Bono: ‘I’m just embarrassed’ whenever I hear a U2 song on the radio

Do you still listen to U2 songs? I do, sometimes. Sometimes I’m in the mood for the Joshua Tree album especially, and sometimes Achtung Baby. I still think “One” is one of the most beautiful songs to come out of the 1990s. “With or Without You” still hits. “Pride (In the Name of Love)” didn’t age well, but it’s still okay. “Bullet the Blue Sky” can still slap. I didn’t even remember that U2 had a song called “Vertigo” but they did and, according to Bono, that’s their best song? Or his favorite song. Bono chatted with the Awards Chatter podcast about how most of U2’s songs make him cringe, and how the band name is stupid.

U2 frontman Bono has said many of his band’s songs makes him “cringe” with embarrassment, and that he doesn’t like their name much either. The band, comprised of Dublin schoolmates, has sold more than 150 million albums over a 40-year career. But speaking on the Awards Chatter podcast, the 61-year-old said that, aside from 2004 track Vertigo, he finds it hard to listen to their music. He added that his voice sounds “very strained” on earlier recordings.

“I’ve been in a car when one of our songs has come on the radio, and I’ve been the colour of – as we say in Dublin – scarlet,” he told The Hollywood Reporter’s Scott Feinberg during an hour-long interview. “I’m just embarrassed. I do think U2 pushes out the boat on embarrassment quite a lot. And maybe that’s the place to be as an artist is right at the edge of your level of pain for embarrassment, your level of embarrassment. And the lyrics as well. I feel that on Boy and other albums it was sketched out very unique and original material. But I don’t think I filled in the details.”

In defence of his band, U2 have had 10 UK number one albums and seven chart-topping singles, since arriving on to the scene in the early 1980s. Their fifth album Joshua Tree – featuring anthems like With Or Without You and Where The Streets Have No Name – was recently named as the best album of that particular decade by Radio 2 listeners.

While Bono agrees that his band “sound amazing”, he said he does not like the sound of his own voice at all, except on Vertigo, which featured on How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb. “Most of the other ones make me cringe a little bit,” he said.

And despite a career spanning four decades, the Irish singer believes his voiced sounded weak early on and that he “only became a singer recently”.

“I just found the voice very strained and kind of not macho and my Irish macho was kind of strained by that,” he continued. “A big discovery for me was listening to the Ramones and hearing the beautiful kind of sound of Joey Ramone and realising I didn’t have to be that rock and roll singer. But I only became a singer recently.”

[From BBC]

I listened to “Vertigo,” thinking I was missing something. His voice sounds TERRIBLE on that song!! It sounds really strained, so I don’t know what he’s talking about here at all. Personally, I don’t think U2 was particularly good at lyrics or vocals, and yet I would probably agree with the sentiment that they were/are one of the best bands of the last fifty years. They were more than the sum of their parts.

His vocals sounded best in the Joshua Tree/Achtung Baby era, my God. I have no idea what he’s talking about.

Photos courtesy of Avalon Red.

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48 Responses to “Bono: ‘I’m just embarrassed’ whenever I hear a U2 song on the radio”

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  1. Stef says:

    This is funny to think he cringes when he hears his own band name and voice. He’s likely sick of it after 40 years, I know a lot of people find them played out.

    His voice was the best for Joshua Tree and Achtung Baby, I think that’s when they peaked. I started to lose interest after Zooropa, though I appreciated they were experimenting and having fun with that album.

    True artists are always extremely critical of their own work…

    • Pusspants says:

      I agree that it seems common for a musician to be critical of their own music. That said, as a fan of their early work I agree that Bono doesn’t have a great singing voice. However he had charisma, passion & the right amount of bravado to lead the band. The War album was brilliant & their live performances are fantastic. After Queen & the brilliant Freddie Mercury, their performance at Live Aid was the most praised and launched them into a higher level of fame. I believe the pinnacle was the Joshua Tree and they’ve had a few good songs here & there after. I’d be okay with them retiring…or maybe just touring playing their 80s work.

  2. whatWHAT? says:

    possibly one of the most overrated bands of my lifetime. yes, they have a few good songs, lots of fans, staying power, etc. but MY GAWD the non-stop playing of them on the radio in my HS and college years just put me off of them.

    Where the Streets Have No Name, Mysterious Ways…maybe a few others. but HO-LEE-SH*T do I HATE HATE HATE With or Without You. it’s SO DAMN repetitive.

    • MAc says:

      The Edge gave the band a unique sound by playing a telecaster in drop d tuning. Interesting the first few times you hear, annoying as hell after that.

    • Tiffany:) says:

      I used to really love Mysterious Ways, but it’s been a while since I’ve listened.

    • The Recluse says:

      Back in the ’00s Mom and I finally got to see them live and were disappointed. Their concert was in a sense so pre-choreographed that it had no energy, so it was uninspiring. Now, Green Day and Pearl Jam were another matter. They bring the energy. Pearl Jam does not have a pre-arranged playlist for each concert. Eddie writes it out for each one, which keeps it lively.

    • Mia says:

      Totally agree they are and always were rubbish.

  3. Yinyang says:

    Haha that’s funny

  4. steph says:

    I can’t stand U2 and Bono is a tax dodging asshat. I screamed when they entered my iPod against my will. Remember that fiasco?

    • Anne says:

      I cannot get that damn album on my iTunes. It enrages me.

    • Pusspants says:

      That was a supremely stupid marketing idea. I liked their early music and it even pissed me off on principle. And not paying proper taxes in Ireland is really shitty. I wish the interviewer asked him about that.

    • ooshpick says:

      yes i remember @steph. I share your opinion. he should be embarrassed….posturing as a liberal while acting like a republican.

      • Kat says:

        This in SPADES.

        He was always preaching leftist ideals while cozying up to the worst right wingers.

  5. Andrew's Nemesis says:

    I’ve been a U2 fan since I was seven years old. When I want to listen to actual music, rather than the autotuned nonsense that clogs the charts, I put on one of their albums and bliss out. Don’t be so deprecating about your voice, Bono; it doesn’t suit you. One of the most unique voices in rock history.

    • LadyMTL says:

      I’ve been a fan since my early teens, so that’s over 30 years now (and have seen them in concert 5 times…their shows are spectacular.)

      I know it’s cool to hate on them these days but their music really was incredible, though IMHO their last great album was Achtung Baby. I personally think Bono’s voice hasn’t aged well, maybe because of the smoking IDK? I don’t always agree with their politics and such, but they will forever be one of my favorite bands.

    • Pusspants says:

      I get that you’re saying AN. I loved them in my angsty adolescent years during the mid 80s and I even like the October album because it’s so raw. If I hear Where the Streets Have No Name it instantly puts me in a good mood & I envision them performing on the top of a liquor store in downtown LA.

    • liz says:

      Agreed. I’ve been a fan of their music for almost 40 years. New Year’s Day was the first single that caught my attention when it was first released (I’m not much younger than they are). They have always been political. It’s just who they are and they are very much a product of their environment.

      Very few people can hear their own voice the way the rest of the world hears them. Bono should know that. I think he had some vocal training after the first few albums came out, but the smoking has caught up with him.

      He may not like listening to U2s music, but he clearly enjoys performing it. Vertigo is a fun song to watch them do live – Bono loves working the room with that number, I think that’s what he likes about it. It’s a song meant to be done with a participatory audience. I don’t think there is much deeper analysis in there to look for.

      As for the name – they were teenagers when they did that to themselves. I think it’s time he forgave them for that moment of adolescent stupidity. At least it’s not “Foo Fighters” (which may be one of the most ridiculous band names ever).

    • lucy2 says:

      I love them too. We listened a ton in studio during college, and I saw them around that time too, the Pop tour (my least favorite of their albums) and had like 3rd row seats and it was so much fun.

      I actually like Vertigo a lot, but I do think his voice sounds strained on it, especially compared to earlier stuff. One, and All I Want is You, are my 2 favorites. I lost a bunch of my digital music and bought their anthology, so I end up listening to it now quite a bit. Bono seems obnoxious, but I do love a lot of their songs.

  6. MissMarirose says:

    I am baffled. His voice sounds so rough on Vertigo and the lyrics to that song are awkward.

    “With or Without You” is their best song and I will die on this hill.

  7. Luna34 says:

    I just don’t get why this band is popular. To me it sounds like the most boring, middle of the road, play it safe to get radio play pandering of a band. Also didn’t they all force themselves on our iTunes a decade or so ago? That was a bad move. I think Ed Sheran is the new U2 for me. Every song sounds the same, no creativity or individuality yet gets reward after reward. I guess the music industry is just forcing middle of the road bland on us at this point!

    • Pusspants says:

      I could imagine thinking the same if I only heard the music they put out in the past 25 years. What they are in middle age and what they were in their 20s is quite distinct in my opinion. The earlier music has an intense emotional undertone that reflected the impact of growing up in a country experiencing a religious civil war. Maybe it’s just human nature to gravitate to the middle once your successful. It’s sad.

  8. Amber says:

    I think his best vocal performance might be “Bad” from The Unforgettable Fire. A song of theirs I listen to all the time is “Cedars of Lebanon” from No Line On The Horizon. But mostly for Adam’s bass line. You can only do so many stadium-filling epic songs. This song is quieter and more contemplative, fitting for a band full of old guys now. But I love much of their earlier work.

    • Kat says:

      “Bad” is one of my favorites. I haven’t listened to one of their albums since HTDAAB. The earlier stuff (pre Achtung) is better, Bono’s voice is so much more interesting.

      I was a fan as a kid and teenager, but actively stopped listening in my 20s.

  9. Eve says:

    Among the top five bands I HATE THE MOST in the history of music.

    Loathe his whining voice too. And he had the nerve — or whoever came up with the idea — to call it “bono vox”.

    Hate it, hate it, hate it, hate it, hate it, hate it ever since I listened to it for the first time (I think I was 10).

    P.S.: I have some issues with South Park’s creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker but I will be forever grateful for the episode “More Cr*p”. That pretty much summarized Paul Hewlson and everything BS he had be pulling for decades in less than an hour.

  10. Amy Bee says:

    U2 is just a corny band that pretended to be cool and Bono is a corporate centrist. I’d be cringing too,

  11. Redheadwriter says:

    I proudly love U2. I think my favorite song is Numb, with The Edge on vocals (?). They’re fun, they’re easy, they remind me of my youth. Win/win for me! Plus they really do put on some amazing concerts.

  12. Lukie says:

    I didn’t bother listening to U2 after the Joshua Tree. They became too commercial and I lost interest. I will forever be a Sunday Bloody Sunday type of girl….

  13. atorontogal says:

    I never understand an artist who trashes their own music/sound. Was it not this very music that turned you into an international star? Made you gazillions of dollars and a household name? Granted the music was crap most of the time, but that doesn’t negate the fact that this made him and his bandmates very very rich. Why be ashamed of it? So you’ve grown as an artist and aren’t exactly happy with what you first put out, still it grabbed people’s attention and you should be proud of your accomplishments.

  14. LA says:

    U2 was my first favorite rock band. I bought The Unforgettable Fire for my big bro for Christmas (on vinyl, not to be hip, but because it was that long ago lol) and fell in love with it myself. They’ve just been around so long, and played on radio so heavily for decades, that I think it’s somewhat inevitable that people would get tired of their sound. But boy, there are still a few songs of theirs (All I Want Is You, Sunday Bloody Sunday, Where the Streets Have No Name…) that I can’t turn off when they come on. They were the soundtrack to my childhood, and for that, I’ll always have a soft spot.

    • Hyrule Castle says:

      I will live & die for Unforgettable Fire.
      The entire album is phenomenal.

      That being said, Bono’s voice has never been good. War is an incredible album, so is Boy, but his voice hasn’t gotten better.

      He is, however, one of the best frontmen in music history. That’s his legacy, his live performances fronting U2. We don’t care what he sounds like, just his presence is the show.

    • TigerMcQueen says:

      I love U2, but I agree, I think all bands that are around long enough experiment and try to evolve, but eventually become stuck in the same sound. I still like a lot of their work, but get that they’re overplayed and how everything kind of feels like it’s the same, especially in the last 20 years.

      For example, I’m a huge Muse fan, because they’re gloriously over-the-top and their live shows are AMAZING. They get similar complaints regarding their sound being ‘the same’ (the last few albums) along with lamentations from their older fans who liked their earlier work better. It’s interesting.

      But I will never forget hearing The Joshua Tree for the first time. I thought it was amazing (still do), and thought that was it. They’d never do anything as great again. But I was even more blown away by Achtung Baby. Songs from both of those are still on my music rotation.

    • grabbyhands says:

      Thank god for your comment – I was beginning to think no one understood that they existed as a band before Joshua Tree.

      Agreed on Unforgettable Fire. I think War is their magnum opus, but this album is a close second.

    • J says:

      Yes, Unforgettable Fire is my favorite U2. I even love the album cover art!

      • Anan says:

        Yes! The Unforgettable Fire is my favorite album ever. I had it on vinyl, cassette, cd, and now on Apple Music. Have never stopped loving it.

        And anything after Rattle and Hum is crap.

  15. LibraryDiane says:

    Long-time reader, first-time commenter. I love U2 & Bono is my favorite person I don’t actually know in real life. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve seen them in concert, 16? 17? I really don’t know what to think about this interview, “Vertigo” is his favorite vocal of his? My favorite is “Running To Stand Still” off the Joshua Tree album. What I really don’t like about this interview is it gives naysayers a reason to diss my favorite band & entertainer. Oh, well, more concert tickets for me!
    And one more thing…TEAM SUSSEX!

    • searchlight soul says:

      if i’ve ever heard “vertigo” i don’t remember it, but i can give myself an earworm with “running to stand still”. such an epic song!

      i saw U2 for the first time in 1983, for the last time in 1987. they put out 3 albums in that time AND toured nonstop, mad props for that. then came “achtung baby” and they sold tickets for the shows over the phone only, and i couldn’t get through…

      i still have their first cd’s, but i sold “achtung baby” to a used cd place and never bought anything else they released.

  16. BayTampaBay says:

    “His vocals sounded best in the Joshua Tree/Achtung Baby era, my God. I have no idea what he’s talking about.”

    Bono probably does not know what he is talking about either. LOL!

  17. Agreatreckoning says:

    Like and still listen to them Good memories associated with a lot of their music.

    I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For is on my golf playlist. The dopey, corny Sweetest Thing makes me smile.

  18. Mabs A'Mabbin says:

    Omg, U2 was my 80s along with Cult, Depeche, Cure, Bronski, Level 42, Erasure and on and on. But I went full on grunge in the 90s (omg, Alice in Chains and all those boys who hung out with each other lol) along with the birth of Indie via girl bands… Alanis et al. In The Name was indeed my favorite in spite of, but I did lose interest after their proliferation.

  19. MsGnomer says:

    LOL LOL What utter nonsense. He is such a diva. Always has been, always will be.

  20. AMA1977 says:

    Bono is and always will be on my laminated list (except I would probably turn scarlet myself and run away if I ever did meet him). I have loved U2 since I was 13 and got The Joshua Tree on CD when I got my very first CD player (the Sony boombox type where you tapped the CD player to pop a disc in or out!) I am 30 years past that time and I still love them and him with a fiery white-hot love. “City of Blinding Light” always gets me in the feels. “Running To Stand Still” is hauntingly beautiful. “One” (and the accompanying video, my gawd!!) is amazing. “Heartland”, “All I Want is You”, When I Look at the World”, “Angel of Harlem” (I remember bonding with my dad over that one, he’s a huge jazz fan and loves Lady Day, so he was impressed that the band I loved loved her too!) So many fantastic songs attached to so many wonderful memories and they put on a killer live show. One of the true greats of rock and roll.

  21. thaisajs says:

    I dunno, I think “Boy” was better than some of their more recent albums. I checked out with that Popmart album. They headed in a direction musically that I wasn’t interested in.

  22. Kkat says:

    Sunday bloody Sunday was my favorite

    • Agreakreckoning says:

      As someone who still listens to the radio at home and in the car(obvs classic stations?), since this post, I’ve heard:
      With or Without You x3
      Sunday Bloody Sunday x2
      Beautiful Day x2
      Where the Streets Have No Names x1
      Pride(In the Name of Love) x1

      And I like it.