but music and tech?  Right up my alley.  Let’s do this.

For the record, I’m fairly U2-neutral.  As a kid, I liked their stuff through The Joshua Tree well enough that I’ve never divested myself of the CDs, although I don’t really remember the last time I actually listened to any of ‘em, either.  After that, it was diminishing returns – liked some of Rattle and Hum, some of Achtung Baby, and not much of anything else with one major exception.  All That You Can’t Leave Behind connected with me very viscerally during a particularly dark, tough time in my life, and while I’m not always in the mood to hear it now I’m also grateful that it was – and is – around.  I’m no fanboy, but they’re alright, y’know?

Flash to now: I, along with half a billion other people, am now the proud owner of Songs of Innocence, whether I like it or not.  Conceptually, I like it just fine: to me, this is no different than when I worked in a store that sold music and was never shy about taking home free promo discs.  9 out of 10 of ‘em were garbage, sure, but that tenth always made it all worthwhile.  Specifically, I think the U2 album is okay.   After one listen it didn’t bowl me over with its outrageous brilliance, but it was enjoyable enough that I’ll probably give it another spin or two.  One spot of constructive criticism right off the bat, though: if you’re gonna call a song “The Miracle (of Joey Ramone)” – and you should, what a great title – it needs to kick a little harder than this one does.

But wait a minute: why am I pretty much okay with all of this?  THE INTERWEBS SAYS I SHOULD BE ALL ANGRY BECAUSE PRIVACY.  And where, you ask, does the internet say this?  On Facebook, that’s where.  Really, folks?  REALLY?  You’re going to go on Facebook, which makes absolutely no bones about the fact that you surrender all of your rights to privacy and content ownership the second you click that “sign up” button, and complain that Apple and/or Bono has mercilessly invaded the sanctity of your digital home by giving you a free album?  Come on, people – y’all need to try a bit harder than that.

Speaking of trying a bit harder, I’d like to point out here that Songs of Innocence did not automatically download onto any of my Apple products.  Why?  Because I have automatic syncing and automatic downloading disabled on them, as you should as well if you’re actually concerned with security and privacy.  It’s not a hard thing to do at all: a quick google for instructions and about two minutes of your time and you’ll be good to go.  But hey, I get it – this is a time for mindless complaining, not practical solutions.  Gotcha.

You know who’s really smart in all of this?  U2, or at least their management, because they actually managed to get paid for an album in this era when that’s a near-impossibility.  Sure, Songs of Innocence was free for you the end-user, but it wasn’t free for Apple.  Essentially, the tech giant bought you a copy of the album, which means that U2 got paid a hell of a lot more than they would have had they flogged their album in a more traditional manner; let’s not forget that their last album, the lifeless No Line on the Horizon, was quite the flop by normal U2 sales standards.  Good on them for realizing that the old way of selling albums is dead.  In fact, I hope this sparks a bit of a trend: I’d love to see some artists who probably need the money a lot more than U2 have their work purchased and distributed in this sort of manner.  For all that “music wants to be free” as the pirates will tell you – and I’m certainly not innocent of acquiring music that way, and neither are you most likely – the musicians still need to be compensated, so that they can continue to create with a roof over their heads and paid-for gear in their hands.

Then there’s the funny side of this: did you know that lots of young people have no idea who U2 even are?  I love this; given that hubris is such an active ingredient in everything U2 and Bono do, there is an extremely amusing lesson to be learned for them at the link I’ve embedded above.

Or maybe not.  Maybe this is how they’ve introduced themselves.

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