Re­brand U2? Ask Jigga

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - CDs REVIEWS - Jim Car­roll

SOME­TIME this month, your favourite pop act will take a break from hec­tic fes­tive shop­ping and singing sched­ules to re­view the year. While this ac­tiv­ity may en­tail some pen­sive gaz­ing, it will prob­a­bly also in­volve sit­ting down with a bean-counter and do­ing the sums.

The fi­nan­cial bot­tom line doesn’t nec­es­sar­ily tell you ev­ery­thing about the rude health of your favourite pop act. In 2006, it’s as much about the brand as the bank bal­ance, and as­sess­ing how your band shapes up in this re­gard can be quite re­veal­ing.

For in­stance, look at U2. Here’s a band with the fi­nan­cial where­withal to af­ford all the stet­sons in the world. But the rel­a­tively poor chart show­ing of their U218 cash-in com­pi­la­tion sug­gests that next year’s new album had bet­ter be a vin­tage one and not an­other dud like How to Dis­man­tle an Atomic Bomb. Pro­ducer Rick Ru­bin may have his work cut out.

It’s a long time since U2 were beaten in a Top 100 dust-up by a boy­band, The Bea­tles and a Bea­tles trib­ute act. Even the duet with Green Day, a brand-ex­ten­sion ex­er­cise if ever there was one, was not enough to change pub­lic per­cep­tion about brand U2.

You can see this in the fact that the fans who camped out all night to get their hands on U218 are the same ones who al­ways camp out. They’ve kept the faith since The Joshua Tree, and their re­ward is to get their mugshots in the pa­pers. The band’s real views on this would be in­ter­est­ing to know. Af­ter all, the idea of camp­ing out all night to get your hands on a CD is prob­a­bly a lu­di­crous no­tion to the new, younger fans U2 are keen to court.

For lessons in how to tend the brand, U2 should look to Jay-Z. In­deed, Bono’s gorm­less video in­sert screened at Jigga’s Dublin gig in Septem­ber would show that the Ir­ish­man al­ready knows who’s the big cheese in this con­test. The re­cently un­re­tired rap­per strolled ef­fort­lessly to the No 1 slot in the US with a hefty 680,000 sales for his King­dom Come album in one week. Now, that’s a lot of pickle.

It has not been a fan­tas­tic year for hip-hop. Too much bling and bravado and not enough bangers and bril­liance means there’s a grow­ing swell of sub­stance to back up the ar­gu­ments of the doom­mon­gers. Hotly tipped acts like Rhymefest failed to ig­nite, while one Lupe Fi­asco doesn’t make for a revo­lu­tion. The Game and as­sorted G-Unit grunts con­tinue to star in their very own soap op­eras, but that has only lim­ited box of­fice ap­peal. Dre’s long over­due Detox album? We may see Axl Rose on the cover of Chi­nese Democ­racy be­fore that one ar­rives.

P Diddy’s re­turn to the rap co­les­sium with Press Play may have been well flagged in ad­vance, yet the Did­dy­man will be re­ly­ing on sales of Sean John threads to pay his credit card bills this Yule. Money might be able to buy you all the best pro­duc­ers in the world to work on your come­back album, but money won’t buy you love from the masses – or a de­cent cash flow.

Jay-Z may have fret­ted on wax be­fore about hav­ing 99 prob­lems, but keep­ing his brand on point was never one of them. The so-called “Flash Gor­don of recordin’” ac­tu­ally be­came a big­ger brand when he was off the boards, and that’s in spite of work­ing with Linkin Park and Chris Martin. He prob­a­bly ac­cu­mu­lated more buzz by be­com­ing Def Jam prez and Bey­oncé’s beau than by drop­ping such lines as “I’ve got money stacks big­ger than you”.

Of course, it helps that King­dom Come is a pretty good record. It’s no The Blue­print, sure, but it’s no Col­li­sion Course ei­ther. The sound of hip-hop’s only thir­tysome­thing su­per­hero mea­sur­ing up to the new kids on the block, King­dom Come is proof that you don’t have to pre­tend you live the hard knock life to score a hip-hop slam­dunk. Jay-Z doesn’t have to front that game any more. Other pop acts, please note. jim­car­roll@ir­

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