“Am I bugging you?” Bono notoriously asked during a particularly overwrought version of “Silver & Gold” on Rattle & Hum, “I don’t mean to bug ya.” That’s really the question, isn’t it? Since 1980, U2 have unleashed a stack of chart-wrecking albums, have become unlikely players in world politics, spearheaded economic relief for Third World countries, have become as globally recognizable as the Beatles and the Stones, and have done all of this while redefining what arena rock was supposed to sound like. But for all of those achievements, in the end, your ability to accept them is directly proportional to the degree to which Bono bugs ya.
And yet, so much of the reason U2 ultimately works is because of Bono. Pull him out of the songs, and the vacuum filled by his voice and his ego is immediately apparent. In only a few cases are they defined by what the instruments are doing – you can count the number of U2 songs with a “signature guitar lick” on the fingers of one hand. Most of what they do is build dirigibles for Bono to fill with gusto or, just as often, hot air. That fact, more than maybe anything else, is an indication of how counterintuitive U2 at their best can be: They don’t do guitar solos. They command enviable critical respect while making records that are commercial monsters. And they’ve never been afraid of taking a sonic hard-left, even when that choice piloted them clear off the edge of a cliff. In order to do this over and over and still keep millions of people along for the ride, you need someone with bullheaded – nay, almost cartoonish – self-confidence out front. You need someone that bugs ya.
And so, as befits a messiah-fronted, quasi-religious band that has just as many doubters as disciples, consider this guide not a high-five for believers, but as something of an apologetic – a rock ‘n ‘roll Mere Christianity, if you will. To briefly invoke the Book of Romans, “I am convinced that [nothing] in all creation will be able to separate us from God.” You can feel free to dismiss, ridicule, embrace or ignore U2. But don’t for a second think you can escape them.