After Hours

The album Apple should have given away instead of U2's latest

On Tuesday, Apple blasted copies of U2's newest album to more than 500 million iTunes customers. TechRepublic's staff complains.

u2album.png
Image: Eric Franklin/CNET

I've never felt so violated.

Somewhere in the din of Tuesday's Apple event, it was lost on me that should I open iTunes on my iPhone, I'd find the brand-spanking new U2 album Songs of Innocence hanging out with the rest of my obsessively-curated collection of music.

I don't have anything outright against U2. They're just not my bag. Also, how do you complain about something that's free?

Don't answer that.

I do care though, perhaps in the opposite way that Kindle users a few years back collectively looked at each other with raised eyebrows when books disappeared from their devices and asked, "Did you know they could do that?"

I care a lot. My iTunes library on my iPhone is an amalgam of albums I can't live without, mixtapes formated as playlists, and a smattering of albums I'm test driving. U2 has no place there.

Sounds like someone has a problem, no? For some quick background, I've been writing about music for various publications since I was 17. Arguing for weeks with your peers about the best songs and albums of the month, year, decade, etc. does something to you.

That said, obviously, there are reasons why Apple did what it did: How do you not take advantage of a pre-existing relationship with one of the biggest bands in the world that just happens to have a new album coming out and who probably doesn't need the extra money from album sales?

We're going to ignore that.

We're also going to tell them how they could have done it better.

Before deciding that I'd shove a copy of Stories Don't End by Dawes onto every single iTunes account in the world because of a fierce and personal attachment to the album, I created some criteria for how I'd pick that album. This is a lot of responsibility, afterall, that I've just granted to myself. The way you present an album, tv show, or movie, can make or break how the person in question receives it. Here's my criteria:

1. Limited recognition - If you're planning on picking a Beatles album, you're wasting your time. We all know them. Most of us love them. Either way, if you're unfamiliar with the Beatles, you're in the minority. On the flip side, let's not get pretentious picking an album from a band or artist no one's ever heard of — they should have enough cultural currency as not to be immediately dismissed.

2. Appeal - Music is so fragmented. It's a beautiful inconvenience. It means you can be into dreamwave or psychobilly or whatever. Just know, it might be you and 10 other people. Ergo, the album shouldn't be anything too niche. Rock? Sure. Experimental freeform jazz/ death metal fusion? Perhaps not. You might be able to get away with William Shatner's 2004 spoken word album Has Been.

3. Accessibility - If you're trying to make it easy for people to get into an album, stay away from turn offs like excessively long running times for either songs on the album or the album as a whole. Hitting 35-45 minutes would be ideal.

I also consulted with my fellow TechRepublic writers and editors and asked for their opinions. Drunk with the imaginary power of turning an album loose on the world, we made our picks.

What would be yours?

Apollo: Atmospheres and Soundtracks by Brian Eno (1983)

It's a tough choice; not to pick the coolest album of all time (probably Darklands by The Jesus and Mary Chain) or one I like the most (Suede by Suede) but the one that you might want to share with half a billion people. Brian Eno's 1983 ambient soundscape, a meditation on the Apollo moon landings is what I'd choose; contemplative, complex and the complete opposite of pompous stadium rock. From the zero-gravity country music of "Deep Blue Day" to the poignant "Always Returning," it's an other-worldly treat that is still somehow very human and optimistic about the future; something worth sharing.

— Steve Ranger, UK editor

Learning to Bend by Ben Sollee (2008)

Apple has made waves by introducing the world to amazing artists who deserve a lot more listens. While going in that direction with a lesser-known artist for an album giveaway as part of Tuesday's event might not have generated as many headlines, if Apple gave away an album that had a name and theme that reflected their product announcements and the company's overall values, then the company could have done something fresher and more forward-looking. With that mind, they should have offered users Learning to Bend by singer/songwriter Ben Sollee. The "bend" would have echoed the curve of the Apple Watch band, and Sollee's socially conscious lyrics would have blended well with many of Apple's core values. Plus, Sollee's jazzy, acoustical rhythms have the kind of creative, imaginative vibe that Apple always tries to associate with its brand.

— Jason Hiner, Editor in chief

The Both by Aimee Mann and Ted Leo (2014)

Aside from being my favorite album of the year, it just so happens The Both meets my criteria — both Leo and Mann are established artists, the album hovers around 40 minutes, the songs are short, and most of all, it's an easy album to listen to.

Mann and Leo compliment each other well — she's particularly adept at coupling strong writing and accessible melodies, and his guitar playing amps up the folk sensibility. The Both is a likable, upbeat album with a certain air of simplicity the Apple-loyal could appreciate.

— Erin Carson, Staff writer

Made Up Mind by Tedeschi Trucks Band (2013)

I believe Apple should have offered Made Up Mind, the latest album by the blues rock group Tedeschi Trucks Band. The band is led by husband-and-wife duo Derek Trucks and Susan Tedeschi. Trucks is, in my opinion, one of the greatest living blues guitarists. In 1999, by the age of 20, he became an official member of the Allman Brothers Band and had already played with artists such as Bob Dylan. Tedeschi is a multiple Grammy nominee blues and soul musician with a powerful voice and a commanding stage presence.

The band formed in 2010 after both musicians wound down their respective side projects and officially took the name Tedeschi Trucks Band the following year. Their earlier album Revelator won the Grammy for Best Blues Album in 2012. Made Up Mind carries on the tradition of the albums that preceded it by blending expert blues playing with gospel and world music influences. It is album that is steeped in the blues, but highly accessible and can be enjoyed even by folks who are not dedicated fans of the genre.

— Conner Forrest, Staff writer

Days Are Gone by Haim (2013)

These So Cal sisters made headlines when they blew hipsters away at all of the major music festivals after the release of their debut album Days Are Gone last year. The trio blends soft rock and pop in a way reminiscent of your favorite 80's hits. Haim has great chemistry, complementary talents, and plenty of snark and entertainment on stage. Danielle, (lead vocals and guitar), Este (bass, vocals), and Alana (keyboard, vocals) are showing that the world we're long overdue for more talented, badass, authentic women to rise to the top. I like the idea of releasing their album to the masses to drive that message home.

— Lyndsey Gilpin, Staff writer

Working Class Dog by Rick Springfield (1981)

If we're doing a throwback to the bands of the 80s, why not bring up one of the pop classics from Rick Springfield that is still a staple of classic rock stations more than 30 years after its debut. And that spurred a Grammy award for the artist. Honestly, there's no album more appropriate to share than the one that introduced "Jessie's Girl" to the world and a particular tech editor who was, at the time, a 13-year-old girl. I confess to playing this LP over and over as a young teenager. And a 20-something woman. And now. It's been the soundtrack for many a road trip over the years. It was not only the iconic refrains of "Jessie's Girl" that captured my eternal attention, but also Springfield's cover of Sammy Hagar's "I've Done Everything for You" and the admittedly repetitive lines and chords to "Love is Alright Tonite." Yes. I am a child of the 80's and this was the pop music that once upon a time made me wish that I was Jessie's girl and the object of his affection.

— Teena Hammond, Senior editor

Also see:

About Erin Carson

Erin Carson is a Staff Reporter for CNET and a former Multimedia Editor for TechRepublic.

Editor's Picks

Free Newsletters, In your Inbox