U2 – Invisible: New music
While not a single proper, the electro-tinged Invisible is apparently a 'sneak preview of U2's forthcoming 13th album.
Invisible is the second song in as many months to be released by U2 and yet we're seemingly still no closer to an actual announcement about their much-delayed 13th studio album. "We have another song we're excited about to kick off the album," Bono told Rolling Stone when announcing Invisible, a new song (but not a single) that soundtracked an advert for the charity Red during last night's Super Bowl. "This is just sort of a sneak preview – to remind people we exist," he continued. While that last statement might seem a bit ridiculous coming from a man whose band have sold upwards of 150m records during their near-40 year career, it's also telling given the relatively muted response afforded their 2009 album No Line on the Horizon. So while November's Ordinary Love was U2 in default mode, the brittle, electronic passage that opens Invisible is something of a surprise, coming on more like Joy Division than Coldplay-covering-U2-covering-Coldplay. Of course, by the time the sky-scraping chorus crashes in, ushered by some typically chiming guitars, the whole thing shifts and we're on safer ground, but there's a more textured, characterful feel to it all. By the final coda of "there is no them, there's only us", which is the sort of chant-worthy rock lyric you'd expect from U2, you sort of feel happy to have them back.
U2 get maximum Super Bowl visibility
Bono and U2's new single 'Invisible', which was premiered in a halftime advert during the Super Bowl, is a song made for pop radio formats says Neil McCormick
"You don't see me ... but you will," sang Bono at Super Bowl half-time on Sunday. It was no idle promise. U2 used America's most coveted and expensive TV advertising slot to launch their comeback before a television audience in excess of 100 million. Their new single may be called Invisible but its aim is to achieve maximum visibility for the return of (arguably) the world's biggest and most divisive rock band.
At first, the single itself seems surprisingly modest. Sleek and tight, built on a perky drum machine and bass synth rhythm, it mixes pulsing Kraftwerk electro and chugging pop rock guitars with an initially understated and very Eighties retro feel. The chorus surges in a manner reminiscent of their early hit New Year's Day but the band seem almost at pains not to get too grandiose, aiming instead for a kind of insistent, earworm poppiness. It is certainly not the kind of stadium scale anthem fans (and, indeed, detractors) have come to expect but the hookline reveals its ambition. Bono twists the modest title by insisting "I am not Invisible" and it is fair to assume we will be hearing a lot more of U2 in the year to come.
When they finished their 360 world tour in 2011, the band appeared to be beset by an uncharacteristic crisis of confidence. Although it was the highest-grossing pop tour in history, their 2009 album No Line On The Horizon was widely deemed a creative and commercial disappointment, and failed to deliver any big singles. Frontman Bono openly questioned whether the band could remain relevant and insisted "We have to make hits if we are to survive."
Reflecting their determination not to become a vintage, nostalgia act, the four piece have spent much of the past three years writing, recording, rejecting and refining a vast amount of new material, enough for several different albums by some accounts. They have been working principally with ultra-hip American producer Brian Burton (aka Danger Mouse), a leftfield maverick who has scored his own pop hits with Cee Lo Green in Gnarls Barkley, and collaborated with such cult artists as Beck, Damon Albarn's Gorillaz and neo-blues duo The Black Keys.
The first fruits of their labours suggest that U2 are scaling down their rocky sound for a contemporary pop world of small speakers and social network song sharing where digital genre bending electronica reigns supreme. Their Oscar nominated theme song for Mandela, Ordinary Love, was a subdued, stripped back, atmospheric ballad. Invisible seems to confirm an unsuspected taste for musical understatement.
However, there is nothing understated about the marketing campaign, which is what this is really all about. Thirty-second advertising spots at the Super Bowl command fees in the region of 4 million dollars. U2 are launching their new recording in conjunction with Bank of America. You can download it free for 24 hours, with each download generating a dollar donation to (RED), a global charitable fund set up by Bono in 2006 (up to a ceiling of two million dollars). It does seem a slightly odd arrangement, with a bank effectively underwriting the band's marketing with charitable donations. It's the kind of thing sure to annoy Bono 's many critics: good works and self-promotion rolled into one.
It means the single will not be eligible for the charts but I am not sure that matters. They have effectively made a song for pop radio formats that don't play old rock bands anymore, and come up with a way to deliver it straight to a mass audience. Judging by knee jerk Twitter and Facebook response, U2's dedicated fan base seem to be supportive of the band's new direction but the band will want to be seen as more than just a heritage act.
Lyrically, the song seems a subtle comment on the world's dispossessed, and by that I don't think Bono means old rock stars. He is addressing the global poor, especially perhaps the immigrant populations who work for low wages yet attract so much political opprobrium. "There's only us, there is no them," sings Bono in the coda. But while the artistic intent may be to speak for the invisible masses, the commercial drive is surely all about putting the U2 brand where a younger audience will not be able to avoid it.