Los Angeles – U2 has sold more than 120 million albums worldwide and won 14 Grammy Awards during the course of its 26-year career, so you would think that there would be a level of ease that comes with a new release.
Not so, says the Irish band’s longtime manager Paul McGuinness.
“There is absolutely no resting on our laurels,” he tells Billboard. “I say to people we have to break the band every time we put out a record.”
And this is with an album that McGuinness expects to debut at No. 1 in “32 or 33 countries.”
“How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb” comes out Nov. 22 internationally on Island, and Nov. 23 in the United States on Interscope, which is initially shipping 2.2 million copies.
The only stumbling block that might keep the album from entering The Billboard 200 at No. 1 is labelmate Eminem’s new set, “Encore.” However, McGuinness expects the advance of the street date for “Encore” from Nov. 16 to Nov. 12 to work in U2’s favor.
ALWAYS ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT
Early reports that this is the best effort from the band – Bono, the Edge, Larry Mullen Jr. and Adam Clayton – since 1987’s “The Joshua Tree” suit McGuinness just fine.
“The group’s always trying to beat their previous best,” he says. “They went into (their career) to do it as long as they could be great and then stop. They’re like a championship holder. They hold the title, and they’re not going to give it away. If someone wants to come and take it away, they’ll have to fight them for it.”
But this time at least, McGuinness feels that the job is a little easier since the band is coming off 2000’s “All That You Can’t Leave Behind,” which sold 10.8 million copies worldwide and snared several Grammy Awards.
“With that record’s launch, we were coming off a comparative flop,” he says, referring to 1997’s “Pop.” “Mind you, it still did 7 or 8 million, but in our terms, that’s not very good.”
“Pop” sold 1.5 million copies in the United States, according to Nielsen SoundScan. “All That You Can’t Leave Behind” sold 4.2 million Stateside.
Key to continuing U2’s success is taking the record to “young recruits,” as McGuinness refers to them. “If we can’t break at modern rock (radio), we would regard this as a failure.”
No such worries. “Vertigo” has topped the Billboard Modern Rock chart for four weeks, the Heritage Rock Chart for six weeks and Billboard Radio Monitor’s Triple-A chart for seven weeks. All this is in addition to debuting at No. 1 on the U.K. singles chart.
Interscope is also reaching out to the teen audience by advertising on such youth-oriented outlets as MTV, MTV2, Fuse and various extreme-sports programs, label marketing executive Paul Kremen says. It also hired teen marketing firm Moxie to distribute 25,000 stickers to high schools and coordinate other grassroots efforts.
The album was serviced to radio via digital download Nov. 11. The band and the label will look at radio’s reaction to the album to aid in picking subsequent singles. Unlike “Vertigo,” which was the first single worldwide, McGuinness says he expects the next few singles to vary by market.
APPLE AT THE CORE
The core of the early push centered on a promotion with Apple Computer that launched with the Cupertino, Calif.-based company featuring “Vertigo” in its ubiquitous iPod/iTunes TV commercial.
“Apple is spending $20 million worldwide on the U2 commercials,” McGuinness says.
Kremen believes that the Apple ads, which feature the band performing in silhouette, “helped create a really quick appetite” for the song, especially among U2’s upper demos. “What ignites them is multiple impressions,” he says. “And Apple gave us that. We could never afford that on our own.” The “Vertigo” single was available exclusively through iTunes in the United States.
Additionally, the Apple/U2 partnership includes a special-edition iPod, available in mid-November. The black iPod, which holds 5,000 songs and costs $349, features a red click wheel and is laser autographed by U2’s four members.
Another component of Apple’s deal is a digital collection of more than 400 U2 songs, including about 25 previously unreleased or rare tracks. The digital set, which includes the new album and an elaborate PDF artwork file, sells for $149 on iTunes. However, the special iPod includes a coupon for $50 off the set.
The relationship between U2 and Apple could lead to the group’s shows being available for download from the iTunes Music Store. The band’s worldwide tour starts March 1, 2005 in Florida.
U2 is paying as much attention to traditional retail as to online sales by offering three editions of the set. The CD in a standard jewel case, or “the paperback version,” as McGuinness calls it, retails for $13.98 in the United States. A deluxe CD/DVD package, with a documentary and five videos on the DVD, sells for $24.98, while the premium, limited-edition version (175,000 copies), which combines the CD and DVD with a hardback U2 book, is $39.98. The 70-page book carries artwork, paintings and graphics by the band.
“We thought one of the reasons the music business was losing out to peer-to-peer file sharing was that people had stopped making the record and its packaging a beautiful object to entice people back to the stores,” McGuinness says.
Despite the effort, U2 was not able to keep the album from leaking to file-sharing services two weeks prior to its release. McGuinness and Interscope talked about moving up the in-store date but opted not to. “We thought, ‘Let’s not panic,”‘ McGuinness says.