‘New U2’ Album Is So New It’s Illegal
Los Angeles Times by Patrick Goldstein (1991-05-19)
‘New U2’ Album Is So New It’s Illegal
May 19, 1991|PATRICK GOLDSTEIN
Call it the ultimate underground album.
Rock radio isn’t playing it. Record stores won’t sell it. The band’s record company hasn’t even heard of it.
But U2 fans, both in America and across much of Europe, have quietly been taping and circulating a bootleg four-album set of rough, sometimes unfinished mixes of the band’s long-awaited new album. Titled “The New U2: Rehearsals and Full Versions,” the album is being sold with two discs to a jacket, offering nearly 30 new songs, including such possible new material as “She’s Gonna Blow Your House Down,” “Sweet Baby Jane,” “I Feel Free,” “Don’t Say Goodbye” and “Don’t Let the Dues Get You Down.”
It’s impossible to say how many copies of the bootleg exist. But the album has caused an immediate stir, especially with U2 having been out of the public eye for the past two years. Many superstar rock bands have seen their live material or studio outtakes bootlegged, but not until after the group’s new album has surfaced. In this case, “The New U2” arrives while the band is still recording, with its album untitled and not scheduled for release until October.
“What makes this almost unprecedented is that these are tapes of songs that aren’t even finished yet,” says Pete Howard, publisher of the International CD Exchange newsletter, who says he received the bootleg from an anonymous subscriber. “Some of the songs sound close to being final versions, but others are still instrumentals without vocal tracks. You can even hear (lead singer) Bono signaling the band to go into a bridge or chorus.”
Howard, who made it clear he has not copied the bootleg or played it for anyone, says he thinks it has the makings of a “really strong” album. “It reminds me a lot of U2 during its ‘Unforgettable Fire’ era. But it raises all sorts of huge potential problems. These people aren’t just passing around tapes. They’re pressing records. With U2 fans being as fanatical as they are, you’d have to assume that with the ease of today’s copying processes, that these tapes could multiply at an incredible speed.”
News of the bootleg hasn’t gone over well with U2 or Island Records, which took out a full-page ad in the British pop publication Music Week, warning record stores that the label will “take legal proceedings” against anyone selling the bootlegs. Island general manager Andy Allen added: “We take the same position here that our counterparts have in England. We will vigorously prosecute these bootleggers.”
Bandleader Bono could not be reached directly, but through a press spokesman he lambasted the bootlegs as “gobbledygook—I don’t know why anyone would be interested in them.”
According to the U2 grapevine, the bootleg tapes were obtained after the band left rough mixes in a Berlin hotel trash can, where they were retrieved by curious hotel chambermaids. U2 insiders suspect that the tapes date back to the band’s recording sessions last year at Berlin’s Hansa Studios. But a spokesman insisted: “It’s impossible to fathom the band leaving these tapes in the hotel trash. They would always be under lock and key.”
Legally, the band has every right to suppress the bootlegs—if they can find them. “You only register the copyright for songs when the album comes out, but the copyright protection is in effect as soon as you finish cutting the song,” explains Peter Paterno, a former entertainment attorney who now runs Hollywood Records. “I’d get the RIAA to try and confiscate the tapes. But it’s not such a terrible thing for the band. I think people will go out and buy the real thing too.”
Radio programmers, citing a recent incident where Geffen Records sued rock station WMMS-FM in Cleveland for airing a bootleg copy of a new Guns N’ Roses song, say they would think twice before airing any U2 material. And Bob Say, general manager of the trend-setting Moby Disc record store chain, says the retail bootleg market in Los Angeles has completely dried up.
“You’d have to be crazy to sell a bootleg in this day and age,” he explains. “Nobody wants to take a chance on getting busted. Anyway, having a U2 bootleg out right now—with all the press attention it’s bound to get—wouldn’t be such a bad thing.
“We barely sell any of their records anymore. It’s the same with Bruce Springsteen—it’s almost embarrassing how few albums he sells. So to get a lot of attention focused on a bootleg would get the band’s name out in public, which might be good for them right now.”