Call it the ultimate underground album.
Rock radio isn’t playing it. Record stores won’t sell it. The band’s record company hasn’t even heard of it.
But U2 fans, both in America and across much of Europe, have quietly been taping and circulating a bootleg four-album set of rough, sometimes unfinished mixes of the band’s long-awaited new album. Titled “The New U2: Rehearsals and Full Versions,” the album is being sold with two discs to a jacket, offering nearly 30 new songs, including such possible new material as “She’s Gonna Blow Your House Down,” “Sweet Baby Jane,” “I Feel Free,” “Don’t Say Goodbye” and “Don’t Let the Dues Get You Down.”
It’s impossible to say how many copies of the bootleg exist. But the album has caused an immediate stir, especially with U2 having been out of the public eye for the past two years. Many superstar rock bands have seen their live material or studio outtakes bootlegged, but not until after the group’s new album has surfaced. In this case, “The New U2" arrives while the band is still recording, with its album untitled and not scheduled for release until October.
“What makes this almost unprecedented is that these are tapes of songs that aren’t even finished yet,” says Pete Howard, publisher of the International CD Exchange newsletter, who says he received the bootleg from an anonymous subscriber. “Some of the songs sound close to being final versions, but others are still instrumentals without vocal tracks. You can even hear (lead singer) Bono signaling the band to go into a bridge or chorus.”
Howard, who made it clear he has not copied the bootleg or played it for anyone, says he thinks it has the makings of a “really strong” album. “It reminds me a lot of U2 during its ‘Unforgettable Fire’ era. But it raises all sorts of huge potential problems. These people aren’t just passing around tapes. They’re pressing records. With U2 fans being as fanatical as they are, you’d have to assume that with the ease of today’s copying processes, that these tapes could multiply at an incredible speed.”
News of the bootleg hasn’t gone over well with U2 or Island Records, which took out a full-page ad in the British pop publication Music Week, warning record stores that the label will “take legal proceedings” against anyone selling the bootlegs. Island general manager Andy Allen added: “We take the same position here that our counterparts have in England. We will vigorously prosecute these bootleggers.”
Bandleader Bono could not be reached directly, but through a press spokesman he lambasted the bootlegs as “gobbledygook--I don’t know why anyone would be interested in them.”
According to the U2 grapevine, the bootleg tapes were obtained after the band left rough mixes in a Berlin hotel trash can, where they were retrieved by curious hotel chambermaids. U2 insiders suspect that the tapes date back to the band’s recording sessions last year at Berlin’s Hansa Studios. But a spokesman insisted: “It’s impossible to fathom the band leaving these tapes in the hotel trash. They would always be under lock and key.”
Legally, the band has every right to suppress the bootlegs--if they can find them. “You only register the copyright for songs when the album comes out, but the copyright protection is in effect as soon as you finish cutting the song,” explains Peter Paterno, a former entertainment attorney who now runs Hollywood Records. “I’d get the RIAA to try and confiscate the tapes. But it’s not such a terrible thing for the band. I think people will go out and buy the real thing too.”
Radio programmers, citing a recent incident where Geffen Records sued rock station WMMS-FM in Cleveland for airing a bootleg copy of a new Guns N’ Roses song, say they would think twice before airing any U2 material. And Bob Say, general manager of the trend-setting Moby Disc record store chain, says the retail bootleg market in Los Angeles has completely dried up.
“You’d have to be crazy to sell a bootleg in this day and age,” he explains. “Nobody wants to take a chance on getting busted. Anyway, having a U2 bootleg out right now--with all the press attention it’s bound to get--wouldn’t be such a bad thing.
“We barely sell any of their records anymore. It’s the same with Bruce Springsteen--it’s almost embarrassing how few albums he sells. So to get a lot of attention focused on a bootleg would get the band’s name out in public, which might be good for them right now.”
HOT FLASHES: Bryan Adams’ new album isn’t due until early this fall, but you’ll be able to hear one of his new songs even sooner--he’s performing the theme song for the upcoming soundtrack to this summer’s hottest box-office property, “Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves,” which stars Kevin Costner, Morgan Freeman and Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio. Called "(Everything I Do) I Do It for You,” the song is due June 12 from A&M; Records, with a soundtrack from Morgan Creek Records to follow July 9. . . . Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers’ much-awaited new album, due July 2, is “Into the Great Wide Open.” Produced by Jeff Lynne (with Petty and guitarist Mike Campbell), it features such new songs as “Learning to Fly” (the first single), “All the Wrong Reasons,” “The Dark of the Sun,” “Two Gunslingers” and “Kings Highway.” The band is expected to announce tour dates for a U.S. concert swing beginning in August. . . . And this week’s Pop Eye Poison Dart goes to the Daily Variety writer who, reviewing the upcoming film, “Boyz N the Hood,” described co-star Ice Cube as being “hot on the heels of ‘New Jack City.’ ” We know all rappers look the same but that was Ice-T in “New Jack City,” not Ice Cube.
HAVING A BLAST: Who cares if the Eagles don’t ever reunite. The Doobie Brothers are back. Yes is back. Lynyrd Skynyrd is back, signed to Atlantic Records under the billing of Lynyrd Skynyrd 1991. Even the Electric Light Orchestra is back together, calling itself ELO Part Two, with a Scotti Brothers album due next month, to be followed by a summer tour with the 80-piece Moscow Symphony (yes, they’re back together too). Who could be next--Sergio Mendes and Brazil ’92? And would you believe that the latest band to join the reunion rush is . . . the Blasters! According to a band spokeswoman, the group was scheduled to perform two dates this weekend in Salt Lake City. If everyone gets along, the next step could be an album. Meanwhile, Blaster guitarist Dave Alvin has been writing music with David Lynch for Lynch’s upcoming film “Ronnie Rocket,” while working on his own solo album (tentatively titled: “Wanda and Duane”). . . . And the Bob Dylan Bootleg tapes come to radio this week, with KLSX-FM airing three one-hour installments of a Westwood One syndicated program, featuring new interviews with Dylan. Unfortunately Dylan didn’t trust talking to an outside journalist. The interviews, which will air at midnight, starting Monday night, were conducted by his publicist, Elliot Mintz.