Bono caused a stir last year when he admitted on The Hollywood Reporter’s Awards Chatter podcast that he turned “scarlet” with embarrassment whenever a U2 song came on the radio because he didn’t like his vocals.
“The band sound incredible,” said Bono. “Though I just found the voice very strained and kind of not macho, and my Irish macho was kind of strained by that. I’ve only became a singer, like, recently! And maybe it hasn’t happened yet for some people’s ears, and I understand that. [Laughs]”
According to Bono, the late Robert Palmer once approached bassist Adam Clayton in the ‘80s and undiplomatically told him to take U2’s songs down a few keys, adding, “He’d do himself a favour, his voice a favour, and he’d do us all a favour who have to listen to him.” Charming.
Back in the early days, on material such as Pride (In The Name Of Love), U2 were just going for it. Bono says he was singing “out of his body”. It was only when listening to Joey Ramone that he realised he didn’t need to go for so much power.
But Bono is not alone in arriving at an epiphany with his vocals. In the new cover feature of Guitar Player, his six-string lieutenant the Edge admitted it had never occurred to the band before that they could have written for the singer in the first place and it could have served everyone better.
“Bono kicked up a pretty serious media furore recently when he admitted that some of his early vocal recordings were a source of a certain amount of embarrassment for him,” said the Edge. “You can hear the strain in his voice. Mind you, it never even occurred to us in those days to lower the key to better fit his range. Today, with each arrangement, we were able to go, ‘Where do you want to pitch this one?’”
With the Edge’s voice operating in a similar register to Bono’s, working that out was easy, and proved that even after selling over 175 million albums and booking out residencies at the new immersive Sphere venue in Las Vegas to celebrate Achtung Baby, there are still songwriting lessons to be learned with each passing release.
“I was able to take some good guesses for what would work for him,” said the Edge. “It was like tailoring the songs to suit him as a singer… That was the ultimate goal: to serve the song by serving the singer.”
As for the singer, who else could have worked with that early U2 material better? Maybe Bono having to reach for the notes is what gives the tracks their energy.
Either way, Bono is in a good place was far as the Edge is concerned, with the frontman a “better interpreter of songs than he’s ever been”.
The Edge also said U2 have “a lot of great material in the pipeline”, and hinted at a return to an electric guitar-driven sound. “I’m finding myself for the first time in a little while getting very excited about the electric guitar again,“ he said.