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U2 on Letterman and the streets of NYC

Why the Irish foursome are popping up on ”Late Show” and sidewalks to publicize their new album ”No Line on the Horizon,” and how it could affect their album sales

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On a recent Monday afternoon in midtown Manhattan, four middle-aged Irishmen were shoveling snow during a blizzard. The men were the members of U2, and their manual labor was just a gag — part of a sketch for the Late Show With David Letterman. But the amount of effort that U2 are putting into promoting the March 3 release of their 12th studio album, No Line on the Horizon, is no joke. The rock vets have launched a five-night stint on Letterman, constant TV ads, and a Good Morning America appearance. Does the band often called the biggest in the world really have to work this hard to get people to care about their new music?

Maybe. ”I don’t think it’s going to be as big for us as, say, the last Coldplay record, which I’m sure would irk Bono,” says Tom Quirk, VP of music-subscription site Rhapsody.com, referring to last summer’s Viva La Vida. That album, from the other biggest band in the world, sold 721,000 copies in its first week. ”But they’ll do just fine. Let me put it this way: He’ll be able to buy a lot of sunglasses.” Other industry observers have predicted Horizon will be closer to 500,000 — more than a tad shy of both Viva and the last U2 disc, 2004’s How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb, which debuted with 840,000 copies sold. But who knows? When first-week sales are officially reported March 11, it may turn out that the publicity blitz paid off: EW joined hundreds of people who showed up on the freezing cold release day to see the group and NYC mayor Michael Bloomberg temporarily rename a side street ”U2 Way” in honor of their connection to the city, while a day earlier Anna DePalo said she’d driven six hours from Montreal to see U2 play Letterman. ”I’m so excited!” crowed another fan, Elaine Freedman. Across town, Best Buy manager Andre Sam was enjoying the view over the Horizon. ”A lot of shoppers have been interested in the U2 album in my store,” Sam said, adding that many customers gravitated to the range of deluxe formats on sale. ”Nobody’s picking up any other new release.” — With additional reporting by Aly Semigran