Credit Brantley Gutierrez
U2, the Irish band formed way back in 1976, has long been feeling like a lonely upholder of the mantle of the Big Rock Band: the kind that headlines stadiums and lodges songs deep in the public consciousness. Its pealing guitars and martial beat have cast a long musical shadow over all the bands in its wake — from Coldplay to OneRepublic to Imagine Dragons — who strive to write high-minded rock anthems. Yet U2 has also sought to expand, and at times escape, its own signature sound.
U2 tends to labor extensively over its albums, and the one it has promised to release in 2014 — with its title still a secret at press time — has been in the works since U2 offered “No Line on the Horizon” in 2009. There were detours for Bono and the Edge to write the music for the ill-starred Broadway show “Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark” and for U2’s worldwide stadium tour, with sets that often included unreleased songs. The band has also been announcing, and changing, plans for the new album since 2009, at times considering the release of both a second album from the “No Line on the Horizon” sessions or an album of club-oriented music.
The two new songs to emerge recently from U2 have stayed in anthem mode: “Ordinary Love,” from the biopic “Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom,” and “Invisible.” But there’s no guarantee that these songs define the album. The long list of producers that U2 has been working with over the last few years could also point elsewhere. It includes not only Danger Mouse of Gnarls Barkley and Broken Bells, Ryan Tedder of OneRepublic and Adele’s collaborator Paul Epworth, but also will.i.am from the Black Eyed Peas and dance-music specialists like RedOne and David Guetta (whose own single “Lovers on the Sun” has more than a hint of U2 in it). U2 has revitalized itself before with electronic dance music; that’s what it did in 1991 with “Achtung Baby.” But until the full album emerges from its long gestation, it’s anyone’s guess how U2 hears itself in the 2010s.