Experience: U2 Album Listening Session at Wisseloord Studios*

November 11, 2004

By Marloes van de Laarschot

As I’m writing this everybody has had the chance to hear “How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb.” The album has leaked onto the internet and fans all over the world are stuck in their houses at the moment listening to the 11th U2 album over and over again.

I was one of the lucky few to already have heard the album before it leaked. I work at a Dutch music magazine and got an invitation to hear the album at a listening session. On November 1 I went over to the Wisseloord studios in Hilversum (in the Netherlands, about 20 miles from Amsterdam, famous for the fact that Def Leppard recorded albums there in the ‘80s and visits from artists like AC/DC, 50 Cent and just about every famous Dutch band) to hear “How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb.” I’ve been a U2 fan ever since my father couldn’t stop playing “Under a Blood Red Sky” when I was about six or seven years old, so I was a little nervous about what the new album would bring us.

My fellow journalists and I were brought into a big studio filled with couches, candles and comfortable chairs, after we handed in our bags, phones and coats. The Universal spokesman told us that we’d see the DVD that would be included with the special editions first. The DVD lasted for about 20 minutes and was amazing, including some very funny quotes from Larry Mullen Jr. about “Crumbs From Your Table,” a short funny piece with The Edge and Bono playing “Vertigo” on just a banjo, and a lot of studio footage.

It was very cool to see the DVD but finally the big moment was there—I was going to hear the new album for the first time! It’s very surreal to sit in a room with about 40 strangers to hear an album that you’ve been waiting so long for. If I had been at home, I probably would’ve gotten a nice glass of wine, closed the curtains, lit some candles and just make it really special.

We were handed out the lyrics before the CD started so everybody could read along and take notes. Some people were just listening with their eyes closed, some were frantically reading the lyrics and others were staring into space while being overwhelmed by the "Bomb" because that was the case—people were overwhelmed! The guitars were big, the sound huge and the vocals amazing!

It’s very hard to judge an album after just one listen and I think the journalists who were there will have a hard time writing a review. “How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb” is definitely an album that grows and grows and grows, but I did feel it was special hearing it for the first time in that room full of strangers.

About U2: Influences for ‘Vertigo’ Cover Art*

November 8, 2004

By Devlin Smith, Contributing Editor

Since the release of 2000’s “All That You Can’t Leave Behind,” Bono has become fond of telling everyone, from college audiences to television interviewers, that U2 came from punk rock. At the 2003 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony, The Edge shared his memories of attending a Clash concert with other members of U2 when they were all teenagers.

During the course of U2’s career, however, this link to punk rock hasn’t been totally implicit. The band’s work has spanned from new wave, sort of the poppier kid brother of punk, to classic American rock, taking cues from artists like Bob Dylan. With bands like Green Day and Blink-182 shining new light on the attitude and musicality of the punk movement, the new century seemed like the perfect time for U2 to wallow in its punk roots.

New album “How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb” may just be U2’s punk masterpiece. First single “Vertigo” harkens back to innovators like The Ramones and The Sex Pistols with its chaotic energy, sonic imperfections and brevity. The cover art for the new single, with its stark collage look, also pays homage to the punk movement.

But it’s not only punk that U2 and design firm Four5One is paying tribute to with “Vertigo’s” artwork—consciously or not, this new U2 aesthetic is truly taking its cues from the art of the Russian Revolution.

(Image courtesy U2NewZooland.com)

During the Russian Revolution and early Communist era that followed in the 1910s and ‘20s, artists from a variety of media used their work as propaganda not just for the new government system but also for a new way of life. The political poster is perhaps the better-known art form of this movement, called Constructivism.

“Posters thrived in turbulent times, during revolutions, social changes and wars,” Yevgenia Petrova, deputy director of the State Russian Museum told The St. Petersburg Times. “Because the genre is designed to convince by its nature, it is laconic in form, bright in colors and populist in style.”

To reach an illiterate audience, artists used graphics and photographs to preach their message. According to The St. Petersburg Times, these Russian avant-garde artists were the first to use photographic images in their designs. They also, in the words of The Times, “brought their sharp broken lines and cold aesthetics into the genre.”

(El Lissitzky, Front cover of “Zapiski poeta” Courtesy The Getty Research Institute)

One of the greatest artists of this movement was El Lissitzky, who worked in a variety of media, including book design and architecture. In the late ‘90s, the Getty Research Institute in Los Angeles ran an exhibit featuring artwork and personal effects from Lissitzky’s life. Of the artist, the institute said, “Lissitzky’s career was deeply marked by the social and political upheavals of the early 20th century. He consistently sought to create bold and powerful artwork that would further the causes in which he believed.”

This desire is not unlike the desire of punks in the 1970s to topple the status quo or the members of U2 to spread the ideals of charity and equality today. Through his black, white and red collage works, Lissitzky explored a variety of societal and cultural issues, from equality to religious freedom. Of his books, one of which was a child’s allegory about the post-revolution new world order, “In contrast to the old monumental art, [the book] itself goes to the people, and does not stand like a cathedral in one place waiting for someone to approach it.”

(The Sex Pistols “Never Mind the Bollocks Here’s the Sex Pistols” Courtesy of Amazon.com)

Punk rock of the 1970s was much like that book. This was a movement on the streets and in the shops, reaching beyond music to influence art, fashion and beauty. The Sex Pistols, brought to the forefront by manager Malcolm McLaren, perhaps best embodies that punk spirit with its music, packaging and quick demise.

The cover of the group’s 1977 album “Never Mind the Bollocks Here’s the Sex Pistols” is one of the most famous of the era and is consistently named to lists of the best rock album covers. Designed by Jamie Reid, the cover features the album title in black block letters, the band’s name spelled out in ransom note-like cut out letters, all on a neon background.

“This style is a continuing part of 20th century collage agit-prop art, including early Russian Revolutionary artists, John Hartfield’s anti-Nazi work, various Dadaists/Surrealists sifting into situationism and into punk, to hackers and plunderers on computers and websites,” Reid said in the book “100 Best Album Covers” from Firefly Books.

(Buzzcocks “A Different Kind of Tension” Courtesy of Amazon.com)

In the late ‘70s, the new wave movement began, taking the energy and aesthetic of punk and adding in synthetic bits. The album cover for Buzzcocks’ 1979 release “A Different Kind of Tension,” according to Storm Thorgerson and Aubrey Powell, writers of “100 Best Album Covers,” acted as a bridge between the two musical movements. This neon cover features a photograph of the English quartet on a field of geometric shapes.

While Reid saw “Never Mind the Bollocks” taking the mantle of 20th century propaganda art, like that of the Russian revolution, “A Different Kind of Tension” designer Malcolm Garrett was more interested in drawing a direct line.

“The graphic came from Russian Constructivist El Lissitzky; it was him in the day-glo” Buzzcocks manager Richard Boon said in “100 Best Album Covers.” “The lines were construction marks, denoting the center of a circle. The horizontal bars carry information and continue around the spine.”

More than 50 years after his work was first seen in Russia, Lissitzky was influencing a new generation through the Buzzcocks’ cover, whether they knew it or not. With the unveiling of U2’s cover art for “Vertigo,” that influence is being felt once again in the stark black, white and red color scheme, geometric shapes and collage work. Though unlike Lissitzky, U2 is not promoting the virtues of a new world order through “Vertigo’s” cover, the band is talking about a new sort of revolution—the punk rebirth of U2.

Information for this article taken from “Propaganda Posters Revisited as Art” article from The St. Petersburg Times; the Getty Research Institute exhibit “El Lissitzky: Monuments of the Future;” “100 Best Album Covers” from Firefly Books.

Special thanks to Mike Vaney of U2NewZooland for use of the “Vertigo” image.

Album Title Analysis: October*

November 8, 2004

By: Ali Ficklin

October and the trees are stripped bare of all that they wear / What do I care?

A change of seasons, a change in U2′s sound. Expenses, stress and lost lyrics all tried to hamper the recording of U2′s second album "October," however, soul overcame frustration at Windmill Lane Studios in Dublin, and in October 1981 the album was released.

What was the significance behind the month of October that caused U2 to name an album this? A lot happened in the world in 1981 that could have influenced their decision. To name a few things, this was the year AIDS was discovered, Pope John Paul II was almost assassinated, as well as was former President Ronald Reagan. In Northern Ireland, a historical hunger strike was occurring at The Maze Prison where some prisoners were protesting to be called prisoners of war, instead of criminals. All these events could have had some influence on the creation and titling of the bands second LP. Or, perhaps it was just a simple choice in relation to the song of the same title. Either way we’re going to get to the bottom of it, starting with the album cover.

With the cover photographed by Ian Finley at the Dublin docks on what appears to be a chilly day, the refrain of the moment is calm and collected with only The Edge and Larry Mullen Jr. looking straight into the camera. Dressed warmly, Bono, in what appears to be a denim jacket (an ’80s fashion must), Mullen in a turtleneck (who would’ve thought), Adam Clayton in some type of wool/tweed sports coat, and The Edge with a classic shirt and jacket. The band members all appear to be deep in thought with their wind swept hair and gray sky behind them, a portrait of the season is being displayed and the scene is set for the title.

In some ways the cover reflects the mood of the album. The songs aren’t necessarily filled with sunshine but are warm and crisp, filled with that raw, heartfelt emotion, such as in "I Fall Down," "Fire," and "I Threw a Brick Through a Window." "October" is an album made for autumn and winter ears. The guitar solos have that distinct irreplaceable quality The Edge brings that reaches out and pulls you in, setting the tone for the songs. Mullen’s drumming becomes more powerful, and passionate with each beat, and can be felt to the core in songs like "I Threw a Brick through a Window," "With a Shout" and "Scarlet." Bono’s voice explodes through the speakers lighting fire to your ears with his energetic vocal expressions, and emotional tones, as heard on songs like "Gloria," "Rejoice," and "Tomorrow."

Close your eyes, and lose yourself in the album. You can easily imagine autumn all around you, falling leaves, burnt colors, and the cool air blowing on your face. This album has a peacefulness that wraps itself around you, as does the winds of fall, in the end leaving you inspired and longing for the season to stay just a little longer.

I believe the sound of the album and feel of autumn in Dublin played a big part in deciding on a suitable title for this album. In the end my conclusion for its naming "October," is rather simple, that was the month U2 was formed—October 1976. The month is undoubtedly filled with special meaning, nostalgia and amazing memories for the band so why not memorialize the month, freeze the October era in time and always be able to reflect upon the moments of those days through music with an album commemorating the month it all started—October.

U2: The Road to the Atomic Bomb*

November 1, 2004

By Chrissi Blaesing

In the fall of 2000 the release of U2′s album "All That You Can’t Leave Behind" was met with acclaim from both fans and the entertainment industry. The album reflected a certain hope that was influenced by members of the band working closely with the Jubilee 2000 campaign. Bono had also made the transition from "Rock Star With a Cause" to a strong and respected figure in world politics for his work concerning trade and AIDS in Africa. "All That You Can’t Leave Behind" was billed as a "comeback" album after a decade’s worth of experimentation with irony and new technology. While the music U2 had produced in the 1990s was critically acclaimed and met with fan approval, "All That You Can’t Leave Behind" harkened back to U2′s early roots. The multitude of accolades and awards the album garnered reflected the media’s and the music industry’s appreciation for U2.

By the end of the successful Elevation Tour, members of U2 were reporting that they would begin recording a new album immediately. In an interview with The Sun shortly after the tour concluded, Bono revealed that the band was back in the studio working on new songs, speculating that a new album could be finished shortly. In 2002 U2 released a "best of" album spanning 1990-2000. The album contained two original songs, "Electrical Storm" and "The Hands That Built America." Unfortunately fans’ expectations of a new album went unrealized when in June of 2003, a Hot Press article reported that it would not be released in March 2004, as rumored.

In Feb. 2004 an article in Billboard revealed that Steve Lillywhite was taking over the reigns from producer from Chris Thomas. Lillywhite, who has previously produced the bands first three studio albums and had worked on "The Joshua Tree," "Achtung Baby" and "All That You Can’t Leave Behind," was excited to come on board again. "It’s the first time I’ll have to actually start a record with them in 20 years," Lillywhite told the magazine. "I’ve heard some great songs. The Edge is playing some really great guitar." With news of Lillywhite in the studio, many fans feared that they album would be delayed again. Manager Paul McGuiness was quick to make a statement to U2.com that, "There are various producers involved in this album….Chris Thomas has done some great work. It’s good to work with Steve again but it’s not as if we’re starting from scratch." A Hot Press article quoted a source that the band was aiming for a September/October release, but that U2 "will wait until March or April 2005" if necessary.

Fortunately for U2 fans, by May McGuinness was telling BBC Radio 5 that the new album was tentatively scheduled for release in November with a tour starting in March 2005. By early July, 18 months after work started, the band was reporting that the album was finished and the members were planning on taking a much-deserved vacation.

Unfortunately in mid-July a mixed copy of the new album went missing during a photo shoot for the magazine Blender. Bono was quoted later in the week by The Daily Telegraph that should the songs be leaked onto the Internet illegally, U2 would immediately release the album online on Apple’s iTunes music store. While fans were relieved that the album would proceed as planned, many were concerned that should the album be released in a rushed manner, U2′s vision would be blurred.

By Aug. 2004 the album had not been leaked on the Internet and sources close to the band revealed that the album had indeed been recovered. Plans began to launch U2′s 11th studio album, and Universal Records in Europe revealed that the first single would be titled "Vertigo" and would be released to radio on Sept. 24. It was also announced the single would be exclusively sold via iTunes. Various reports by longtime friends of the band stated that the album heralded a return to U2′s early sound. A review of "Vertigo" by Pitchfork Media praised the single saying that it "recaptures much of the boundless energy that has characterized their [U2's] early work." After a few days of radio airplay the single debuted on several Billboard charts. According to an Apple spokesperson the single climbed into the iTunes top 10 within 24 hours.

The album’s title, "How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb," was revealed on U2.com in late September. An article in The Observer that month called the album "a highly charged affair, full of guitar driven songs about big emotional issues." Shortly after the single was released, U2.com also reported the complete track listing, including some long-speculated titles that had been circulating online since the album’s inception.

Much has changed since 2000, both globally and personally for the members of U2. The war on terror and subsequent war in Iraq are rumored to have had an influence on a band known for incorporating social issues into their songs. The death of Bono’s father, Bob Hewson, in 2001 and his increasing efforts regarding the AIDS epidemic in Africa will no doubt also play a role in the subject and mood of the new album. Longtime friend and writer Neil McCormick was quoted in a Hot Press article as saying that "they have to make a record that speaks to the world because the world is paying attention."

While "How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb" may be darker than "All That You Can’t Leave Behind," U2 will more than likely return to the universal messages of faith, hope, love and peace. Bono has stated in the past that "two crap albums and you’re out," and after listening to “Vertigo” and the glowing reviews of "How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb," it appears that the members of U2 will be hanging onto their day jobs for some time.

U-toons: These are the Hands that Built America *

November 1, 2004


By Robert M. Wolpert

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