I was not surprised or shocked by Bono suggesting in a recent podcast that he hates his voice and that he turns the radio off when U2 songs come on. This is nothing new. Bono has been talking about his voice for years and about how he had to learn how to sing over decades.
As for songs, the band talked a lot around the time of Songs Of Innocence about trying to write songs. They released 5 of the songs on that record in acoustic form. I think that was to highlight their sing-ability. I have often said that Every Breaking Wave off that record was their most perfectly constructed song. Song For Someone that morphed into 13 (There Is a Light) on Songs Of Experience is very much another song. Songs. 40 years into their career!
In all honesty I can kind of understand Bono's critique.
I mean if I think melodies that can fill radio shows I am thinking The Beatles. So catchy that my children were singing a long from a very early age. They didn't get into U2 so quickly. In fact it was Songs Of Innocence before I heard my daughters paying any attention to U2.
If I think poetic lyrics I am thinking Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell or maybe Jackson Browne. U2 worked on wordy sketches in their early years. They lost the lyrics for October and felt Pop was lyrically rushed.
If I think about best rock voices I am thinking Rod Stewart around 1972 or in a contemporary sense Hozier. Bono was a front man before he learned to be the singer! I don't talk about his voice in the early gigs as much as I talk about him climbing up amplifiers!
So, I can get where Bono is coming from. Their best work has been about experimental soundscapes and creating anthemic atmospheres. My 40 years fandom with U2 has not been so much with songs or vocal accomplishment as theological content and spiritual experience.
My first listen to a new U2 record is always about content. I am always listening for what they are trying to say. As what is called a Theo-musicologist I am listening for spiritual nuggets and prophetic statements. No one else has ever contributed God into the rock song conversation like U2. I love that they took a Gospel song to number 1 in the US charts:
"You broke the bonds/Loosed the chains/Carried the cross and my shame/ You know I believe it..."
To be fair that's a theologically succinct lyric and when the choir were added on Rattle And Hum it was quite the song!
Similarly live, they create this spiritual energy. I remember standing at Croke Park as the band played Moment Of Surrender and Bono stands centre stage with his hands open and eyes to the sky and the hairs on the back of my soul are standing to attention.
Bono should get over his weaknesses and stand over his strengths. I am imagining he knows!
There is something maybe even more significant about Bono hating his songs and his voice. It is typically self deprecating. That I say 'typically' might surprise people. Many people have an opinion of Bono that he is arrogant and egotistical. I believe such an opinion to be lazing and founded upon caricatures, never minding missing the irony at work in U2.
When Bono put on a gold lame suit and preened himself in front of the mirror he wasn't being egotistical. He was being ironic, pointing out the ridiculousness of the rock star. In some of those songs that he might not like he is constantly talking about the trouble with a big mouth or that his wife is the best thing about him. Bono comes across arrogant but has always held a humility alongside it.