On Tuesday afternoon, U2’s new album was just there, waiting for you. Like an Ikea catalogue. Or a jury summons. Or streptococcus. The latest inescapable unpleasantry for anyone who’s chosen to participate in our great digital society — more specifically, the 500 million human beings on this planet who use iTunes.
First, to premiere its new single, “The Miracle (of Joey Ramone),” the band chose to play it live at Apple’s latest product-launch ceremony in Cupertino, Calif. “Wasn’t that the most incredible single you ever heard?” Apple CEO Tim Cook asked the audience when it was over. “We would love a whole album of that.”
Presumably from a script, Bono replied, “The question is now, how do we get it to as many people as possible? Because that’s what our band is all about.”
Voila. Apple instantly inserted U2’s new album into the “purchased” folders of half a billion iTunes users, triumphantly calling it the largest album release in history. (The album is being given away for free, but speculators are speculating that Apple has paid U2 up to $30 million for the honor.)
As for the album itself, it’s called “Songs of Innocence,” perhaps to suggest that U2 is abandoning a swaddled orphan on your doorstep, not an intrusive cluster of idea-starved rock songs. Yeah, okay, this might be the largest album release in history. It’s also rock-and-roll as dystopian junk mail.
And that’s why this stunt feels more alarming than the starry, out-of-thin-air album releases that preceded it.
In 2011, when Radiohead dropped “King of Limbs” without warning, it felt like a genuine surprise. Later that year, Jay Z and Kanye West released their unexpected duet album, “Watch the Throne,” with similar gusto. But when Jay Z tried it again with 2013’s “Magna Carta… Holy Grail,” the method was starting to feel boring (and creepy, considering the album was released by Samsung as an app that would collect customer data). Pardons were granted when Beyoncé dropped her latest from the heavens last December — it felt spontaneous, a word rarely used to describe Beyoncé .
In this brave new farrago of medium and message, U2 seem to have transmitted all of rock-and-roll’s misguided egotism into one ridiculous statement: Our music is technically worthless and everyone in the world should hear it. That’s what this band is “all about,” and Apple is happy to do its part, making you the owner of these songs without asking your permission. Which is disgusting.
So as you delete “Songs of Innocence” from your memory — as you should, without hesitation — remember the fleeting heebie-jeebies as they crawl around your follicles.
That utopian philanthrocapitalist democracy that Bono is always stumping for will also be a place where your belongings will be chosen for you.