Fresh off the Oscars, the band quietly delays its fall tour and album, while inviting Ryan Tedder and Paul Epworth into the studio
The media blitz U2 has enjoyed during the first two months of 2014 has been virtually unrivaled - unless you're maybe Pharrell Williams and his Vivienne Westwood hat. Since mid-January, the band has won a Golden Globe; performed at the premiere of "The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon" and the March 2 Academy Awards; appeared on the cover of The Hollywood Reporter; and starred in a Super Bowl commercial funded by Bank of America and (RED) that debuted the track "Invisible."
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Such momentum certainly signaled a proper return to music and touring was in the cards for U2 in 2014. The group had been diligently working with producer Danger Mouse (aka Brian Burton) on an album still described as "unfinished" in mid-February to The Hollywood Reporter. Billboard has confirmed with multiple sources, however, that the album has now been pushed back until 2015, with the band recently scheduling additional sessions with producers Ryan Tedder and Paul Epworth. (Danger Mouse remains onboard as the project's central producer.) "It seems to be taking longer for them to finish an album as they get older, but the great thing about U2 is that the whole of a record is always better than the sum of its parts," says a source close to the project. "That magic that the band always seems to capture ... they have yet to capture it."
While an Interscope representative maintains that with a release date never announced the album shouldn't be considered delayed, Billboard has learned that a tour initially on track for a mid-March announcement and September start date, booked by Live Nation's Global Touring division, will now begin in summer 2015. Delays are nothing new in the world of U2 - the band's 360° Tour, itself set back with postponements related to the making of 2009's No Line on the Horizon, went on to become the highest-grossing tour of all time, with more than $737 million in receipts from three legs in 2010 and 2011, according to Billboard Boxscore. Live Nation, which declined to comment for this story, would of course always love to have U2 dates on the books for any given year. But at best, the band would only have been on the road in the fourth quarter, and any dates that would have happened in 2014 will be made up next year. (Live Nation Entertainment had a record year in 2013, even without top-grossers U2 or Madonna on the road, reporting a whopping 19 percent increase in concert attendance and total revenue up 11 percent to $6.4 billion.)
No one has struggled more with U2's living legacy than Bono himself, who's spoken about the next album (U2's 13th) and its many challenges in recent years. At a September 2011 press conference at the Toronto Film Festival, Bono, 53, feared the band was "really close to the edge of relevance," noting "there's a giant chasm between the very good and the great, and U2 right now has a danger of surrendering to the very good." He reiterated those sentiments to The Hollywood Reporter in February when he noted that "to be relevant is a lot harder than to be successful." Such remarks were no doubt prompted in part by 2009 album No Line on the Horizon's disappointing sales figures, which at 1.1 million units in the United States were a third of 2004's How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb (3.3 million) and a fourth of 2000's All That You Can't Leave Behind (4.4 million), according to Nielsen SoundScan.
And U2's first two new tracks since No Line on the Horizon, though never officially touted as singles, have both gotten off to relatively quiet starts. "Ordinary Love," the Oscar-nominated song composed for Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom, has sold 115,000 copies, peaking at No. 99 on the Billboard Hot 100 and No. 45 on the Digital Songs chart for the week ending March 2. "Invisible," initially launched through the Super Bowl, was downloaded for free 3 million times globally as part of a 24-hour campaign with iTunes, (RED) and Bank of America, thus making those downloads ineligible for Billboard's charts. The song has since started picking up steam at radio, peaking at No. 28 on the Alternative airplay chart and No. 15 on Rock Songs, with sales of 64,000 copies to date.
Teaming with current hitmakers like Tedder and Epworth, both key players in Adele's best-selling 21, would appear to be U2's play to take a step back from the "edge of relevance," as Bono said. As does tapping Guy Oseary to take the day-to-day reins of management while longtime manager Paul McGuinness goes into semi-retirement. (Live Nation acquired Oseary's Maverick Entertainment and McGuinness' Principle Management in November for a reported $30 million.)
Tedder, a previous U2 tourmate with his band OneRepublic, told Billboard in October that the current success of his group's spiritually minded "Counting Stars" was in line with the thoughts Bono shared with him about U2's approach to songwriting. "He said, 'I feel a responsibility to actually write and sing about things that have a level of human gravity to them,'" Tedder recalled, adding, "I have a feeling I'll be around [Bono] a lot more in the coming years."
Additional reporting by Ray Waddell.