11
Feb 14

U2 – “Discotheque”

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#760, 15th February 1997

Discotheque A year before this, U2 just missed the top with one of their best singles: “Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me”, a glam tidbit recorded for a Batman soundtrack that revels in its nocturnal, glitzy movie-theme moves. It might have sounded throwaway but it also sounded like a slinky, knowing good time – proof, you might have thought, that the reinvented New U2 of the 90s had bedded in and were comfortable in their shiny skins. They were working on a new LP. It was to be called Pop. Perhaps the best from them was yet to come?

In the light of this, you might charitably call “Discotheque” ‘unexpected’. You might also call it a confused, lumbering wreck of a track that burrows and bellows in search of a hook beyond its one shabby riff. It’s one of the poorest excuses for a major release we’ll encounter, the moment at which not only the great U2 experiment in post-modern popmaking, but an entire school of thought about rock comes off the rails.

“Discotheque” sounds half-finished because it was half-finished. The whole Pop album was scuppered because, having already spent forever working on scraps for it, the band went ahead and let management book a world tour, to kick off in Spring 1997. Just as the implacable timetables of mobilisation made the First World War inevitable, so too did the logistics of giant mirrorballs and colossal cocktail sticks doom U2’s comeback. The group were still fucking around in the studio, sampling other people, sampling themselves, experimenting with ‘loops’ – they ended up rushing songs to completion just to get a record out.

It was no way for the Biggest Band in the World to operate, but that was part of the problem. Behind its rejection of revivalism, Achtung Baby had hidden a deeper revival, a return to the old Beatles dream – the promise that the “biggest” band in the world could also be at the leading edge of pop culture. Even as someone with no time for U2, I had to admit that the pop-political theatre of ZooTV had come enticingly close to doing that – no wonder the U2 of 1996 bet foolishly big on the PopMart Tour.

This time it wasn’t going to happen, on tour or on record. You can pin the crash on the lack of Eno, perhaps – instead Howie B was brought in as a resident DJ – but Eno had helped cause the crisis in the first place. Eno’s famous methods – Oblique Strategies and so forth – are tools for focusing, which means they’re also an acknowledgement that a loss of focus is likely in the first place. Crucially, Eno honed his methods working with rock bands and artists who were deliberately trying to work with new genres and styles and bring them into their music. This was a main source of progress in the post-punk world – a potted definition of what being innovative meant in rock. It wasn’t so much an ‘imperial phase’ as a imperialist one – reaching out across musics and countries to find new things to incorporate into the body of rock. Dub, reggae, African music, minimalism, disco, rap, noise, techno….

As Eno realised, and U2 discovered, doing this came with a price – a loss of purpose, as musicians more at home with tinkering and learning-by-doing than grand theory wandered in playgrounds of experiment, paralysed by options. The Pop sessions involved endless, fruitless, sampling, for instance, and vast numbers of hired hands brought in to jam and lend ideas. The Eno method, as is clear in its absence, wasn’t meant to spark creativity so much as forcibly limit it just to get stuff done.

Meanwhile, the imperialist idea of rock as a force that can absorb all other musics created some great records, but it rested on a huge inefficiency. At its core there tended to be a band, who not only had to force all these ideas into shapes they might play live, but who also had to find a creative consensus on what was worth doing, and demonstrate the ability to do useful things with all these ideas. Most of which U2 seemed to flunk. “Discotheque” essentially sounds like a jam, and an unpromising one at that. The single it feels most like to me – also breathlessly awaited, also disastrous – is The Stone Roses’ meandering comeback “One Love”, but U2 don’t even have the cock-eyed optimism of 1990 to lean on.

Instead they go for cynicism. For all the haplessness of “Discotheque”’s creation, Bono is a pro, and knows how to talk up – and dress up – a dodgy record. “Discotheque” sounds like feeling sick at 2AM outside a nightclub, hearing the beat’s muffled thump through the wall, and that’s one way of piecing together its scrappy lyrics and excusing its miserable churn. “You know you’re chewing bubblegum… You just can’t get enough / Of that lovey-dovey stuff” sneers whoever Bono’s playing this time: if it’s taking a shot at cheap pop entertainment, the blow fails to land, because this alternative is so obviously a shitty time, neither inspiring or provoking.

U2’s working practise seemed to be to ride an approach till it flamed out. Just as Rattle And Hum had bounced U2 into backing down on pure revivalism, so Pop was cause for a second rethink. There’s a particular kind of 90s rock practise which gets mortally wounded on “Discotheque” – the big budget, everything-fusion album packed with superproducers and hangers-on. Taxi for Howie B, in other words. But while bands will still adopt and adapt to other music – and sometimes, like Radiohead, be loved for it – “Discotheque” also threatens to hold up as threadbare the entire vision of rock as the natural base of musical progress. If “rockism” has ever meant anything, it means what happened on this record – an assumption that other musics exist to provide new directions and stealable ideas to four rock guys in a guitar/bass/vox/drums lineup.

It’s telling that the breakdown of the New U2 happens on the album where they decided to really embrace sampling. Hip-hop not only proved very difficult for rock to assimilate, it was far better at realising rock’s syncretic pretensions – of being a core of popular music which could absorb and adapt to anything else. In fact, it did this quite casually, and more efficiently than the rock band model had since the late 60s. The telescoping of ‘band’ into a single beatmaker let borrowings happen more quickly and with less compromise, and the competition between producers to supply beats to popular or rising-star acts meant the turnover of ideas was fierce. This may not seem relevant to U2, though let me cruelly point out that during the multi-producer elephant gestation of Pop, the RZA had managed to produce the entirety of 4 well-beloved LPs and most of Wu-Tang Forever. But Pop wasn’t some legendary over-budget folly of a record, it was an album planned, produced and marketed to a more-or-less standard corporate rock timetable. The bigger the band, the longer the album/tour cycle lasted – but that cycle was creatively ruinous. It was both a mortally inefficient way to handle a genuine artistic hot streak, and fearsomely effective at exposing the lack of one.

Post-mortems of 1997 in rock provided a neat moral lesson – a contrast between Oasis, doubling down on tradition and overreaching themselves, and Radiohead, looking outwards and forwards in critical triumph. We’ll get a chance to reassess Oasis in a few weeks, but even before then the draggy, floundering “Discotheque” provides some useful complication. Bands could be gigantic, ambitious, entirely convinced of the virtue of progression – and end up making terrible records anyhow. The apparent choice between moving forward and looking back covered up deeper problemns. In the callous language of modern business, rock music was ripe for disruption.

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Comments

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  1. 1
    Kat but logged out innit on 11 Feb 2014 #

    But while bands will still adopt and adapt to other music – and sometimes, like Radiohead, be loved for it

    OMG I wonder if ‘Idioteque’ is in fact a not-so-sly dig?? I’ll laugh until my head falls off etc

  2. 2
    Tom on 11 Feb 2014 #

    Since I don’t like Idioteque I will take it instead as ‘considered homage to the pioneering work of Bono’

  3. 3
    James BC on 11 Feb 2014 #

    I disagree – Hold Me Thrill Me etc isn’t any good either.

  4. 4
    Steve Mannion on 11 Feb 2014 #

    Sorry 4 pedantz but actual lyric iirc is “You know you’re chewing bubblegum, you know what it is but you still want some, you just can’t get enough of that lovey-dovey stuff” – just a play on the perceptions of both pop and E as cheap or fleeting thrills. I don’t think it was really intended as an outright dismissal of either – if anything the opposite. That’s not to say it’s one of Bono’s better beermat scrawls either tho.

    I liked this at the time and given U2’s slide into less adventurous diminishing returns imo ‘Pop’ is still a more interesting record than anything they’ve done since (I know Bono’s slated it a lot himself since but whatever he thinks they regained afterwards I guess I’m just not interested in).

  5. 5
    Tom on 11 Feb 2014 #

    #4 Aargh sorry, I was making a point about the actual lyric tho not my mangled version of it, so I’ve just edited it. It still comes off as pretty sneery.

  6. 6
    Izzy on 11 Feb 2014 #

    I quite like Pop in truth – half of its tracks are pretty good, and I count Discotheque among them. Mofo is the standout though – it’s pretty much alone in retaining a sense of menace, which the others could have had were the more cartoonish aspects of their adopted personalities not by now getting in the way.

    Discotheque itself still holds up – it’s got a pleasing, messy sound, the guitar break is good and fits the not-quite-rock space they’ve got themselves into, and it’s hooky enough to make no.1 on merit. I’ll give it a (7).

  7. 7
    @Elmo_Keep on 11 Feb 2014 #

    Excellent. “@tomewing: U2’s difficult 9th album, and corporate rock in crisis: http://t.co/ejg5fv9BBw”

  8. 8
    thefatgit on 11 Feb 2014 #

    This. When this was released, I laughed. U2 do a parody record. A shot at comedy, resplendent with digital tinsel. But who, exactly were their targets and what were they saying? Then I realised, this wasn’t “comedy”. They were merely trying on stuff to see if it fitted. And then I got angry…

    What I alluded to in the “Beetlebum” thread, and what Tom has crystallised in his post, U2, the Biggest Band In The World! And what do they do with that status? Like King Midas in reverse, they turn “Pop” to shit. Everything they touch, everything they reference, not least our friends, Village People are demeaned and collaborators are tainted by the four smirking lads from Dublin. They should have been and were old enough to know better. This is not pop. This is arrogance. This is hubris. This is verging on the homophobic. This annoys me in ways I can’t begin to describe. That is all that I can say about this.

  9. 9
    Cumbrian on 11 Feb 2014 #

    Some thoughts:

    Pop was so unfinished (or at least not finished to U2’s satisfaction) that they’ve gone back to fix, in various ways, half the tracks from it.

    It would have been brilliant if the interior of the Lemon from Pop Mart tour actually looked like what they’re performing inside in the video.

    Also, that Lemon responsible for U2’s very own Spinal Tap moment. Would have been even better had they been trapped inside that video when it happened.

    This might be the last time we see Bono before he starts dying his hair. Will he get as ridiculous as Paul McCartney and Bruce Springsteen? Who knows. Their choice obviously but they should all know they’re not fooling anyone – we know you’re all going grey.

    Agree with Steve @4 that Pop is the last time U2 have done something outside their comfort zone – definitely more interesting than their subsequent records. If this is a 2, I can only wonder what some of their upcoming bunnies are going to get.

    Aside from the philosophical problems with the record that Tom has raised, I personally don’t think it’s searching for hooks at all – there’s the riff, which sounds like it is carved out of radio static (continuation of hard sounds getting to #1 from The Prodigy and Chemical Brothers in 96), there’s the “tick tick tick Boom, Discotheque” at the end, there’s Bono’s spiral down the “let’s go”‘s. All of them called to my mind before I actually listened to it again. It’s actually quite memorable, I think.

    The question of whether it’s actually good is another one entirely. It doesn’t sound like it has much to do with Discos at all – operating on Nile Rodgers’ principle, explained to David Bowie, that if you’re going to call a track “Let’s Dance” make it something you can dance to, this record fails on that score – nor does it sound much like (a narrow, non-Yeah Yeah Yeah* definition of) Pop. The video suggests that they’re just there to make fun of Pop and Disco – which piles back into Tom’s problems with what it represents about Rock. As song, I don’t have much of a problem with it – what it represents, articulated well by Tom, I probably have more problem with. I think I’d mark it more highly but not at the 6 threshold to get in the end of the year poll.

    *Bob Stanley’s book currently a feature of my commute.

  10. 10
    Rory on 11 Feb 2014 #

    I’m starting to detect a pattern here, which seems to be the difference between a fan and a non-fan, in that my scores for U2 songs have been 2-4 points higher than Tom’s (the same holds for Blur as well). I’m not about to give “Discothèque” a gushing fan’s 9 or 10, but I did like it at the time, and on re-listening yesterday still liked it well enough, except that it’s so long – a tighter 3-minute mix would have made a significant difference.

    Pop, though: yeah, that was a dud. My favourite track on it was “Mofo”, which couldn’t match my favourites on Achtung Baby and Zooropa, so the drop in quality seemed stark. I came to their later albums with much less enthusiasm as a result – but more on those all in good time.

    We can’t mention U2’s studio noodling without also talking about their 1995 album-that-wasn’t, Passengers’ Original Soundtracks 1. It yielded one great song in “Miss Sarajevo”, and one or two others worth consideration, but it wasn’t a promising step at the time, a lack of promise subsequently borne out. If they’d combined the best of that album and Pop and, I dunno, waved a magic wand or something, they might have produced a mid-to-late-’90s album worth loving, but it wasn’t to be.

    Nevertheless: I’m a sucker for the Edge’s throatier guitar work, meaning I quite like “Discothèque”, and I’m still a fan, so 6.

  11. 11
    Tom on 11 Feb 2014 #

    #9 and #4 – I think this is a record that suggests some of the problems with “out of their comfort zone” as an uncritically offered compliment, i.e. it can work as a tactic but it’s not something that *inherently* deserves more praise than doing what you do well.

  12. 12
    Cumbrian on 11 Feb 2014 #

    #11: I’d agree. Interesting is not the same as good. That said, and we’ll get to U2’s later career eventually, but I’d rather they were interesting failures than bland successes – they are going to retreat further into the grey world of corporate rock after this. After all, I would argue that what they did well was not what they’ve ended up doing/what they were doing around The Joshua Tree – what I think they did well was the stuff around Achtung Baby and Zooropa, which was a step away from their previous work but much more considered than this. I actually do want them to take calculated risks because they have previous for making it interesting (and in the case of those two albums – to my ears at least – good).

  13. 13
    sükråt tanned rested unlogged and awesome on 11 Feb 2014 #

    Not many post-punk bands could improvise well in the moment — I should try and gin up a theory about the reasons for this — but I’d say few were less well set up for it than U2: so when they’re out of their comfort zone, they’re VERY exposed.

  14. 14
    James on 11 Feb 2014 #

    Don’t think I’ve ever heard the original until now and to be honest I don’t see the justification for such a low mark – 5 seems about right to me. Always had a soft spot for the David Morales remix though.

  15. 15
    Tom on 11 Feb 2014 #

    #12 as I think I argued around the time we covered “Desire”, there’s just as much stretching and exploring going on on The Joshua Tree – an LP which sounds ‘trad’ without actually sounding like anything else. There’s more obvious “now we will incorporate THIS” activity on AB and Zooropa, but I dunno that they’re stronger records (I may now have to make good on my long ago pledge to actually PLAY Achtung Baby soup-to-nuts).

  16. 16
    Bowiesongs (@bowiesongs) on 11 Feb 2014 #

    “Discotheque” sounds like feeling sick at 2AM outside a nightclub, hearing the beat’s muffled thump through the wall” http://t.co/QrHwcX3qRk

  17. 17
    Erithian on 11 Feb 2014 #

    Will come to the actual record later, but just wanted to note in passing that we’ve now had as many entries in 2014 as we had in the whole of 2012. Well done Tom!

  18. 18
    Doctor Casino on 11 Feb 2014 #

    I was, at the time, an emphatic non-fan: drawn to uptempo, hooky and loud alt-rock, their signature tunes all struck me as maudlin melodrama, slow and earnest and borrrrr-ing. I’ve warmed up to their ‘classic’ stuff a bit since then, and discovering Achtung Baby in 2006 was a revelation – but the funny thing is that at the time, and for much of the late 90s, “Discotheque” was the only one of their singles I gave any credit at all! Maybe because it didn’t sound like them, maybe I just liked the wash of echoing Bonos playing off the big, obvious, noisy riff. (An interesting reversal: usually it’s Bono’s big, obvious, blowsy singing playing off a wash of echoing pretty guitar parts!) It got stuck in my head, it kept me interested – not my favorite song of the year, but teenage Casino would have probably given it at least a 5.

    Now, though, the loose ends and the draggy length distract – quite like one or two Oasis numbers with which my gut says we’ll have to shortly contend, and it sounds a bit more like a shambling mess. Ehhhh…4. We’ve had so much worse here.

    All that being said, though, I think this is a fantastic write-up from Tom, moving very comfortably between the material/mechanical/production discussion of bands, expectations, tour schedules, etc., and the philosophical impasse of “genre-hopping” rockism, a line which I happily imbibed at that date. It was a ubiquitous trope, nothing new necessarily (reminds me now of Graceland, Phil Collins and “world music”), but it triangulated well with the specific claims of alt-rock: breaking down the old stuff, a wild new world “underground”: thus there must be new impossible sounds waiting to be heard. The upshot was a particularly lively and diverse playlist by the standards of rock radio, where you would here, side by side, big beat, by-the-numbers roots rock, some trip-hop, the swing revival, pop-punk and ska-oriented variants, Beck wheeze-rapping over the Dust Brothers, R.E.M.’s mid-decade exercises in glam and Patti Smith sprechstimme, the last gasps of sludgey, metal-derived grunge (Soundgarden), and so on.

    From a broader zoom, of course, this is pretty limited diversity. As well, all almost unceasingly white and with notable exceptions, pretty male. But compared to, say, the early years of the 2000s on the same radio stations, it actually was a garden of sonic delights. Perhaps the problem is that what works for a listener and a radio format – yes, I want it all, I listen to hip-hop and grunge! – rarely works for an individual act. But then it sounds like I’m closing down the barriers, asking acts to stay in their proper little boxes please. I think it might be a little too easy to say that hip-hop can do these things, but rock can’t, or that it has so much to do with consensus among personnel… the Wu-Tang Clan, as you well know, has more members than the RZA! But I still believe you’re on to something – will be mulling this post for a while, Tom.

  19. 19
    Chelovek na lune on 11 Feb 2014 #

    “Who wants to laugh, and who wants to sing, and who the hell would be a disco king?” – the Wonder Stuff dealt with the theme of this song rather more adequately (and lightly, and unbombastically, daft as it is to compare them to U2).

    Rule one: if you’re attempting to present one genre of music as being inadequate/incomplete, make something better than a good example of the genre you’re portraying as inadequate.

    The whole Achtung Baby period had some really interesting and largely successful attempts to marry rock with elements of dance technology. This though is nothing but shark-jumping. I quite agree about there being something close to homophobia at at least two points in the video, although not necessarily in the song itself. It’s odd that a record which could indeed almost be a dictionary definition of “rockism” is, in its sound (and even its attitude) as far from cock rock as imaginable. But still, quite unsatisfactory.

    1

  20. 20
    mapman132 on 11 Feb 2014 #

    Ouch! I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. U2 seem to be one of those bands that one either loves or hates, and if you hate them, you really, really hate “Discotheque”. Heck, even people who love U2 hate “Discotheque”. One long, long running argument I have with some of my friends is whether or not U2 has been any good since their Joshua Tree heyday. I myself quite like post-JT U2 with Achtung Baby and the semi-bunnied album arriving in 2000 two of my favorites. Needless to say, Pop represents an absolute nadir for those of the opposing view.

    I liked “Discotheque” at the time although perhaps not as much as I expected to considering it combined one of my favorite bands with electronica sounds. I wasn’t aware of its troubled production but I’m not totally surprised. I’ll still give it 7/10 though.

    Chartwise, it peaked at #10 in the US. For such a huge long-running band, U2’s Hot 100 performance is less than you would expect: 16 Top 40’s, including 6 Top 10’s (this was the last). Their only two #1’s both came from Joshua Tree. Interesting then that half of their UK#1’s (or more than half if you count a technicality) are still to come.

  21. 21
    swanstep on 11 Feb 2014 #

    Yikes, this is quite unpleasant. Long, boring, completely unfunky, the rock bits don’t rock, the mix is incredibly murky, and Bono’s vocal in particular sounds like a guide track rather than the finished item. The mix of D that made it onto U2’s Best of 1990-2000 is better: it’s 40 secs shorter, and much of the murk is gone at least. It still doesn’t work in the sense that it still represents the shocking drop-off in quality from the previous two albums that Rory@#10 mentions, but at least that version of D isn’t gruelling the way the version from Pop is; it feels professional and competent:
    2 or 3 (Best of mix gets at least a 4)

  22. 22
    Tom on 11 Feb 2014 #

    #17 Rock obviously can and had and does and should do this stuff – in fact it’s built on assimilation – I think the point is more that doing this has certain implications in a process sense: either you settle for a slapdash approximation of what you’re playing with, or you NEED an Eno (or a George Martin maybe!) or enormous self-discipline to keep the wheels turning, and enormous self-discipline is not a quality we encourage by telling people how creative they are.

    & with hip-hop – this point got swallowed up in the review probably – you have a model for doing this experimenting more efficiently, because the beatmaking and MCing process is separated and both of these are down to individuals. The RZA is an unfair example because he was such an stupendously prolific producer at this point, though, and had an unusually large and talented group of rappers to work with. And also – because hip-hop acts don’t rely on an enormous global touring schedule as part of the cycle – producers can move on from ideas more quickly (IN THEORY – in practise hip-hop has its own kinds of inertia, which we’ll get to, but there is still a turnover of hot sounds)

  23. 23
    Steve Mannion on 11 Feb 2014 #

    #8 Would like you to say more about that! Lots one can unpack there at least – VP’s position throughout the 90s as a punchline (Wayne’s World), Bono’s own curious relationship with camp, the band’s subsequent chumming up with Boyzone (see their cameo in the video for ‘The Sweetest Thing’)… I don’t dispute that their ‘trying on’ of various things at this point could be tactless or insensitive but might this be inevitable for any “Biggest band in the world” seeming to still want that tag and to move with the times but lost in a miasma of audience expectations and artistic curiosity. They had a rep for self-awareness which persisted throughout (their turn on The Simpsons is one of of the funnier band appearances on that show before these became too commonplace and knowing) which makes the intentional naffness (for it seems as such) questionable though.

    I think ‘Pop’ tries to please everyone in and around their fanbase and falters accordingly. It’s clearly not as experimental as ‘Zooropa’ and the nods to Fluke, Death In Vegas, the Chems etc. aren’t as over-bearing as this lead single suggests (the others in its wake all sounded more like the U2 of old). Tom’s savaging of it reminds me of how UNKLE’s ‘Psyence Fiction’ LP was received by some the following year – overblown, sounding like it cost a fortune and took twice as long to record as it did (then again maybe ‘Psyence Fiction’ is closer to ‘Achtung Baby’ in terms of how well it does hang together due to the stewardship of its ‘star’ producer).

  24. 24
    taDOW on 11 Feb 2014 #

    POP seemed very much u2 reading their 90s press and buying into it. not nearly as fresh or “risk taking” or approaching clever as zooropa, not nearly as sincere or consistent as achtung baby, this was the 90s u2 of everything apart from the 90s records – the vague hipness, the blockbuster touring behemoth, the illfitting irony that by this point (dressing up as the village people, doing a press conference in a kmart) remind me of nothing so much as richard nixon going ‘sock it to me?’ – w/ the ‘legendary first ballot rrhof band weighs in on the sounds of the day’ both working as declaration of intention to be the new rolling stones and showing up just how far they fell short (historically at least, in terms of 1997 efforts pop does beat bridges to babylon but pop is no some girls or even undercover). the album itself has some very strong stuff and some very very weak stuff, i’d put ‘discotheque’ somewhere in the middle (or maybe the bottom of the middle). this was also maybe the most high profile example of mid-late 90s flops from prominent alt.rock acts, a trend that helped foster the return of pop in america, momentarily led the industry (and alt.rock radio to a small extent) to buy into electronica as the ‘next big thing’ (something u2 were surely aware of and trying to get out in front of), and after that generally didn’t pan out (with a few notable exceptions – hello ‘firestarter’, hello ‘breathe’, hello bunnies) opened the door for alt.rock acts that were more proactive at responding to hip-hop. limp bizkit’s first album is released june 1997.
    i like the riff and reward effort so 5 from me.

  25. 25
    Tom on 11 Feb 2014 #

    #22 yes that UNKLE album would have been another example! Sorry Steve I know mid-90s eclectica is your patch. I think FWIW mash-ups are a neater and more pop solution to this whole conundrum – applying the producer/vocalist split logic of hip-hop to, well, anything (though not always with very edifying effects). We will get to that eventually too.

  26. 26
    Rory on 11 Feb 2014 #

    Why the assumption that the song presents disco as inadequate? Or that dressing up as the Village People in a video is homophobia rather than homage? The chorus itself reads to me as a “Drugs are bad, mm-kay?” response to ecstasy, not as saying that 1970s disco was terrible. The video is just the usual bollocks where a director says, “the name of the song is X, let’s dress you up as X/set it in X”, with the band going along with it because who doesn’t like to dress up? It strikes me as U2’s equivalent of the Spice Girls’ “Say You’ll Be There” video.

  27. 27
    georgethe23rd on 11 Feb 2014 #

    As a non-U2 fan (Greatest Hits excepted) I like it. I especially like it that the band don’t like it, if I remember a Bono interview rightly. The riffs are good and chunky, and the YMCA-ish dance routine in the video’s intentionally very funny.

  28. 28
    Tom on 11 Feb 2014 #

    ” I especially like it that the band don’t like it”

    This is a powerful mitigating factor, it’s true.

  29. 29
    Andrew Farrell on 11 Feb 2014 #

    #15 also of course The Biggest Rock Band In The World going “And now our roots*” is going to be less notable / smaller news than “And now, a breakdown”.

    *any excuse

  30. 30
    Rory on 11 Feb 2014 #

    On reflecting on it further: I can see how dressing up as a gay icon or icons such as the Village People or Freddie Mercury could be homophobic depending on who was doing it. But it could alternatively be an act of homage, whether out of a sense of fun or sober admiration or both. You’d have to know the people doing it to be sure. I find leaping to the former assumption problematic if the only reason is that U2 are four straight rockers, because in an ideal world their sexuality shouldn’t matter, but I recognise that we don’t live in an ideal world and that there is a problem there. I think it’s a different kind of problem, though, from dressing up as intentional mockery; it’s more an issue of cultural appropriation, and also (I think inadvertently, because I’m being charitable) inviting other, less-enlightened viewers to mock. Dressing up is a potentially fraught business, isn’t it: dress up for a party as Saddam or Bin Laden in the 2000s, and people would have assumed you were an Iraq War supporter, but dress up as a Nazi when you’re royal and people assume you’re a Nazi. Dress up as the Village People and… you’re gay? You’re homophobic? You like the Village People? You don’t like the Village People? You don’t like disco?

    I’m assuming “they like the Village People” and, for that matter, disco. Perhaps I’m more charitable towards them because I once read a great biography of the band (possibly not the one you’re thinking of) and came away thinking they were all decent and likeable people. I certainly don’t remember any homophobic subtext. But maybe I’ve missed a telling media moment somewhere along the way.

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