Just what is going on at U2 Inc?
There’s still a lot of intrigue around the U2, Paul McGuinness and Principle Management story
Longtime U2 watchers will recognise the signs. When there’s a new album in the offing, the soft spin campaign from the band gets slowly underway. You have stories like CDs going missing or someone walking past Bono’s gaff recording new music the singer is playing in his parlour. This little tidbit goes all around the world and, voila, the U2 campaign has begun in earnest. It’s a little trick which they’ve gone back to again and again over the last few albums to fire up interest ahead of release.
Conspiracy theorists, then, might point to the Paul McGuinness story as something from that well-thumbed playbook. They might even see the viral video of Bono and The Edge performing “Get Lucky” with Nile Rodgers in New York as more of the same. It probably would have helped if Bono had actually listened to and learned the words of one of the biggest hits of the year first. As Spin point out, Bono’s blundering doesn’t look great when you compare and contrast it with the the many better versions of the song out there. Indeed, it sounds as if he’s hearing the song for the first time in places.
But there are several flies in the ointment with this theory. For a start, the McGuinness, Principle Management and Live Nation story is still far from conclusion. When you delve a little deeper with what we know to date, you have to wonder what exactly Live Nation are buying here beyond mere goodwill. As we pointed out a fortnight ago, Principle are not a big management company compared to the mammoths like Quest or Q Prime so there are no clients to catch, especially since Live Nation already have the big ‘uns wrapped up tight. The company’s only other recent big management client, PJ Harvey, left some months ago and is now managed by Brian Message and Sumit Bothra at ATC Management. If I was a Live Nation shareholder looking at a lot of red ink, I’d wonder what we were doing here. But, then again, what’s $30 million when you’re looking at losses of $41.5 million?
U2′s omerta on this is quite telling. Aside from the lack of a public statement praising their former manager or welcoming Guy Oseary to the gang, there’s also been very little spin channeled through trusted sources. Look at those personalities and media outlets who consider themselves to be inside the tent and they’re spinning the same story as everyone else. Even those trusted names have nothing else to be going on with. All the stories and analysis from the pals-of-U2 read the same as the non-pals-of-U2. It’s a rum one.
Then, there’s the fact, which emerged via Billboard, that Guy Oseary has been handling the band’s business for ages. While OTR sources indicate that McGuinness was thinking about stepping down some time ago and a scheme to recruit a successor was in train, it’s striking that not a word about the new manager emerged over the last few months when he was making calls and taking meetings on their behalf. In a time when everything gets leaked one way or the other, especially with so many meetings and loose lips, this is better security than the NSA. Then again, isn’t the job of managing a band like U2 at this stage of their career more about administation than anything else?
All the loose ends which existed a fortnight ago when this story broke are still there. And it’s worth noting that all the other stuff which has been part and parcel of the U2 story over the last while haven’t gone away either. We talk, of course, about tax. It’s the elephant in the room which comes up every time a microphone is pushed in front of Bono – be it home or away – and it’s one which he is sounding more and more exasperated having to deal with. The fact that he’s spun Ireland’s “tax competitiveness” into both interviews shows what’s in his crib-notes about how to try to deflect these questions.
The singer may look upon it as a stick to beat the band with, but it doesn’t sit well with the social ventures which the singer has championed in recent years. It also means the band, who have always valued their standing with right-on movements and organisations, are now seen as dwelling on the other side of the fence. Of course, as members of the one per cent, U2 were always on that side of the barricades, but they played a good game in pretending otherwise.
In that interview with Gay Byrne (transcript of the relevant sections here), the singer talked tough rather than fuzzy to show a difference between Bono the businessman and Bono the artist. It doesn’t wash because one thing always shadows the other. For as long as U2 will be written about or talked about or commented on, the tax will follow them around like one of the Edge’s hats. It’s inevitable. It doesn’t help a singer who takes up the cudgels and goes out to fight the good fight on behalf of others that his own tax affairs don’t stand up to scrutiny.
Still, they’ll try their best. You can expect more announcements about the new album and forthcoming tour (watch for the spin about “their last tour ever”) to come as the machine begins to crank up. It will be interesting to see if Oseary begins to bring his own men and women into play or if he’ll stick with the old loyalists across the board. It will also be interesting to see if U2 move any more of their business interests abroad – they’ve started so they might as well finish – and what that will mean for perception at home. Then again, judging by the tone of that Bono interview above, they may have reached the end of their tether with the views at home.