Mar 052009

A few years ago after, the night after the Grammys or some such awards show, my Mom came over for dinner and struck up a conversation about U2, who had been a featured performer. “What do you think of that band?” she asked me, “Aren’t they really popular?”

My Mom is pretty hip and never hesitant to form and share an opinion. I told her what I thought of them, which wouldn’t surprise you, then she gave me her analysis.

“Their music was only OK, but the singer was a real showman. He had a lot of energy, really got the crowd worked up! Does he always carry the band like that? It seemed to me they would be nothing without him.”

I saw U2 on Letterman again last night, playing another new song that featured The Edge playing one of his standard, digitally delayed riffs; Larry Mullen playing yet another variation on the beat from “Sunday Bloody Sunday”; and Adam Clayton massaging steady root notes out of his bass. Although the song had one musical innovation it’s taken U2 nearly 30 years to implement – an actual middle eighth (check it out, beginning at the 2:50 mark) – I couldn’t help but think about my Mom’s take on Bono and the band. They’d be nothing without him.

My Mom couldn’t have appreciated the role that The Edge’s little guitar trick plays in U2’s popularity and slightly “cutting-edge” status (no pun intended), but I think she was spot-on regarding Bono’s energy and showmanship. Love him, hate him, or not really give a hoot, an argument can be made that—relative to his bandmates—Bono is the hardest working man (or woman) in rock today. Can you identify a band member (ie, not a solo artist with a faceless backing band) who carries a heavier load within his or her band?


  33 Responses to “Relative to Bandmates, Who’s the Hardest Working Man (or Woman) in Rock Today?”

  1. hrrundivbakshi

    Boy, that song is lousy! Is it possible to release an album “direct to Pepsi commercial”?

  2. dbuskirk

    I’ll downgrade Bono’s hard-working status if only because Edge is moving a bit. And besides, can you call someone “hardest working” when they release a disc every five years? James Brown re-invented his sound twice in that period.

    Bono’s voice is in fine shape, but boy oh boy those lyrics. I found myself getting embarrassed just listening to them, like someone was reading aloud from my high school poetry notebook:

    “Everybody needs to cry or needs to spit

    Every sweet-tooth needs just a little hit

    Every beauty needs to go out with an idiot (a Bono pick-up line perhaps?)

    How can you stand next to the truth and not see it? “

    Egah! Is Bono really harder working than Iggy in the Stooges?

  3. Mr. Moderator

    db, I tried to make it clear, this question is relative to one band member’s bandmates. PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE don’t expect anyone to live up to JB’s work ethic – and he had a lot of hard-working bandmates that he still outworked.

    As for your question regarding Iggy in the Stooges, I never saw the band in their time, but Ron Asheton and James Williamson were riffing their asses off on the records. Remember: “relative to bandmates…” The songs of The Stooges would have still been pretty kick ass with a slightly less-animated singer, and beside, they were nowhere near as popular as U2. We’re talking about possibly the “world’s biggest rock band” at this time, if you pay any attention to the hype, and I think Bono’s the only reason the other guys aren’t selling shoes.

  4. Mr. Moderator

    Oh, a great cut on those lyrics, db. You picked out the exact stanza in that song that got me thinking similar thoughts.

  5. alexmagic

    Not really knowing anything about the guy, I think I’ve just now decided that Adam Clayton is the best member of U2.

    I’m basing this on several factors that I’ve put next to no thought into: I like that he’s always kind of looked about ten years older than the rest of the band; I like that he’s managed to be one of four guys in arguably the most famous band of their era and yet I couldn’t tell you a single thing he’s ever said or if he has, in fact, ever spoken; I like his glasses, when he wears them; I like that he allows himself to be dressed up in goofy costumes to aid in Bono’s clowning, but never feels the need to strike any kind of poses or join Edge and Bono for some U2-styled Rock Iwo Jima moments; I like that, as I’ve previously noted, I’m absolutely convinced he could pull off a Hitler moustache; and if you think about it, most of the good U2 songs have pretty good bass parts but nobody ever really mentions that.

    I could be wrong about most of the good U2 songs having pretty good bass parts. I just thought of one or two U2 songs and thought “Hey, I like the bass on those!”

    Anyway, Adam Clayton, seems like a good guy. I like to think maybe he was checking out that Third Bananas thread and quietly hoping his name would come up, and when it didn’t, he just shrugged and then, I don’t know, ate a mango and went and read a book or something. He seems like he’d enjoy a good mango.

  6. For a while, Adam Clayton was famous for being the member of U2 who dates supermodels, but it doesn’t even seem like people remember that anymore.

    I’m one of those snobs who only likes the two “weird” U2 albums from the early ’90s, although I don’t own them anymore. I find it weird that “Mysterious Ways” was all over radio and MTV back then, but it’s seemingly vanished from the airwaves since them. People have now decided that “One” was the only song the band released between during the entire decade.

  7. I know that a lot of women dig the drummer,Larry Mullen,Jr. He’s the cute one. That’s gotta count for something, right (though, I always get the feeling that he plays the same drum part on every song)?

  8. Mr. Moderator

    I will never forget Clayton’s time with supermodel Naomi Campbell. It was shortly after she was burning up the screen in some Michael Jackson video. Clayton’s stock suddenly shot way up, in my book. Shortly thereafter I seem to recall him striking her (or she striking him?) at an airport a bit later, which wasn’t cool. The main strength I see with Clayton is that he’s the only guy who’s been comfortable with his hair throughout the band’s existence. The other guys are always smothering their locks in product, wearing a ski cap (if there’s even anything left under there), pulling it back in a ponytail. Clayton is comfortable in whatever hairstyle he wears, even during that phase when he bleached it.

  9. 2000 Man

    Man, this new U2 album must have reached mighty heights of suckitude. Everything I’ve seen or heard of it is laughably embarassing for anyone caught listening to it.

    I’ll toss up a guy that works harder than the rest of the band – Sting. I like The Police, and I think Stewart Copeland is a really good drummer, but Sting is the show. Years ago when I saw them I remember thinking that I liked the sound the other two guys made, but Sting was really bringing the goods on stage.

  10. NO one pounds out the straight quarter notes like Adam Clayton does!

    I remember early on in U2, there was drama regarding his relationship with Bono and the band over religion. It was solved when Bono was AC’s best man. That’s all I got.

  11. Mr. Moderator

    That’s right, Andyr, Clayton opted out of the New Age Christian thing the other guys were getting into. I think Mullen’s always been the most observant of the group. Rumor has it Bono caught a glimpse of himself in the mirror one day and found a new savior.

  12. dbuskirk

    A fact that seems to be forgotten with U2 was that for the first two albums they were marketed as a Christian band. I remember an early morning radio show or MMR that mixed them in with The Seventy-Sevens and the Resurrection Band (or “The Rez Band” as their fans know them) and all those other god-awful Christian rock groups. Anyone else have any memory of this?

  13. In regards to the actual question, for some reason Michael Hutchence (sp?) comes to mind. And actually, fellow 80’star Dave Gahan carries his band, at least live.

    U2 seem to have entered the tier of artists that, at least in my mind, also includes Macca and Joni Mitchell. That is, every time they put out an album, the reviews say, “this new album is the return to form we’ve been waiting for, much better than the last one”.

  14. Mr. Moderator

    Cher, Hutchence is a GREAT answer – if the present were 20 years ago and he was alive to be working hard. Otherwise you’ve gotten the gist of what I am looking for!

  15. saturnismine

    yes, dbus, i remember it.

    it’s hard to watch this video of bono and think that he’s ‘carrying’ anything at all, let alone his own jock, and poorly. but i see why you’re asking.

    mod, your mom’s view of u2 isn’t that different from henry rollins’s. i once heard him on howard stern call mullen and clayton the ‘weakest rhythm section in rock’, while proclaiming that we could take off all but the high ‘b’ and ‘e’ strings on the edge’s guitar, and nobody in the arena would notice. he then went on to concede that though he thinks bono’s a tool, he IS the only guy in u2 who’s reallly ‘putting out’.

    i concur with those you who are choking on your breakfast cereal over this video…this is really piss poor stuff.

    i think hutchence is a good answer, too, fwiw. but really, if bono and hutchence are the best we can do, it’s only because better performers usually surround themselves with players who push things to a higher level.

    and btw, i’m not down with criticisms of bassists that are based on the number of notes they play. sometimes, straight quarter notes, or even whole notes, or not playing at all, *serve the song*. and i think clayton is being tasteful by choosing that route with these songs. lack of notes is not a valid criticism. HOWEVER…lack of imagination IS. and this, he lacks in spades (if you can lack something in spades).

  16. I agree with Saturn’s assessment of bass playing. I disagree with Rollins’ assesment of U2’s rhythm section. True, they are not super-imaginative or interesting; they are not Great. But U2 songs move, and they have on occasional grooved even. They are not as bad as Pink Floyd’s rhythm section.

  17. saturnismine

    with his attempt at falsetto, bono achieves an epic fail at 0:33 of this video from which he never recovers…

    that middle eight is the most awkward grafting of a third part onto a song i’ve heard in a long time.

    btw, i heard an african artist cover ‘mysterious ways’ on npr one night and it actually made me like the song! but it also made me realize how close part of the melody is to simon and garfunkel’s “cecilia” (the part that goes “when i come back to bed someone’s taken my place”).

    2K, i always thought stewart copeland was the saving grace of the police. he’s the only reason i can listen to them. and when i saw the police, sting was definitely NOT bringing the goods: his vocals were all over the beat, he was skipping entire lines to scowl at his bandmates, and he was also NOT PLAYING BASS (not in the good way i descrbie above) for entire verses.

  18. Mr. Moderator

    The Sting reference, by the way, reminds me of a seemingly improvised cut The Edge made on Sting when the band did the Top 10 List. I can’t remember the particulars, but the entry The Edge had to read was something along the lines of “The Edge is a really boring nickname.” That’s what scrolled up along the bottom of the screen. The Edge substituted “Sting,” and then turned a shade of red while his bandmates giggled.

  19. Adam’s always been my favorite of those guys, too.

    In addition to the New Age Christian sect that he opted out of, I think he is the only Protestant in the group and as such went to different schools that the others growing up. Kind of the odd man out, especially over there in the 70’s.

    He is also the only member to get drunk and miss a gig, and this was post Achtung Baby when they were huge. Normally I would think that was a dick move, but in the context of U2, it made at least one of them seem somewhat human.

    I’m okay with the Edge too.

  20. I would also suggest that Larry is the third banana because he seems to have the same humorless sense of purpose as the other two. Adam seems to operate outside of the Banana Caste system.

  21. I looked at the comments section here thinking my pick would be gone in the first few. Really this isn’t even close: Mick runs around like a squirrel on crack while the rest of the stones looked like they have been standing up for six days.

  22. I’m gonna have to be on topic here and suggest Steven Tyler. Maybe that dude in The Arcade Fire, too.

  23. Mr. Moderator

    The dude who leads The Arcade Fire is a good one, eh. Don’t they have about 207 band members on stage? He’s the only one who makes an impression.

  24. BigSteve

    In this song Bono sings “the right to appear ridiculous is something I hold dear” (I think I have that right). Ever since Achtung baby U2 has been operating with the concept of the unliked/unlikable frontman. I thought it was a brilliant move, and it now looks like the only way out of the sinkhole of sincerity they’d dug for themselves in the first part of their career.

    The problem is that on the last few albums Bono has edged back towards a romantic rather than ironic lyrical stance. On the one hand, I like it when some bands reach for the stars like that, as I said a while back in our discussion of Springsteen. Though I wouldn’t want everyone to follow that path, I also don’t want to impose the rule of irony on everyone either.

    But the combination of our extramusical knowledge of Bono’s activism and the return of exalted lyricism doesn’t work well with the singer-as-asshole approach. I think you have to give the band credit for trying to play these new songs live as a four piece when they’ve only just recorded them though months of painstaking studio work, on live TV no less. You try hitting those falsetto notes cold 30 seconds into a one song set.

    Still you’ve got to judge art on results not effort. Plus Bono really needs a new barber. And a gift certificate to Lenses To Go or someplace like that.

  25. Dave “Doc” Robinson. In fact, I can’t even name another member of King Harvest.

  26. Tommy Lee.

  27. Man, you folks have spent way more time thinking about U2 & The Police than I ever could, without lapsing into a coma.

  28. Look at the still of the performance above. Bono looks just like Frankenstein!

  29. “UURRRGH!!! FIRE BAD!!!”

    Minor Pince Nez:

    Frankenstein is the doctor’s name. The creature he created should be referred to as Frankenstein’s monster. I think he named him “Adam” in the book, but nobody would know what you’re talking about if you were to use that as the monster’s name.

  30. diskojoe

    Does Paul Weller count? I’m just wondering since the Police/Sting has been mentioned.

  31. diiskojoe, Did you ever watch B. Foxton’s energetic bouncing about in live performances, or the way R. Buckler was seemingly trying to beat his drums into a twisted mass of metal & skins (not exactly a light touch, that lad)? Though maybe in The Style Council, I wasn’t really paying much attention at that point. I dunno, I don’t think Weller counts in this particular thread.

  32. My wife is no rock nerd (no offense right?) but loves U2 saw them do “boots” last night and asked if it was a cover of “Wild Wild West” by Escape Club (same verse melody)

    That said, I kinda like this U2 record..better than the last for sure

  33. Mr. Moderator

    I saw that too, jungleland2. I was amazed to hear U2 play a song with an actual rock ‘n roll guitar riff, a driving beat that was nothing like the beat Mullen plays on every other song they’ve ever done (excepting “Love Comes to Town”), etc. The song itself didn’t add up to much for me, but it was refreshing and actually different than what I expected. And Bono worked his ass off!

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