Wednesday, January 27, 2010

U2 9: Zooropa

Remember when 18 months between albums seemed like a really long time? Zooropa was part of U2’s tradition of Under A Blood Red Sky, Wide Awake In America and Rattle & Hum by following a major statement with a lesser project. Once again, what was supposed to be a simple tour souvenir turned into a full-length album.
The title track is an overt reference to Achtung Baby, beginning with a full two minutes of instrumental before the vocals come in, and then the mood changes again into another section that fits like a glove. The much simpler, playful “Babyface” doesn’t sound like it took a lot of time to produce, but “Numb” is another matter altogether. This is one of those songs people either love or hate, thanks to the Edge’s one-note vocal, which made for a striking single as well as video. Bono takes charge again on “Lemon”, using his new falsetto over most of the track with help from Edge and Brian Eno. The “midnight is where the day begins” sections over the major-key piano make it all worth it. (And if you haven’t had enough of the song, it was available in about seventeen extended remixes.) The first half concludes with another slow burner, the exquisite “Stay (Faraway, So Close!)” It’s another song that’s almost too simple to be good, but boy, does it work. Altogether, a very satisfying album side.
The second half, however, is more of a gamble, illustrating their transition from a rock ‘n roll band to a dance outfit. “Daddy’s Gonna Pay For Your Crashed Car” and “Some Days Are Better Than Others” (which at least has a memorable chorus) both feature negligible lyrics over frankly interchangeable beats, so much that when “The First Time” seeps in, it’s refreshing to hear an actual song for a change. It doesn’t go much of anywhere, nor does it have to. “Dirty Day” doesn’t really boost the energy, not right away anyway, being a largely meandering track with a vintage U2 sound underneath vocals not as profound as they intend. The joke’s on us, however, with “The Wanderer”, a loping space cowboy number sung by none other than Mr. Johnny Cash (who was that close to having his career resurrected by Rick Rubin). It’s just as well, since it would have sounded really stupid had it been sung by Bono. The final middle finger comes with the warning siren pinging out the disc’s end to wake up anyone who’d been distracted.
Zooropa was the last time they tried to do something quickly and simply and actually succeeded. Each album since has been accompanied by Bono’s promises that they had more ideas that would result in a quick follow-up, but to date he’s gotten ahead of himself. At any rate, the excellence of the first half of the album makes it a worthy, substantial entry in their canon. Much of the credit can go to the Edge, who’d learned a lot looking over the shoulder of Eno from behind the mixing desk. His role as Bono’s foil on and offstage would continue to evolve.

U2 Zooropa (1993)—


  1. The piano riff in "Lemon" is GTR's "When the Heart Rules the Mind".