On their new sin­gle, in lyrics penned by Bono, guest star Ken­drick La­mar raps that ‘the filthy rich can only truly own what they give away’

Irish Independent - Weekend Review - - FRONT PAGE -

Novem­ber was sup­posed to be a spe­cial one for U2. These weeks would be all about build­ing ex­cite­ment for the re­lease of their 14th stu­dio al­bum, and first in three years. But while U2 and Bono have been in the news, the forth­com­ing al­bum, Songs of Ex­pe­ri­ence, has only been a foot­note in the con­ver­sa­tion.

In­stead, the front­man has had to come out to de­fend his in­vest­ment in a Lithua­nian shop­ping cen­tre. The so-called Par­adise Papers — mil­lions of doc­u­ments about the tax avoid­ance schemes of celebri­ties and big cor­po­ra­tions — showed that Bono’s money has fil­tered through a Malta-based firm in or­der to min­imise his tax bill.

It’s per­fectly le­gal, but the rev­e­la­tion has caused him a con­sid­er­able headache. Head­lines like the Guardian’s ‘Tax rogues like Bono are harm­ing the world’s poor­est peo­ple’ will not have made for pleas­ant read­ing.

Nor would the sen­ti­ments of James Del­ing­pole, writ­ing in Bri­tain’s big­gest sell­ing news­pa­per, The Sun: “I can for­give Bono’s greed — I’m sure we’d all be­have the same if we earned that much and could af­ford a fancy ac­coun­tant. What I can’t for­give is his out­ra­geous hypocrisy. Bono is for­ever us­ing emo­tional black­mail to make starstruck gov­ern­ments spend our money on his wor­thy causes.”

Bono says he “dis­tressed” by the rev­e­la­tions, but in­sists that — to the best of his knowl­edge — ev­ery­thing is above board. “I’ve been as­sured by those run­ning the com­pany that it is fully tax com­pli­ant,” he said in a state­ment, “but if that is not the case, I want to know as much as the tax of­fice does, and so I also wel­come the audit they have said they will un­der­take.”

It’s not the first time Bono and U2 have had to an­swer tricky ques­tions about their tax af­fairs, but it could hardly come at a worse time with Songs of Ex­pe­ri­ence set for re­lease on De­cem­ber 1. Af­ter the tri­umphant tour in honour of their most em­blem­atic al­bum, The Joshua Tree, they might have felt that 2017 had been go­ing their way. But the Ausra shop­ping mall in the town of Utena has put a span­ner in the works.

Even their lat­est sin­gle, ‘Get Out of Your Own Way’, is be­ing scru­ti­nised with fresh eyes in the wake of the Par­adise Papers. In lyrics penned by Bono, guest star Ken­drick La­mar raps that “the filthy rich can only truly own what they give away”.

And Bono, by any­one’s def­i­ni­tion, is filthy rich. Es­ti­mates vary wildly, but some US re­ports sug­gest his net worth is in the re­gion of $600m. Much of it is down to the mu­sic — and be­ing a mem­ber of one of the most con­sis­tently pop­u­lar bands on the planet — but a se­ries of canny in­vest­ments have also swelled those cof­fers.

And U2 — es­pe­cially Bono and the Edge — have been en­thu­si­as­tic in­vestors for years, with a keen eye for start-ups with po­ten­tial.

Face­book may have moved well past the startup phase by 2009, but it was still in its in­fancy com­pared to to­day. That year, U2, through the El­e­va­tion Part­ners in­vest­ment group Bono had co-founded, spent $86m on a 2.3pc share of the so­cial me­dia site. Six years later, they cashed in their share for an eye-wa­ter­ing $1.4bn.

U2 have also had a close re­la­tion­ship with Ap­ple — hav­ing worked with then CEO Steve Jobs around the time of the launch of the iPod. And, they inked a lu­cra­tive deal — ru­moured to be as high as $100m — to al­low Ap­ple to give away a free copy of their last al­bum, Songs of In­no­cence, to all iTunes sub­scribers, a fig­ure that in 2014 stood at 500 mil­lion peo­ple. (Many of them were un­happy to re­ceive the al­bum un­ex­pect­edly, much to Bono’s cha­grin.)

The band also bought a $300m stake in the US busi­ness bi­ble, Forbes — ironic, per­haps, as their col­lec­tive wealth is reg­u­larly fea­tured in the mag­a­zine’s an­nual Rich List.

Last week, Forbes car­ried a re­port look­ing at the suc­cess of the band’s Joshua Tree tour — which called to Croke Park in July — and noted that they had col­lected more than $300m in ticket sales. It’s a fig­ure that pales into com­par­i­son with their more ex­ten­sive tours — such as the globe-trot­ting 360° Tour — but it’s still enough to en­sure that they will be close to the top of the chart for the most rev­enue made from tour­ing by any act this year.

De­spite a hefty record­ing and tour­ing sched­ule, Bono is said to have an in­sa­tiable ap­petite for in­vest­ment op­por­tu­ni­ties — and sev­eral at a much smaller scale to the Face­books of the world. One of the projects he’s most en­gaged with at present

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