U2 Re-Inks with Island; 9th Album to Bow July 6

Billboard Magazine by Paul Verna with Thom Duffy (1993-06-12)

U2, busy gearing up for the July 6 release of its hotly anticipated Zooropa album, has just renegotiated its recording agreement with its longtime label, Island Records.

According to a June 2 press release from Island’s parent company, PolyGram Holding Inc., U2 and Island have signed a six-album contract for an undisclosed sum. It was not clear at press time whether Zooropa is part of the new agreement or the old one.

Sources familiar with the record say it includes some novel elements. Johnny Cash sings lead on a new, original song on the album, with U2 singer Bono backing him up. At press time, tentative titles for the new track included “The Wanderer” and “The Preacher.”

Other songs on the upcoming U2 project — which evolved from a four-cut EP to a full-length album — are described by sources as “moody” and “more dance-oriented” than previous material.

In an interview with Irish paper Hot Press, Bono describes the album as a multimedia “trip” inspired in large part by the work of cyberpunk author William Gibson, as is Billy Idol’s forthcoming Cyberpunk project (Billboard, May 8).

U2’s U.S. press agent, Paul Wasserman, says recording was completed May 14 in Dublin. A total of 20 tracks were committed to tape, of which 10 wound up on Zooropa.

According to Wasserman, the album was produced by Brian Eno, Flood, and U2 guitarist the Edge, who sings lead on three vocals.

A PolyGram representative would not discuss the value of the new agreement, but derided a $200 million figure cited in a published report as “tabloid journalism as its finest.”

Wasserman adds, “I don’t know what the figure is, but I think that’s an exaggerated number. It must be more than half that, but I don’t know how much more.”

Whatever the financial arrangements between U2 and Island, their relationship goes back to the group’s roots in Dublin. Since the release of its first Island single, “11 O’Clock Tick Tock,” in May 1980, U2 has issued eight albums that have sold a combined 50 million units worldwide. The band’s most recent work, Achtung Baby, released in November 1991, has sold more than 4 million copies domestically and topped The Billboard 200.

Island founder and CEO Chris Blackwell says in the statement, “U2 are a special act and it is equally as special that Island has had a relationship with them that started long ago. I am very happy that we are going into the future together.”

However, despite this longstanding relationship, U2 manager Paul McGuinness suggests in the press release that the band may have shopped elsewhere before renewing with Island. “When we started out we thought all record companies must be like Island,” states McGuinness. “Now that we know that’s not true, we definitely want to stay with Chris Blackwell and all our new friends at PolyGram.”

PolyGram acquired Island in June of 1989 for an estimated $280 million. The previous year, U2 had accepted a 10% interest in Island as a substitute for back royalty payments it was owed, according to sources. These sources estimate that the PolyGram purchase yielded the band a payout five times greater than the sum of the back royalties.

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