Tuesday, September 5th
London, Abbey Road Studios: birthplace to most of the Beatles records, and countless other classic albums from Pink Floyd’s ‘Dark Side of the Moon’ to Radiohead’s ‘Kid A’.
Larry and Edge have flown in from Dublin, Bono from France and Adam, already in the city, has taken the short drive across town. Waiting in the control room is the instantly recognisable figure of Mr Rick Rubin, a producer whose musical pedigree stretches from Justin Timberlake to The Mars Volta, from Johnny Cash to Metallica. Rubin met up with the band earlier in the summer down in France and word is that some of what was written and demoed then will be recorded properly in the coming days.
Whatever the heritage of the famous Studio 2, it wasn’t the spirit of the sixties blasting out when U2 showed… it was seventies punk. Barely had the band arrived than they were into a cover of ‘The Saints Are Coming’, a 1978 hit for The Skids.
‘The saints are coming, the saints are coming.
I say no matter how I try, I realise there's no reply’
Larry tells us they spent most of the day on this and were still working in the small hours of Wednesday. Green Day are arriving in a few days to work with them on a cover, a collaboration to benefit Music Rising.
Wednesday, September 6th 06
Back in the studio this afternoon, a late kick-off but now working on a new U2 track. Taping, as we used to call it, is briefly interrupted when Paul McCartney and Beatles producer George Martin drop by. U2 and McCartney were last in a London studio together in the summer of 2005, rehearsing ‘Sergeant Pepper’. Then playing Live 8 to a billion people next day. Bit of a moment to see Macca sliding down the bannister of the stairway from the control room to the studio floor. This place is like his second home. Then U2 got back to making music… and on into the night.
Thursday, September 7th 06
U2 were again at work by early afternoon, this time on a track that sounds like a U2 classic with an instant hook and a mesmerising chorus.
‘Bono had demoed it in Dublin,’ explains Larry. ‘Then brought it to the band and even in its most basic form you had the feeling that something special was going on.
‘It felt that maybe this time we were not going to be pushing a rock up a hill as we do a lot of the time with new material.’
Another late night finish but the vibes are good.
Friday, September 8th 06
Bono often talks of U2’s approach to creating new material as ‘songwriting by accident’. But there’s nothing accidental going on today. Adam, Larry, Edge and Bono are seated around the control room chatting to Rubin who sits on a sprawling leather sofa. They play back their latest take and go through it passage by passage.
Bono has three quarters of the lyric written out on a large pad of white paper – alternative stanzas scribbled alongside the main theme. Two key lines in the verses are missing – to which Bono is la’ing and humming on each take – and it needs some kind of pay-off at the end. It’s a song with no name at the moment.
Larry suggests hearing the first half of one verse segued into the second half of the next. Edge comes up with a missing line - using the world ‘apologise’. If you’re a rap star, says Rick, who knows about rap stars, you get extra points for getting a four-syllable word in your song. Lyrical ideas fly round the room with Bono scribbling them down. Every now and then he goes to the mic, the engineer brings the track up and he tries out a new line. Edge lays down some backing vocals. Larry and Bono swap Oasis anecdotes while Rick talks bass-lines with Adam. Edge scribbles another pair of lines on the back of an envelope.
By early evening Abbey Road has emptied of musicians, engineers and producers but U2 are on a roll. By ten pm many of the missing elements in the song have been added. Everyone listens back again. Nowhere near finished but now with a complete lyric, a new opening and a different ending.
‘It’s been a good day,’ says the singer. ‘This is one that could take the roof off! Let’s call it a night.’