U2 doesn’t do anything small.
In the midst of Super Bowl Sunday the band dropped a teaser commercial for their brand new song “Invisible.” You know, a modest, subtle way to announce a song’s release.
In all seriousness, the track, which was available for free on iTunes for a 24-hour period, was released to help promote (RED), the AIDS charity. The release helped generate $3 million for the charity as Bank of America matched every free download with a $1 donation to (RED). If you’d like to make a donation and download the song, click here. That’s one hell of an accomplishment for a great cause.
We firmly believe you should download the song to support this charity. It’s an awesome cause and $1 for a song isn’t hurting many people’s wallets. With that being said, the purpose of this week’s column will be an examination of whether the new single from the biggest band in the land is worth listening to after purchase or if it should remain on the shelf collecting dust.
Nick Porcaro: What an apt title for the new U2 single. I mean, really, where does U2 fit in the modern pop landscape? They’re one of the only rock bands that can still sell out stadiums but their last relevant single, “Beautiful Day”, was released over a decade ago. Bands like Arcade Fire, The 1975, M83 and even Coldplay continue to push the arena rock sound light years beyond the Irish quartet’s once-revolutionary approach.
On this latest single, however, Bono and The Edge trot out more of the same strained vocal histrionics and sparse guitar riffs. As always, the unremarkable rhythm section of Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen, Jr. seems content to phone and cash in with a static, soulless groove. The last time we heard U2 at their fired-up best was on “Magnificent”, the standout second single from 2009’s No Line on the Horizon. “Magnificent” has tension, dynamics, passion, smoldering vocals, undulating rhythm, and that indefatigable sense of musical wonder only U2 can conjure.
Meanwhile “Invisible” is lyrically vague and musically predictable. A synth bass line and drum machine beat start things off in a manner reminiscent of 1997’s Pop. Bono sings of heartbreak, and the independence it can bring, with only a passing reference to his father for substance. We get another patented Soaring U2 Chorus yet this one is just too wordy to stick around past the song’s conclusion. But the best part of this song, by far, is the opening melody which doubles as the bridge. It’s no surprise the crowd in that Super Bowl commercial can be heard singing along with the simple, infectious refrain of “There is no them, there’s only us”…though really, it’s a rather bland sentiment.
Danger Mouse, the well-regarded producer of this track, hit the studio with U2 in 2010. That means four years of hard work went into their upcoming collaboration, give or take a few months off—and therein lies the rub. The band is so precise, so calculated in their approach that songs like “Invisible” sound familiar on first listen but lifeless after any scrutiny. U2 may still get to hang with the big boys of the NFL after all this time, but even on the most-watched television event of the year their soul remains invisible. Verdict: One and Done.
Mike Heyliger: This is U2 on auto-pilot. Not an awful song by any means, but certainly not up to their usual high standard. Meh. Verdict: One and done for me.
Kelly O’Dowd: Where is that line where the band you’re trying to imitate, become the imitator? If I didn’t know this was U2 going into hearing this song, I would have guessed either Coldplay or The Killers. Is U2 irrelevant now? Long gone are the days of “Sunday, Bloody Sunday.” While Bono may have some recognition with his charity work, can the band create excitement with a song that reminds the listener that they are listening to U2?
I’m afraid not.
That’s not to say there’s nothing to enjoy here. The verses tell a story of heartbreak and recovery; the melody that gets stuck in your head is pleasant enough; the message is quite a worthy one. But these same things that are enjoyable are also the downfall of the song. “Invisible” remains in the background; the only rememberable part is the bridge/ending “There is no them/ There’s only us.” Since it’s part of the (RED) campaign, it’s a fantastic message. But to pair this empowering idea of togetherness with the weak “storyline” of a broken heart diminishes the message. You forget why the song is called “Invisible.”
It’s sad really. Something with Bono’s conviction shouldn’t be something that can be so easily overlooked. But it is. Verdict: One and Done
Jason Kundrath: U2 is magic. Their sound is powerful and unmistakable. The band has firmly cemented their legacy in the annals of music history several times over. Only the Rolling Stones can pull rank on these guys, but then consider that U2’s original lineup remains intact AND they’ve actually released relevant music more recently than 1989.
That said, “Invisible” is just OK. It has all the U2 touchstones: the deep, steady groove, the Edge’s expansive guitar work, Bono’s soaring vocals. But something doesn’t quite click here. I’m not knocking the boys for avoiding new territory. They do what they do. But this song seems to lack the cohesion and the hooks of their best work.
Still, when the Edge’s guitar opens up in the first chorus? There’s that magic again. Hell, this song could be a hit. Verdict: Add to the playlist.
Jason Stives: Now this is how U2 should sound. After two albums worth of what I view as their weakest efforts (yes, I respect Zooropa‘s experimentation) this might be a sign of great things to come for the Irish quartet. Every hallmark that makes a great U2 song is here with an eye for the electronic based 2010s.
Grandeur has always been prominent in U2 and it’s here in spades. Opening in a “Beautiful Day” esque build it starts with a Kraftwerk electronic intro slowly meshing with both a signature Edge guitar riff and the work of Danger Mouse. Without a visual Bono releases the stadium rock vocals cut with revolutionary anthem style lyrics about individuality being bigger than one believes themselves to be. This is the closest that U2 has been to U2 in awhile and in the age of the 360 claw, Super Bowl spots and limited edition iPods this is U2 reestablishing relevancy and truly giving it their all. Verdict: Add to Playlist
Bill Bodkin: U2 is probably one of my favorite acts of all-time but they haven’t wowed me at with much of anything since All That You Can’t Leave Behind. Yet, there’s this track. “Invisible” has been done better by other bands like Coldplay but, still it has something. It has hints of that vintage U2 that gets you a little emotional, that hits you in the soul. And when you compare it to the majority of tracks from How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb or No Line on the Horizon, “Invisible” seems like the best thing ever. Like Mike said, this U2 on autopilot, but I’m good with it. The vocals and guitar still soar, still give a little tingle up the spine, it still has staying power, but the heart and gusto just isn’t there like the old days. It’s not U2’s finest work at all, but in the modern era of the band, it’s a definite improvement. This song has already gotten multiple listens from me so, I give it my seal of approval. Verdict: Add to the Playlist.
Final Verdict: Like we said earlier, we encourage you to purchase the song in order to help support (RED). However, when it comes to whether this worth more than one listen or if you should add this to any playlist, we are hopelessly deadlocked.