During lunch today I went to Easy Street Records in West Seattle and bought the new tribute to Bruce Springsteen’s 1984 album, Born in the USA, titled Dead Man’s Town (more about this in a future post). When I got back to my computer I went to Pitchfork to look for a review of the album. They didn’t have one up yet, so I clicked on their review for U2’s new free album, Songs of Innocence and read this:
Time was, the recipe for a superstar artist to create a Big Event Album was well known—a few teaser ads in the music mags, a lead single for radio, some late-night talk show appearances, then sit back and watch the fans line up at the record store on release day. But now that basically every entity in that sentence has been culturally marginalized, and the propeller churn of social media refuses to tolerate slow-burn marketing, the best—and, perhaps, only—way to get everyone talking about your record at once is to release it with no warning. U2 being U2, they’ve taken that strategy one step over the line into indisputably queasy territory, aligning with their old friends Apple to insert their new album, Songs of Innocence, into all of our libraries without consent. By updating the old Columbia House Record Club scam to the digital age, U2 and their Cupertino buddies have created a new avenue of opt-out cultural transmission, removing even the miniscule effort it takes to go to a website and click “Download.”
I immediately picked up my iPhone and opened iTunes to see if the new U2 album was there. It was.
Apple and U2 pushed the album to my iTunes and didn’t even bother to ask if I wanted it? They can do that? Well of course they can, but they actually thought about it and decided it was a good thing to push albums on to everyone’s devices with no opt out?
I hardly ever listen to music on my phone because I haven’t heard an MP3 file yet that was worthy of listening. The sound quality is terrible, and I can only stand listening to them in a pinch like when I’m on an airplane, on a bus, or stuck in a snowstorm somewhere without access to quality music. (Read all about it in this Guardian article if you are interested). But I digress…
The point is I don’t put very much music on my iPhone. I think I might have around 30 albums on it, but they are 30 very carefully chosen albums that I know I would enjoy listening to at any time anywhere. My 30 desert-island discs. But now there’s an album on my phone that I’ve never even listened to. I’ve only heard part of one song on a TV ad for the new album. I might not ever listen to it on my phone because MP3. Why would I? The Pitchfork review wasn’t very good – they gave it a numerical rating of 4.2 out of 10.
I think U2 and Apple have crossed a line with their brash decision to force an album onto users of Apple devices without notice and without an option to decline. Most people aren’t going to like this move no matter how much they might like their Apple products or U2.