The Skeptic's Guide to U2: My Journey Back to U2

In celebration of U2’s headlining 2017’s Bonnaroo festival, BTRtoday presents a series on how our editor-in-chief learned to stop worrying and love U2. Here’s part one. Want to see Bono and the boys at Bonnaroo? BTRtoday is giving away tickets. Click here for info.

I returned to U2 by way of comedy.

I listened to U2 as a kid. Everybody my age did. U2 was everywhere.

So by 2014, I’d written off U2. They were unforgivably lame. Then a podcast made U2 funny. The jokes inspired me to revisit U2’s catalogue and I was shocked by what I found: music I loved on an intellectual level yet was still profoundly moved by.  I realized that at the heart of the U2 global corporate monolith, there’s something worth loving.

Any culture that’s conquered the world can seem obnoxious. “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” blares in supermarkets, restaurants and waiting rooms. “With or Without You” plays hourly at miserable Irish bars. U2’s music has been featured in Apple commercials and soundtracks for Jennifer Aniston movies, Superbowl halftime shows and more. When Bono was portrayed as human waste come to life on South Park, it felt like just another thing they did.

U2’s pomposity and do-goodery makes liking them hard. It’s weird—we don’t blink at rock star hedonism but when rock stars spend their money and name recognition on saving the world type stuff, we get deeply uncomfortable.

The do-gooder drive is embedded in U2’s music. Their music is not about sex, power and swagger. It’s weird to hear “Beautiful Day” at a bar or a party. It didn’t seem like a vibe I’d want to live compared to stuff I wholeheartedly endorse, like Guns N’ Roses, Black Sabbath, James Brown, The Flaming Lips or Run the Jewels.

But then that vibe snuck up on me. In 2014, Step Brothers actor Adam Scott and Comedy Bang Bang host Scott Aukerman aired a small batch podcast “U Talkin’ U2 To Me?” on the Earwolf network. The show was a deadpan, absurdist masterpiece. Despite its name and nominal purpose, it only rarely discussed U2. That was one of the central jokes: they’d promise encyclopedic knowledge of the band and then get the band members’ names wrong or not discuss U2 at all.

When they did discuss U2, they did so with earnest appreciation. The mix of rambling freeform jokes and serious fandom was enough to convince me to give Bono, et al, another chance. And I found myself shocked at how much I liked U2 as an adult.

U2 write hits. Their best songs have huge hooks and towering peaks. They are masters of studio trickery who leave nothing to chance—their music is a rich experience on headphones, with endless layers of gurgling electronics, echo and moaning found sounds. And while we think of them as bland hitmakers, they emerged out of post rock new wave. Their music retains new wave’s sideways approach to pop; it’s just not immediately obvious because of how catchy their songs are.

My appreciation of U2 has a lot of caveats—I’m not crazy about “Sunday Bloody Sunday” or The Joshua Tree , for example—but U2 mounted a surprise comeback in my life. They’re one of my favorite bands. I put on their music when I want to feel feelings. I have thoughts on which of their albums are the best, what deep cuts deserve more attention and their overall pros and cons–those thoughts and more will be shared here in coming days.

So check back in this space for more of me talkin’ U2 2 U.