Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Free or Not Really That Free? U2 and Jay-Z

Yesterday with the announcement of the new iPhone 6, U2 released their new album for free for anyone with an iTunes account or an iPhone. This is similar to a move made a summer ago when Jay-Z released his new album to anyone with a Samsung phone. At first, I was rather excited over the prospect of a new U2 album that I get for free. Some people would say who do I have to kill? Yet, I listened to the album and there are some decent songs on there, but for the most part it is a very average album. This is not new because I remember the album How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb and thought the same thing. You just expect more with this artist. Perhaps our expectations are just too high for them with their past work. 

This is a problem for every major artist that does excellent work. The public is always expecting something to surpass what they have done before. This is unrealistic and unfair, but whoever said life was fair anyway. The album seems to drag along at certain points. The songs that you would like to end very quickly seem to go on forever. There just isn't anything sonically exciting about a lot of the tracks on this album.

Now, this brings me to the entire point of this article. Jay-Z's album Holy Grail from last summer suffered under the exact same conditions. I remember calling it lazy, common, and pretty average. My point is, if an artist or band is releasing an album for free to a certain population like a certain phone user, do they present a less desirable product? Maybe it is just a coincidence that I found both these albums to be simply average. I feel the question must be asked because if another major album comes out unexpectedly for free on Virgin Mobile phones and it is very average, what are we to think? 

I am beginning to think perhaps that the artist knowing that the album is going to be on all of these devices and they are still going to get paid from the phone company may not try as hard. I am not accusing either of these artists of doing so. Yet, one does have to wonder whether or not the factor of being able to sell your album ever crosses the minds of these artists when they've been given this huge payday from the phone company. I do not wish to question anyone's artistic integrity, but the proof is in the pudding and the pudding says these albums are not as good as previous ones. 

Now, I probably still would've purchased these albums anyway. This is based on the previous track records of these artists, so perhaps my perspective in this article really makes no difference at all in the end. Yet, I simply find it hard to believe that U2 has been working on this for five years with such noted producers as Danger Mouse turned out to be so average. 

Now, magazine articles have compared artists like Radiohead with U2 and Jay-Z. I am assuming they're talking about the In Rainbows album, but that was a much different situation altogether. Radiohead did not receive a huge payday from releasing that album for free. Fans could donate whatever they wanted to Radiohead, if anything at all. They left it up to the fans. In contrast, Jay-Z and U2 are being paid monstrous sums of money to allow their album to be downloaded to phone users. The problem with this is some music fans will look at these artists as selling out and aligning themselves with the corporate nature of the music business. One of the things that I know about music fans is they hate sellouts. 

I guess in the end, we will just have to wait and see if this is a trend where artists are giving away their albums for free, just for the exposure. This is a point that must be emphasized about U2. They have not come out with an album in about five years. The music world has changed quite a bit since then. The band is getting older and Bono probably wants to remain relevant. Yet, then again, Bono has always had a thing for Apple anyway. If you remember, they sold U2 iPods when How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb was released. Is it any coincidence that it was pretty average as well?

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