Ordinarily the day before a U2 show would find me nearly uncontained, climbing the walls, blaring the tunes and anxiously awaiting showtime, when my self-imposed media blackout would end and all would be revealed to me over the course of two hours. I've been down this road for six tours over 22 years. I know how it's supposed to work, and how I'm supposed to feel right about now. This time though, I'm just empty.
Let's rewind to February of this year. Get On Your Boots had just been released and I was underwhelmed. Underwhelmed and disappointed. But I reconciled my feelings by convincing myself that they needed a poppy hit to get back on the radio and rake in the younger fans. Then, sitting in my hotel room on vacation in London (because, yes, diehard fans do do this sort of thing on vacation!), I started to download leaked tracks from the album. And the more I heard the more disappointed I became.
On first listen, it hurt. Bono's voice sounds like it's been scoured with razor blades in places; he sounds like he's reaching for the top shelf when really he should be using that step stool. Age, the smoke and the drink are catching up with him and here we hear that he hasn't come to terms with it yet. But the lyrics...the lyrics had me asking "REALLY?" a few more times than I was comfortable with. "She put her tongue in my ear", "I won't stand for anyone's cockatoo", "the ATM machine" (reminder Bono, the "M" in "ATM" stands for MACHINE), "no, no line on the horizon" (isn't that a double negative, so there IS a line on the horizon? Or were we just trying to find another syllable for iambic pentameter?). Is this really the best they could do? Or were they just trying to top "Grace is the name of a girl" from the album All That You Can't Leave Behind?
Three songs were wholly unlistenable to me, which other than The Wanderer on Pop, is a complete anomaly for me. They make me so uncomfortable that once, walking to work, I nearly threw my iPod into a puddle on Devonshire Street in Boston as I tried to swallow Moment of Surrender like a belligerent child tries to spit out his broccoli. That, Cedars of Lebanon and White As Snow might as well be funeral dirges. Make them stop, or help me find the skip button. Everyone said I'd get used to the songs, the album would grow on me, I was just shocked with the new direction. But you know what, that hasn't happened. I loved Magnificent on first listen and still think it's the best track on the album, but it is also the only track reminiscent of the screaming anthems of old. I have warmed to Being Born (minus Fez) and Stand Up Comedy, but SURPRISE, they don't play either of them live; it figures. An inside joke about the family cats has me laughing along with Get On Your Boots. But that's about it.
I've said it before and I'll say it again: ultimately I think the band will look back on this album and realize it was a huge mistake and be disappointed in this as they were with Passengers. Stick with me kids, I tend to be about 6 months ahead of everyone else when it comes to this sort of thing...I'm already seeing fans who loved this in the beginning start to shake their heads. You know now I'm right. Ask and answer yourself honestly: will you be listening to this album once the tour ends? I didn't think so.
And to top off this story of a fallen U2 fan, I have $1000 worth of tickets for two shows. When tickets went on sale in March, I bet that the album would sit better with me over time. I'm hoping that live and in person, the bet pays off.
I've watched bits on YouTube from other shows on the tour. I've read the setlists and found a couple of oldies that they've dug up and I'm eager to hear for myself once again. But I've read and seen a lot that disappoints me and makes me wonder what exactly they are thinking with this tour. Are the gimmicks and the artifice of a massive staging enhancing the production or merely covering up the mediocrity I'm feeling off the album? What I'm hoping is that in context of the entire show, it all makes sense and I don't walk away from two nights in Foxboro shaking my head.
Time will tell. In the meantime, I've loaded the camera, packed the cooler and put on my game face. I'll climb into the limo with my concert-going posse hoping that maybe my boys won't let me down. With such low expectations, maybe I can only be pleasantly surprised.