Scientific research uncovers old U2 slightly better than new U2; Eef Barzelay (Clem Snide), Brother Ali, Skypiper Saturday; PUJOL Sunday…

Category: Blog — Tags: , , , — @ 1:11 pm September 12, 2014
Back when U2 were at their best...

When U2 were at their best…

by Tim McMahan,

A follow-up to a post from Tuesday, where I wrote about U2 giving away copies of their new album, Songs of Innocence, via iTunes. An online tussle broke out afterward as to whether the album is any good. I suggested that it sounds like Coldplay. Others disagreed (even though it, indeed, sounds just like Coldplay).

But furthermore, a discussion arose as to whether veteran artists can capture the excitement heard on recordings from the early days of their careers. Some adamantly said “no,” others (such as myself) said that some artists can create relevant, important music at any age.

John Mürren II, he of the umlaut, decided that it was a question for science. His comment:

“Beyond the fact that ‘good’ is subjective, it’s hardly surprising that music we are hearing as 30/40/50 year olds from a band that’s been around for 40 years doesn’t hit us the same as the stuff we heard in our teens and twenties. If you went to some teenager who has never heard U2 and had them choose between (U2’s new album) and ‘War,’ I’ll bet they’d chose the new album. (It’s) every bit as good a U2 album as ‘Hot Sauce Committee’ was a good Beasties album.”

Were that it possible to prove, I said. “My kids couldn’t care less about U2,” Mürren II said. “I’ll try it on them.”

And that’s exactly what he did. The next day, Mürren II posted his findings.

So in a totally non-scientific test, I used my kids (6 and 12) as test subjects to see if old U2 is really ‘better’ than new U2, or do we old people just think so due to our attachment to the old stuff. I figured they are good subjects, being too young to really know much about U2 and having no emotional attachment or memories tied in to any of their work. I played 3 groups of 2 songs, each group having one song from the new album and one from an old one. I didn’t tell them why I was having them chose or which songs was older/newer.”

Group One: “New Year’s Day” (from 1983’s War) and (new song) “The Miracle (of Joey Ramone).” Results: Jack: “Both are really good!” Dakota chose “The Miracle.” Notes: Dakota thought “New Year’s Day” sounded like The Police.

Group Two: (new song) “Raised By Wolves” and “I Will Follow” (from their 1980 debut Boy). Results: Both preferred “I Will Follow.” Notes: Dakota thought both songs sounded really similar; “These guys don’t have a lot of melodic ideas.” Mürren II gushed with pride: “Yes, I am *VERY* proud that my 12 year old busts out those kinds of sentences.”

Group Three: “Cedarwood Road” and “Bullet The Blue Sky” from 1987’s The Joshua Tree. Results: Jack: “Cedarwood Road.” Dakota: “Bullet The Blue Sky.” Notes: “Dakota didn’t really like either, but disliked ‘Bullet the Blue Sky’ less because it ‘wasn’t as annoying,’ a statement which was followed by him imitating Bono warbling in a high voice. So there you have it.”

My reaction:

1. Ages 6 and 12 are pretty young to be doing this study. I was in high school when I first heard War, which, in my mind, was ground breaking. That said, you could argue Mürren II’s children have the advantage of being subjected to sophisticated 21st Century music. Their experience has probably included sizable helpings of Shania Twain, Katy Perry and Bieber, while in 1983, most people were rocking to “Mr. Roboto,” Flashdance, Duran Duran and Prince. I was living on a steady diet of Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd, as were most teen-aged nerds and dirt heads who lived in the outer banks we call Ft. Calhoun.

Furthermore, I experienced the genius of U2’s Under a Blood Red Sky while driving around in my 1978 Ford Fiesta with my first real girlfriend, who eventually stole my Under a Blood Red Sky T-shirt and never gave it back. What I’m saying here is that I wasn’t just experiencing the music, I was experiencing LIFE. Who knows what music will be held close to Jack’s and Dakota’s hearts when they reach those crazy high school years.

2. If I were doing the experiment, I wouldn’t have included anything released after 1983. I consider Joshua Tree to be a completely different U2 than the band we heard on that famous Red Rocks recording (when, in my opinion, they were at their peak).

3. The entire question as to whether a veteran artist can today produce music as vital as when s/he first had his/her mark dismisses the basic premiss that “new” will almost always trump “familiar.” And that’s become a problem, especially in the “Free Music Era” when kids can get their hands on anything they want in seconds, and are more apt to be attracted to a shiny new object rather than the dull second or third release by the band that was hot two years ago. I have no doubt a lot of great music has been dismissed without ever being heard because the performers are “yesterday’s news.” You’re lucky if you get one hit record these days (especially if you’re an indie band). Follow-ups can be a bitch. “New Arcade Fire? No thanks, I already own Funeral.”

4. I’d like to have our test subjects listen to an entire early U2 album followed by Songs of Innocence in its entirety. But do kids even listen to entire albums anymore? Smart ones do.

5. A more accurate experiment: Go back in time and play Songs of Innocence and War for a teen-aged Tim McMahan and see which he likes better. I think I know the answer.

Hats off to JMII and his brood for the science!

* * *

Alright, onto the weekend…

Tonight, my nephew’s death metal band Blessed Are the Merciless plays at The Waiting Room with a bevy of growl-y death metal bands. Earplugs, earplugs, earplugs. 8 p.m., $8.

Also tonight Matt Whipkey plays at 311 tribute bar The Hive, 1207 Harney St. No cover listed, but their website says Friday and Saturday night cover is $5 to $10 for men, and “ladies are free.” Welcome to 1985. Starts at 8.

Saturday night, Eef Barzelay of Clem Snide is doing a house show in a living room somewhere in Midtown Omaha. Find out where by buying a ticket from the Undertow website. $20, 8 p.m.

Also Saturday night, Rhymesayers Entertainment artist Brother Ali plays at The Waiting Room with Bambu and DJ Last Word. Indie hip-hop at its best. $15, 8 p.m.

Skypiper plays at fabulous O’Leaver’s Saturday night with Nashville folkwave band Field Division and Lincoln’s Blét. $5, 9:30 p.m.

Finally, Sunday night Saddle Creek Records band PUJOL plays at the club The Washington Post said saved North Downtown Omaha, The Slowdown (Jr.). Opening is Oketo and our very own DJ Dave Goldberg. Tix are $8 today and $10 DOS. 9 p.m.

Did I miss your show? Put it in the comments section. Have a great weekend.

* * *

Read Tim McMahan’s blog daily at — an online music magazine that includes feature interviews, reviews and news. The focus is on the national indie music scene with a special emphasis on the best original bands in the Omaha area. Copyright © 2014 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.

1 Comment »

  • Free Matt Cox Band show at Harney Street Tavern, 9pm to 12am.

    Comment by Emily — September 12, 2014 @ 2:36 pm

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