Belfast Telegraph

How U2 gave iTunes fans something they weren't looking for

The band's decision to launch its new album free to the site's users may have backfired somewhat... not that it'll stop them taking another bite at the apple, says Katie Wright.

Offering albums for online listening ahead of their release date happens all the time now, but Apple's latest stunt went way beyond a temporary Soundcloud stream: U2's Songs Of Innocence was beamed directly into the accounts of some 500 million iTunes users in 119 countries, no download necessary.

The global 'gift' was timed to coincide with CEO Tim Cook unveiling the iPhone 6 and iWatch at their annual shindig in California, at which the Irish rockers – whose music first soundtracked an iPod TV ad 10 years ago – played. Apple, who bought the 11-song set for an estimated £62m, claimed it was "the largest album release ever" and frontman Bono (right, with The Edge) boasted it's "the most personal album we've ever written". But the fanfare was short-lived. Almost immediately, angry expletive-laden rants and sarcastic Bono-bashing one-liners flooded Twitter as users discovered their unwanted present.

Within 48 hours, guides started appearing on tech and music sites, gleefully explaining how to hide the offending article, as it couldn't be permanently removed from Apple's iCloud.

Eventually, six days into the backlash bonanza, Apple were forced to set up itunes.com/soi-remove, where you'll find a 'remove album' button specifically designed to silence Songs Of Innocence.

It must be an astonishingly bad record mustn't it, to cause such an outcry? Well, no, it's not actually, according to reviews. While Rolling Stone's assertion that the album is "a triumph" seems generous, most reviews shrug that it "isn't all that bad " (Consequences of Sound).

The problem here wasn't Bono and pals' middling music, though – it was the method of delivery. Admittedly, the fact the band has been peddling the same stadium-friendly sound for eons means dissenters already knew (or guessed) they wouldn't like the new songs, but it was the intrusive PR-stunt-disguised-as-a-present deviousness that really caused the outrage.

And now, Bono has hinted to Time magazine that in 18 months they'll be hooking up with Apple again to release a revolutionary new piracy-proof digital music format that's "so irresistibly exciting" it will tempt fans into buying whole albums again. So they won't be giving away follow-up LP Songs Of Experience for free? Judging by this gift gaffe, that's probably a wise move.

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