DS: Coldplay is definitely in that mode, down to the Brian Eno-produced comeback album, even though half the time it feels like they don't even want to be a stadium act. But I think even a U2 non-fan would admit that Coldplay has yet to produce anything as interesting as U2's best albums, nor devise a stadium tour that captured public attention in the same way as U2's best ones did. Lord, I think even Chris Martin might admit that. There's always been something so painfully cautious about any change in sound for Coldplay, while U2 has actually proven perfectly happy to shake things up between albums. My big fear is that single we just heard. It didn't sound notably different from "Vertigo" ten years before.
KO: Right, they're still trapped in 2004. I get a creative rut, of course, but music changes quickly. The thing about Coldplay is, whether you like their work or not, they are always trying to evolve. It may be cautious, as you said, but then I think about something like "Viva La Vida." That record is fantastic, if not particularly surprising; they let the quality stand on its own. This new single isn't strong enough to do the same. I'm not sure if we can still call U2 innovative if they haven't managed to "shake things up," as you said, in ten years.
So since we seem to have settled that their relevance is in a valley, if not completely gone, my question to you is this: What does U2 need to do to launch themselves back into the zeitgeist?
DR: Perfect question (and I agree with you about "Viva La Vida"). Honestly, the easy answer is go find an awesome producer and work with them--but they did that once, working with Rick Rubin in 2006 or so but shelving whatever came of that and going back to the familiar territory of Eno and Steve Lillywhite and Daniel Lanois for No Line on the Horizon. This time, it looks like they did a lot of work with Danger Mouse and Paul Epworth. Will it have any impact? The other hit on U2, of course, is that they can get too big-picture, especially about global issues, and Bono is addressing that too in his first statements about Songs of Innocence, calling it a "personal" album. Is that going to make a difference?
KO: I would love that they could get back to a tighter focus, but I just don't quite believe they can do that. Even the album title – Songs of Innocence, coming to Lifetime Movie Network this fall – is boring me. And I know we've brought it up multiple times now, but that single, which they chose to perform live at a widely streamed event to promote their free album, was a snooze. Not bad, but totally unchallenging. If that's what they chose as their lead-off hitter, I'm concerned about what they have in the dugout.
DS: It's funny! I have the optimism of youth, you have the cynicism of someone who knows how the game is played. I'm with you on that first single and the generally lame media rollout, but I'm still going to my iTunes store hoping for something special. Now if I can just get this download to work.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.