Just as we were beginning to wonder what on earth was going on with U2’s new album and the deafening silence surrounding the project, Billboard comes with the surprising news that Steve Lillywhite will be producing the album.
Such is the power of U2 that they can pull Lillywhite from semi-retirement. Steve will leave his job as Mercury U.K. joint managing director and start work on production next week.
But wait a minute… what about the work U2 had done with producer Chris Thomas? Does this mean Bono wasn’t kidding when he told RTE presenter Pat Kenny “the band had just spent time in London working on three new songs with a lavish fifty piece orchestra, only to find that the songs were ‘shite'”.
At the time, The Edge added that it was merely ‘back to the drawing board’ on the songs in question. Now it seems that was too optimistic an outlook. One might speculate somewhere along the line the project derailed and that Lillywhite’s there to put it back on track.
Lillywhite’s comments in the article (“this will be the first time I’ve really set up the mikes and done everything for a long time”) suggest the band will start a completely new recording session, which is surprising, to say the least.
This is, however, not the first time the band have switched producers during the recording process. U2 initially went into the studio with Nellee Hooper to record what would eventually become their album Pop, but the work was later overseen by Flood and Howie B.
Update: official news at U2.com in which Paul McGuinness states: ‘There are various producers involved in this album. Chris Thomas has done some great work. It’s good to work with Steve again but it’s not as if we’re starting from scratch.’
Mercury U.K. joint managing director Steve Lillywhite has left his role with the label to return to his roots in record production. Lillywhite tells Billboard.biz he will take no time off and will begin producing an album by U2 next week. The as-yet-untitled set is due from Interscope/Island later this year.
“It’s the first time I’ll have gone in to actually start a record with them in 20 years,” says Lillywhite. “I worked on ‘The Joshua Tree,’ ‘Achtung Baby’ and ‘All That You Can’t Leave Behind,’ but this will be the first time I’ve really set up the mikes and done everything for a long time.”
Lillywhite also oversaw the band’s first two albums, 1980’s “Boy” and 1981’s “October.” He adds, “I’ve heard some great songs. The Edge is playing some really great guitar.”
The new U2 album will be the follow-up to 2000’s “All That You Can’t Leave Behind,” which debuted at No. 3 on The Billboard 200 and has sold 4.1 million copies in the U.S., according to Nielsen SoundScan. The set was named best rock album at the 2001 Grammys and placed three tracks in the top-10 of Billboard’s Modern Rock Tracks airplay chart: “Beautiful Day” (No. 5), “Elevation” (No. 8) and “Walk On” (No. 10).
Lillywhite, one of Britain’s top rock producers, has a list of credits that includes the Rolling Stones, Talking Heads, Peter Gabriel, Morrissey and the Dave Matthews Band. In 2002, he was brought to Universal U.K. by chairman/CEO Lucian Grainge.
“I’ve had two great years, and I’ve loved a lot of it,” says Lillywhite, “but really I wasn’t that made out for getting up early in the morning. That’s 25 years of producing records. I got more and more of an urge to be in the studio, so Lucian and I had a chat and decided it was best that I return to that.”
— Paul Sexton, London