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Achtung Baby: U2: The boom and bust of the world’s biggest band | USA

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“Everything you know is wrong.” The slogan appeared for the first time in the video for The Fly in October 1991, and it would become a refrain of the great Zoo TV Tour (1992-1993). That song, dark, rhythmic, rough and full of intelligent irony, broke radically with the sound and image that U2 had cultivated during the previous decade. The band members – Bono, The Edge, Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen Jr. – had already established themselves as the most important rock band in the world thanks to their fifth album, The Joshua Tree (1987).

At that time, the four young Dubliners were filling the biggest stadiums on the planet every night, and arousing a religious fervor among the masses. One rung above what even Bruce Springsteen could achieve, they restored authenticity to great rock music delivered on a big scale, and as an added bonus lent it a humanitarian commitment during the cruel decade of the 1980s.

Overwhelmed and plagued by insecurities, however, U2 were not enjoying themselves at all. Their next project, the documentary film and double album Rattle And Hum, backfired. What they meant to sell as a tribute to their discovery of rock’s American roots was anything but humble. Critics began to turn their backs on them and frequently used terms such as “megalomaniacs” and “messianic” to refer to the quartet.

Bono, the frontman for U2, during the ZOO TV Tour in the 1990s.
Bono, the frontman for U2, during the ZOO TV Tour in the 1990s.Gert Van Kesten (cordon press)

In the 1990s, U2 went into crisis. It began with a performance at Point Depot in their hometown on New Year’s Eve 1989 that was broadcast globally on radio and TV and where they symbolically said goodbye to the Stetson hats of Rattle And Hum, to welcome the new Europe that was emerging after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Relatively fed up with themselves, they arrived at Hansa Studios in Berlin in late 1990, a legendary place where David Bowie and Iggy Pop had recorded. Either they would reinvent themselves, or they would break apart.

The sessions were traumatic until One was conceived, symbolizing the band’s stronger union in a Germany that had just pieced itself back together. Achtung Baby was electronic and rhythmic, with a dark and sexual vibe. It featured Bono’s best lyrics and shifted the paradigm of what successful bands should do to remain influential. In a time of conflict, and with their vulnerability on the surface, U2 achieved the greatest triumph of their career. Even their biggest detractors eventually admitted that there was something interesting there.

It went even further in their live performances. The Zoo TV Tour was a great postmodern game that allowed them to laugh a little at themselves, to add theatrical effects to their show and to anticipate the new information society. With the internet still in its infancy, multi-screen messages scrolled by, and there were simultaneous video duets with Lou Reed. They called the White House, live. Among their list of opening acts they chose the Pixies, Public Enemy, The Velvet Underground, The Ramones, The Sugarcubes, Björk, PJ Harvey and Pearl Jam, proof that they wanted to nurture the next generation of alternative music.

In the middle of the tour, they did something even more unusual: they recorded and released Zooropa, the unofficial B-side of Achtung Baby. A more radical and risky album, they were only able to play a few songs live a handful of times, though the record deserves to be rescued for The Wanderer, a post-apocalyptic parable sung by Johnny Cash. U2 had become the standard-bearer of creative risk as a symbol of global triumph, a quality perhaps only shared by The Beatles, but even then some were pointing out that the emperor was walking around with no clothes on.

Bono addressing the United Nations Assembly in New York in 2008.
Bono addressing the United Nations Assembly in New York in 2008.EFE

In the penultimate chapter of The Captain Is Out to Lunch and the Sailors Have Taken Over the Ship, a memoir of Charles Bukowski’s last days, the writer describes (without naming names but it’s easy to guess) the night Bono invited him to a concert at Dodger Stadium. “There was a vibrancy there but it was short-lived. It was fairly simplistic. I suppose the lyrics were all right if you could understand them. They were probably speaking of Causes, Decencies, Love found and lost, etc. People need that – anti-establishment, anti-parent, anti-something. But a successful millionaire group like that, no matter what they said, THEY WERE NOW ESTABLISHMENT. Then, after a while, the leader said, ‘This concert is dedicated to Linda and Charles Bukowski!’ 25,000 people cheered as if they knew who we were. It is to laugh.”

U2 would never again have that agenda-setting relevance as a band at the vanguard of their era. Inspiration never resurfaced, and bad decisions began to multiply, until they became a band that arouses as much rancor as admiration. Here is a chronology of their decline in a few unfortunate milestones.

1995

Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me, recorded for the Batman Forever soundtrack, was their first bland single since Two Hearts Beat As One (1983). They released a semi-experimental album with the title Passengers, with Brian Eno as a fifth member, but it was quickly forgotten. “There’s a thin line between interesting music and self-indulgence. We crossed it on the Passengers record,” Larry Mullen would say years later in the book U2 by U2.

1997

Their ambitious new tour was already booked, but the new album Pop was not going to be finished on time. U2 didn’t seem to know what they wanted, and delayed its release several times. Some songs edged towards a more kitsch, electronic direction, and others harked back to a more mellow, classic pop rock. Meanwhile Bono was losing his voice, and the Popmart Tour was getting out of hand. A massive, expensive set-up for stadiums to make an ironic comment about consumer society seemed to miss its own point quite badly. There was a giant mechanical lemon that didn’t function properly, and the band got trapped inside on more than one occasion. For the first time in years, some concerts did not sell out, and there were boos in Barcelona when they shocked fans with a karaoke performance by The Edge of Macarena by Los del Río.

1999

Bono met Pope John Paul II on a series of visits to meet world leaders as ambassador of Jubilee 2000, a project aimed at ending the foreign debt of Third World countries. Bono let him try on his sunglasses and later declared that John Paul II was the “first funky Pontiff.”

2000

Bono produced his first and last film script for Million Dollar Hotel, directed by his friend Wim Wenders. It garnered the most devastating reviews ever obtained by the German director and even its star, Mel Gibson, said in an interview that it is “as boring as a dog’s ass.” Even Bono himself seemed to agree. Meanwhile, the album All That You Can’t Leave Behind was hailed by fans as a return to form, but with a more mainstream character. They entered into a dynamic that other groups of their generation, like R.E.M. or Depeche Mode, would also end up assuming: the same, only less. They attended the Amigo Awards ceremony in Madrid and delivered a part-playback performance of their new single, Beautiful Day. They were the big stars of the gala along with Backstreet Boys, Christina Aguilera and the Spanish band Estopa.

2002

Their performance at the Superbowl final became a tribute to the victims of 9/11 and to the United States. Bono began his interpretation of Where The Streets Have No Name by shouting “America!” and concluded it by showing the stars and stripes on the back of his jacket, reaching his peak as an emotional manipulator. Gone were the days when the singer would fly a white flag and say that the only color he saw in other flags was the color of blood.

2004

How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb delved ever more into epic-sentimental rock designed to please all audiences. The band signed an agreement with Apple and released an exclusive iPod model accompanied by a campaign in which Bono appeared singing Vertigo from screens everywhere. In the documentary From The Sky Down (2011), the vocalist declared that they had started off as punks at age 16, seeing The Clash in Dublin, and there came a time when they realized that they had become the enemy. That was what they had wanted to fight against in Achtung Baby. By now, they were clearly the enemy.

2006

The U2 company moved to the Netherlands to pay less tax, and the ensuing scandal reached the Irish parliament. The members of the group tried to justify the move with unconvincing arguments, including that they were running a global business, or that all companies try to minimize their tax burden.

2008

The group signed a 12-year contract with the multinational promoter Live Nation, which took control of a large part of the product, including management of ticket sales and merchandising. There was something hidden in the small print that would not become known until 2013: their manager Paul McGuinness, the man who had discovered them in 1978 and could be considered the fifth member of U2, would retire as part of the agreement.

U2 at their rental home in London in 1979.
U2 at their rental home in London in 1979.Foto: Getty

2009

They released No Line On The Horizon, the beginning of their trilogy of sadder albums, followed by Songs Of Innocence in 2014 and Songs Of Experience in 2017. Despite the promotional fanfare that accompanied their releases, no particular song became a hit.

2009-2011

The 360º Tour broke records in terms of global box office sales and the sheer scale of the stage set-ups, though this did not necessarily imply artistic health. There was a lot of paraphernalia, but very little substance: fans basically went to listen to old hits rendered tired-sounding by the passing of the years.

2011

U2 performed at Glastonbury. It was their first time at a festival since 1985, and their debut at the British megafestival. Under normal conditions, it should have been a triumphant concert packed with their greatest hits, but the quantity of banners asking them to pay their taxes overshadowed the music. Their performance lacked conviction.

2014

Other megastars were releasing their albums by surprise or posting them directly online (Radiohead, Bowie, Beyoncé), so U2 decided to have their album Songs Of Innocence automatically installed for free on users’ iTunes libraries… without asking for permission first. Instead of celebrating, many users protested angrily because they couldn’t delete the unwanted tracks. Faced with a barrage of protests, Apple was forced to develop an option to get rid of the record. The first spam album in history is still held up today as the perfect example of a completely misguided marketing strategy.

2017

U2′s appearance on the track XXX from Kendrick Lamar’s album Damn was announced. The rapper’s fans protested, while applauding his collaboration with Rihanna on another song. The band’s first nostalgia tour kicked off, celebrating the 30th anniversary of The Joshua Tree. Some fans were happy because the band decided to perform the album in its entirety, but others were bored by the anticlimactic sequencing of the show. Worse still: on their next tour they decided to do the complete opposite and didn’t play a single song from that album.

2021

U2′s latest release is We Are The People, the official theme song of the UEFA European Football Championship performed by Bono and The Edge together with dance music DJ and producer Martin Garrix. The song is so cheesy it’s beyond parody. If at the turn of the millennium Coldplay were hailed as the contender to take U2′s throne, here the theory that U2 are their own tribute band has been confirmed.

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Census 2022 – what difference does it make?

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Next Sunday, April 3rd, is Census night. Millions of people in homes countrywide will fill in page after page of questions, some of which are deeply personal and many of which might be unfamiliar.

But what it is it all about?

At a basic level, Census 2022 will be used to inform planning of public policy and services in the years ahead, according to the Central Statistics Office.

The questions will cover a range of environmental, employment and lifestyle issues, including the use of renewable energy sources in homes.

The questions will help inform policy development in the areas of energy and climate action, and the prevalence of internet access, to understand the availability of and need for internet connections and range of devices used to access the internet.

Questions also focus on changes in work patterns and will include the trend of working from home and childcare issues, while questions are also asked about the times individuals usually leave work, education or childcare, to help identify and plan for transport pattern needs locally and nationally.

Other topics covered include volunteering and the type of organisations volunteers choose to support, tobacco usage and the prevalence of smoke alarms in the home.

And of course there is a time capsule – the chance to write something which will be sealed for the next 100 years.

In this episode of In The News, the head of census administration Eileen Murphy and statistician Kevin Cunningham about what it all means for us.

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Oscars 2022: Will Smith makes Oscar history after slapping Chris Rock over joke about wife Jada Pinkett Smith | Culture

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Will Smith took the Oscar for Best Actor at last night’s 94th Academy Awards, but he also became the protagonist of the ceremony for other reasons. The night was following the script, until Smith slapped comedian Chris Rock on the stage after the latter made a joke about the shaved head of the former’s wife, Jada Pinkett Smith. Rock had quipped that he was “looking forward to GI Jane 2,” in reference to her look. Pinkett Smith has revealed publicly that she has alopecia. It looked as if the moment had been planned, until Smith went back to his seat and shouted: “Get my wife’s name out of your fucking mouth.”

The moment, which immediately became Oscar history but for all the wrong reasons, left the attendees with frozen smiles, and asking themselves whether it was possible that a veteran such as Smith could have lost his cool in front of tens of millions of people. After taking the prize for Best Actor, the superstar actor made a tearful apology, saying that he hoped the Academy “will invite me back.” Later on, actor Anthony Hopkins called for “peace and love,” but it was already too late. The incident overshadowed the success of CODA, which took the Oscar for Best Picture. Just like the time when Warren Beatty mistakenly named La La Land as the big winner of the night, no one will speak about anything else from last night’s awards.

At first sight, Smith’s actions looked as if they were scripted. When he first heard Rock’s joke, he laughed. But his wife was seen on camera rolling her eyes, and it was then that the actor got up onto the stage and hit Rock. When he returned to his seat he raised his voice twice to shout “Get my wife’s name out of your fucking mouth,” sending a wave of unease and shock through the attending audience. The fact that he used the f-word, which is prohibited on US television, set alarm bells ringing that this was real and not a planned moment. In fact, the curse word was censored by the broadcaster, ABC, in the United States.

During a break, Smith’s PR manager approached him to speak. In the press room, which the actor skipped after collecting his prize, instructions were given to the journalists not to ask questions about the incident, Luis Pablo Beauregard reports. The next presenter, Sean “Diddy” Combs, tried to calm the situation. “Will and Chris, we’re going to solve this – but right now we’re moving on with love,” the rapper said.

When Smith took to the stage to collect his Best Actor award for his role as Richard Williams – the father of tennis stars Venus and Serena – in King Richard, he referred to the character as “a fierce defender of his family.” He continued: “I’m being called on in my life to love people and to protect people and to be a river to my people. I know to do what we do you’ve got to be able to take abuse, and have people talk crazy about you and have people disrespecting you and you’ve got to smile and pretend it’s OK.”

He explained that fellow actor Denzel Washington, who also spoke to Smith during a break, had told him: “At your highest moment, be careful, that’s when the devil comes for you.”

“I want to be a vessel for love,” Smith continued. “I want to be an ambassador of that kind of love and care and concern. I want to apologize to the Academy and all my fellow nominees. […] I look like the crazy father just like they said about Richard Williams, but love will make you do crazy things,” he said. He then joked about his mother, who had not wanted to come to the ceremony because she had a date with her crochet group.

The Los Angeles Police Department released a statement last night saying that Chris Rock would not be filing any charges for assault against Smith. “LAPD investigative entities are aware of an incident between two individuals during the Academy Awards program,” the statement read. “The incident involved one individual slapping another. The individual involved has declined to file a police report. If the involved party desires a police report at a later date, LAPD will be available to complete an investigative report.”

On December 28, Pinkett Smith spoke on social media about her problems with alopecia. She stated that she would be keeping her head shaved and would be dealing with the condition with humor. “Me and this alopecia are going to be friends… Period!” she wrote on Instagram.



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House-price inflation set to stay double digit for much of 2022

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House-price inflation is expected to remain at double-digit levels for much of 2022 as the mismatch between what is for sale and what buyers want continues.

Two new reports on the housing market paint a picture of a sector under strain due to a lack of supply and increased demand driven by Covid-related factors such as remote working.

The two quarterly reports, one each from rival property websites myhome.ie and daft.ie, suggest asking prices accelerated again in the first quarter of 2022 as the stock of homes available for sale slumped to a new record low.

Myhome, which is owned by The Irish Times, said annual asking-price inflation was now running at 12.3 per cent.

Price

This put the median or typical asking price for a home nationally at €295,000, and at €385,000 in Dublin.

MyHome said the number of available properties for sale on its website fell to a record low of 11,200 in March, down from a pre-pandemic level of 19,000. The squeeze on supply, it said, was most acute outside Dublin, with the number of properties listed for sale down almost 50 per cent compared with pre-pandemic levels.

It said impaired supply and robust demand meant double-digit inflation is likely until at least mid-2022.

“Housing market conditions have continued to tighten,” said author of the myhome report, Davy chief economist Conall Mac Coille.

“The broad picture of the market in early 2022 remains similar to last year: impaired supply coupled with robust demand due to Ireland’s strong labour market,” he said.

Soure: MyHome.ie

“One chink of light is that new instructions to sell of 7,500 in the first 11 weeks of 2022 are well up from 4,800 in 2021, albeit still below the 9,250 in 2019. The flow of new properties therefore remains impaired,” said Mr Mac Coille.

“Whatever new supply is emerging is being met by more than ample demand. Hence, transaction volumes in January and February were up 13 per cent on the year but pushed the market into ever tighter territory,” he said.

He said Davy was now predicting property-price inflation to average 7 per cent this year, up from a previous forecast of 4.5 per cent, buoyed strong employment growth.

Homes

Daft, meanwhile, said house asking prices indicated the average listed price nationwide in the first quarter of 2022 was €299,093, up 8.4 per cent on the same period in 2021 and and just 19 per cent below the Celtic Tiger peak, while noting increases remain smaller in urban areas, compared to rural.

Just 10,000 homes were listed for sale on its website as of March 1st, an all-time low. In Dublin, Cork and Galway cities, prices in the first quarter of 2022 were roughly 4 per cent higher on average than a year previously, while in Limerick and Waterford cities the increases were 7.6 per cent and 9.3 per cent respectively.

The report’s author, Trinity College Dublin economist Ronan Lyons, said: “Inflation in housing prices remains stubbornly high – with Covid-19 disturbing an equilibrium of sorts that had emerged, with prices largely stable in 2019 but increasing since.

“As has been the case consistently over the last decade, increasing prices – initially in Dublin and then elsewhere – reflect a combination of strong demand and very weak supply.”


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