U2 2021 Review

Original Story by Aaron J. Sams (2021-12-31)

2021 comes to a close today. As always, we like to take a few moments to look back on the year that is ending and share some of the U2 releases that have been out this year. We maintain an extensive U2 discography in the background, which is constantly being updated, and links in this article will lead you to more information on each release published there. We’ll take a look at the new content released by the band, both commercially and for promotion. We’ll take a look at other projects they’ve been involved in such as updates to the YouTube channel and their radio station.

Your Song Saved My Life

U2 released a single new song this year, the single “Your Song Saved My Life” is featured at the end of the movie Sing 2 and was released as a standalone digital single. The song was supported by two videos, including a lyric video using Bono’s doodles and handwriting, and a video in conjunction with Education Through Music featuring kids who are working with that project in Los Angeles. Promotional releases were done via digital services only, and featured a number of alternate mixes of the title track. Two longer versions of the song include an added lyric, “Yes, your song saved my life, It’s what got me to the other side, I was broken now I’m hoping your love keeps me alive.” Another shorter promotional edit of the song also exists. The song was produced by Declan Gaffney, Jacknife Lee and Martin Garrix.

The single was also released as part of the Sing 2 Soundtrack, which also features some additional U2 related content. Bono sings “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” with Scarlett Johannson. Scarlett sings a solo version of “Stuck in a Moment You Can’t Get Out Of” and the cast (without Bono) perform “Where the Streets Have No Name”. The CD was released earlier this month and it’s available on digital stores now, but if you want the soundtrack on vinyl it’s coming out in late January.

The Virtual Road

During the pandemic U2 have been revisiting previously released home videos and providing home streaming opportunities. In 2020 the band streamed their Experience + Innocence tour video from Berlin, the Zoo TV Live from Sydney show, the Vertigo live from Chicago show and the Elevation live from Boston shows through their own website. These videos were upgraded to a high definition format.

In March and April of this year U2 took us on “The Virtual Road” streaming four additional live concert videos on YouTube. Each was available for 24-48 hours to stream, in a high resolution. The videos were all upgraded to a high definition format and included the Elevation show live from Slane Castle, U2’s performance at Red Rocks on the War tour, the PopMart Live from Mexico City video, and the Innocence + Experience tour video from Paris.

And to celebrate each show there was a four song EP released to digital services. Each of these included four live songs from the concert shown, often in high resolution audio formats. The full list of EPs are listed below. Merchandise including T-Shirts and prints were sold through U2’s store online.

40th Anniversary Releases

For the 40th anniversary we had two singles reissued. “Fire” was released for Record Store Day in July, and featured the original B-Side, “J. Swallow” as well as two live recordings of the song, both from 1982. The release was a picture disc in a PVC outer sleeve. All of the songs had previously been released. “Gloria” was released for the Black Friday Record Store Day event in November and was a much more satisfying release. The release was a colour 12-inch single, with a poster, and new picture sleeve. The single featured the studio version of the song plus three live versions, one for each decade. Two of these live versions had never been released, and the third was only available in “The Complete U2”.

30th Anniversary “Achtung Baby”

Can you believe it’s been 30 years since Achtung Baby? Neither can we. The anniversary was celebrated with the release of a digital box set, containing no new material, but making 4 of the discs from the 2011 Uber edition available on digital store fronts and streaming services for the first time.

Two vinyl editions were done as well. A black 12-inch vinyl recording contains just the album across two discs and included a special poster. Reports reached us that many copies were sold without the special poster, which resulted in some copies being recalled from stores.

The other pressing was on limited red and blue vinyl discs. Each was packed with a special “mystery cover” featuring one of four cover images; Adam naked; Carnalville; Bono; or Irish Cows. These were packed inside a new outer cover, meaning it was difficult to tell what version you were buying but fans were quick to figure out the UPC on the back identified the cover within. In the USA however, copies sold including through Universal and U2.Com had that UPC covered with another sticker, obscuring the ability to identify what was inside.

A small event featuring three items was held at Hansa Studios, featuring a trabant, a test pressing, and a segment of the original Berlin wall were decorated by artist Thierry Noir who had decorated some of the original trabants used in the Achtung Baby campaign. Original plans had suggested this event would have been bigger with a virtual component to allow people to view the exhibit and explore the space in a virtual world. In the end this did not happen.

2021-11-19 Achtung Baby 30th Anniversary Release

We Are the People

The big project from Bono and The Edge this year was the song “We Are the People” recorded in 2019 with Martin Garrix for the Euro 2020 tournament. The song was initially developed when the tournament was planned for 2020, but was held back a year due to COVID-19. The song was released on May 14 and was accompanied by a video on the same day. Promotional releases included the single version of the song plus an instrumental. On June 18, 2021 a remix of the song by Garrix was also released, and promotional releases also contained an instrumental version of the remix.

Although there was no physical release of the song as a standalone single, the song has since been included in a number of compilations by Sony Music including the following:

2021-07-02 Battiti Live ’21 Compilation (1xCD)
2021-07-02 Hitzone 538: #98 Compilation (1xCD, Netherlands, 19439901172)
2021-07-09 The Dome: Summer 2021 Compilation (2xCD, Germany, 0600753945407)
2021-07-23 Kiss Kiss Play Summer 2021 (2xCD, Italy, 0602438499816)
2021-07-29 Power Hits Estate 2021 (Vinyl, Italy, 194399270615 | 3xCD, Italy, 19439927062)
2021-07-30 Bravo Hits 114 (2xCD, Germany, 5054197-1059-2-0)
2021-08-20 La Playlist De L‘été (3xCD, France, 19439927172)
2021-09-03 Serious Beats ’97 (4xCD, Belgium, 541960CD)
2021-11-12 Bravo The Hits 2021 (2xCD, Germany, 0600753942030)
2021-11-12 Hitzone 538: Best of 2021 (2xCD, Netherlands, 539 450-4)
2021-11-19 Club Sounds: Best of 2021 (3xCD, Germany, 9439945782)
2021-11-26 MMM Big Hits: Best of 2021 (3xCD, Belgium, 539 540-3)

Looks very much like the song is the new “In A Lifetime” and will be showing up on plenty of compilations going forward. It appears that the version appearing on these is the 3:37 single version of the song.

Other Solo Releases

Larry Mullen was the first member out of the gate with a solo project this year, with the release of Alice Cooper’s Detroit Stories. The album featured “Shut Up and Rock” which was a leftover from Cooper’s recording sessions for his previous album. It is only one song featuring Larry Mullen on the album.

In July Noel Gallagher released a best of for his work with the group Noel Gallager’s High Flying Birds. Included on the album was “Blue Moon Rising” and a remix of the song which feature Bono on vocal sounds. On the compilation Bono is credited as PDH. On the original “Blue Moon Rising” EP where the song was first released in 2000, Bono was not credited at all. Bono’s vocals consist of a series of noises in the background of the song.

Bono also appeared on the Citizen Penn soundtrack by Linda Perry. The album was a soundtrack for a documentary film about Bono’s friend Sean Penn. On the song “Eden (To Find Love)” Bono provides the main vocal, and co-wrote the song with Linda Perry, best known for her work with 4 Non Blondes. The song was supported by a streaming lyric video. Bono isn’t the only Hewson on the track. Both Jordan and Eli are credited with vocals on the track.

In February news broke that DMX had recorded the song “Skyscrapers” with Bono. The Exodous album was completed in early 2021, but sadly DMX passed away in April before the album was released. The song, “Skyscrapers” has been around for some time, and Bono recorded his vocals back in 2011, when the track was envisioned as a song with Swizz Beatz and Kanye West. After nearing release several times, in September 2019 Kanye West leaked his version of the song with Bono. The same recording is used here for the base of the DMX track. Two versions were initially release, an explicit and a clean version of the song when the album came out in May. In August when the CD was released, two additional acapella versions were released on streaming services, again a clean and explicit version. The vinyl was delayed due to production issues and was finally released on November 12, 2021.

Bono was involved in another release this year, via his friend Zucchero’s Discover album. The album features Zucchero singing a song penned by Bono, “Canta La Vita (Let Your Love Be Known)” and Bono adds his own vocals to the track. Bono had produced a quick video as the pandemic started, inspired by Italians in isolation singing to their neighbours from the rooftops. The song inspired Zucchero to do an Italian version, which he initially performed on Earth Day in 2020 in front of an empty Colliseum in Rome. The version on his album is newly recorded and unlike most of the other items on this list, was recorded after the start of the pandemic.

Other Back Catalog Releases

A number of other items from U2’s back catalog have been reissued this year. These items are done frequently to keep a band’s catalog up to date, and to keep things available in stores (physical and digital.)

Notable reissues this year included:

  • “U2 at Live Aid” IDigital EP)
  • “Do They Know It’s Christmas? (Live Aid)” – Band Aid (Digital Single)
  • “I Believe in Father Christmas” – U2 (Digital EP)
  • All That You Can’t Leave Behind – U2 (Released on black vinyl in June, 20th anniversary version, new catalog number)
  • Achtung Baby – U2 (Released on black vinyl in April, same as 2018 edition but without hype sticker)

U2 X-Radio

When the station first launched it was mentioned that all the members of U2 would eventually host their own shows. The station launched with two of these, “Bono Calling” and “Close to the Edge”. This year there was just one episode of Bono Calling where Bono and The Edge spoke with Chris Blackwell. The Edge’s show had seven episodes this year and featured The Edge interviewing Daniel Lanois, Joe Walsh, Flea from the Red Hot Chili Peppers, will.i.am, Beck, Paul McGuinness and Dr. William Li.

A new regular show featuring Adam Clayton was launched and features Adam Clayton spinning his favourite music from different genres. There’s been 9 episodes to date since it launched in February.

Has there been new music from U2 on the station? Not in the past year. Bono did read a birthday poem for Bob Dylan on “Elevation” in May. And in August, Adam Clayton appeared on “Elevation” reading Blake’s “Little Boy Lost” and “Little Boy Found”. All of the other material has been previously released content except for the odd bootleg remix included on Paul Oakenfold’s Discotheque.

One off specials on the station included a tribute to Martin Luther King by Bono on MLK Day, a countdown of U2’s love songs for Valentines Day, Bono’s “Full Irish” playlist for St. Patrick’s Day, an “October” anniversary special with Adam Clayton, multiple listen through of the album Achtung Baby including one by Edge and Adam Clayton, one by the U2 X-Radio Hosts, and one by U2 X-Radio listeners and a look at the B-Sides by Dan Hegarty. And to close the year there was a new countdown of the best songs of the U2 2000’s voted on by listeners.

Two new daily shows were launched this year. Jenny Huston hosts the morning show, airing Monday through Friday. Her show launched on March 15, 2021. A second show running Monday through Friday was launched on May 10, 2021 with host Phil Taggart.

Two features seem to be no longer updated. Bono’s fan letters segment featured a number of new letters in 2021, including Bono speaking to Daft Punk, Dermot Kennedy, New Order, The Sex Pistols, The Fugees, Andrea Bocelli, This Mortal Coil, Angelique Kidjo, Madonna, The Beatles, Nile Rodgers and Pharrell Williams, but there have not been any new letters aired since April 2021. Likewise “Guests Play U2” had a number of episodes this year featuring Ash, Little Steven, The Thrills, Juliette Lewis, Huey Morgan from the Fun Lovin’ Criminals, and Jeremy Piven, but the last new episode aired April 2021.

U2 on Pandora, Tik Tok, YouTube

U2 have been busy this year appearing in different places around the internet. As part of the SiriusXM station, they have launched a number of listening modes on streaming service Pandora. Each mode allows you to listen to a station inspired by one of U2’s albums, including songs from the albums, and songs by other artists. Included in the modes are sound clips recorded by Bono, The Edge, and Adam Clayton discussing the album. Initially these launched with modes featuring Boy, October and War. Added since then has been a mode featuring Achtung Baby as well. Pandora is only available in the USA.

U2 also joined TikTok this year, where they announced their new single “Your Song Saved My Life”. The band regularly post new content on the service, featuring short videos from throughout U2’s career.

The band also continued their refresh of their YouTube channel, posting upgraded videos from throughout their career. They started with “New Year’s Day” on January 1, and have worked their way through videos from all of their albums. Highlights have included 4K versions of “Pride (In the Name of Love)”, “Red Hill Mining Town”, “Where the Streets Have No Name”, “All I Want is You”, “The Fly”, “One” (Joanou’s version), “Who’s Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses”, “The Sweetest Thing”, “Electrical Storm” and “Walk On”.

The last videos upgraded were from the No Line on the Horizon album, uploaded in November. It appears that the upgrades have stopped there, as all the videos for the later albums are available at 1080p already. In total over 80 videos were upgraded on YouTube. We kept a list of all of the videos with links direct to the new versions here. Was every video done? No, there’s still a few missing, the most notable being the videos for “Hold Me, Thrill Me Kiss Me, Kill Me” and “The Saints Are Coming.”

Other Appearances

There have been a few other notable appearances by the band this year, including a number of documentaries where band members pop up. Bono appeared in the documentary Fauci. The Edge appeared in the documentary What Drives Us produced by Foo Fighter Dave Grohl. The band loaned their song “Ahimsa” for the documentary of the same name. And Larry Mullen was listed as an Executive Producer for the documentary Kenny Scharf: When Worlds Collide. In May Bono also worked on the animated series Pandemica, produced by the One Campaign to highlight the critical need for global access to vaccines.

And although the band have been pretty quiet this year, there were two notable live appearances. Bono and The Edge were part of the kick off program at the Euro 2020 tournament, performing virtually with Martin Garrix in a digital recreation of the stadium. (Yes, both Bono and the Edge were digitally added into the stadium footage as was Garrix.)

The second notable performance was a few days back, aired on Christmas Eve. Bono joined a collective of Irish musicians to perform at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin. Bono’s performance, which can be seen above, was of U2’s “Running to Stand Still”. The performance starts just after the two minute mark, but there is an interview with Bono before that time.

The Busk, as the performance was called, was to bring attention to, and to support Simon Community in Dublin. You can still donate to this important cause at simonbusk.ie. An album of the performances is expected in the new year.

Previous Reviews

If you are interested we’ve collected previous looks back at each year below:

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