Tuesday, February 21, 2006

The U2 Canon - Zooropa

U2 has a long history of releasing smaller albums after major releases. It started out, after the release of War, with the release of a live EP - Under a Blood Red Sky. After the release of The Unforgettable Fire, they upped the ante by including some new songs along with a few live cuts well, with Wide Awake in America. And after the mega-success of The Joshua Tree they took the formula and put it on steroids, releasing the double CD Rattle and Hum, which included, basically, a complete live album and a complete album of new material.

Shortly after Achtung Baby, the band once again released a "minor" album--but this time they abandoned the live recordings documenting the previous big album and released just a new album--a new album largely recorded and written while touring for Achtung Baby. That album, Zooropa, wasn't a huge hit, but it did just fine, and earned for itself a nomination at that year's Grammys for Best Alternative Album.

Zooropa took the aesthetic the band had developed for Achtung Baby and kind of exponentialized it. The electronics, the falsetto, the drum machine-driven rhythms all were taken more center stage, with the guitars (ironically, given that The Edge got a producer credit here) taking more of a back seat. The result was admirable if hard to swallow for the more casual U2 fan--there were no anthems to hang on to here, no big U2-sound songs, and for many that proved off-putting. But this is a fine album, and one that rewards many listens.

1. "Zooropa" - A great opener, the song starts with some eerie synths that drift for a while before a soft piano figure comes in. Soon static and dim voices start muddying up the sound before the whole sonic collage collapses into a single stabbing guitar riff. Very effective. This song is a precursor to some of the more mellow stuff U2 would experiment with later; you can hear hints of, for example, The Million Dollar Hotel soundtrack here.

2. "Babyface" - The bass line from "With or Without You" makes a guest appearance for this slinky, frankly sex-themed song, a kind of dirty cousin to its more romantic forbearer.

3. "Numb" - Perhaps the most frankly experimental song on the album. A heartbeat is laid down, and a very sterile, harsh guitar riff repeats over it. Then The Edge starts repeating, in a kind of drugged-out lethargic monotone the staccato lyrics. After a while Bono and Larry (!) sing a crooning falsetto over the machine-like rumblings below. Odd, yet oddly compelling.

4. "Lemon" - An open attempt at a dance club song, with the hopping bass line and drumbeat to go with it. Bono sings the entire thing in an aching falsetto. This song has a real odd beauty to it, especially in the more open verses--"I feel, like I'm slowly, slowly, slowly slippin' under."

5. "Stay (Faraway Co Close) - A classic, and a song that should be covered for years to come. It kind of fits oddly on this album, as it's more or less a straightforward rock ballad, with a classic backbeat from Larry, a stolid bass line, and some truly wonderful singing from Bono. That rare bit of rock-solid songwriting from the band.

6. "Daddy's Gonna Pay for Your Crashed Car" - An odd industrial-sounding beast, with a frantic drum part and a grunting, grinding, low guitar riff.

7. "Some Days Are Better than Others" - A smooth, sly, silky song that doesn't take itself too seriously. Kind of a throwaway, but not a bad one.

8. "The First Time" - Kind of a forgotten U2 song. This blissfully simple hymn is built around a simple repeated strummed two-chord pattern on the electric guitar. The volume and intensity builds throughout the song, as elements are slowly, subtly added--some background synths, a quiet, serene guitar melody, some piano chords. By the end it's built to something of real power and emotion. A stunning song, really, that's undeservedly buried.

9. "Dirty Day" - A slow, loping groove in the bass defines the song, a kind of clanging and rattling piece, with Bono declaiming the lyrics in a kind of tired, resigned tone. When the full band kicks in part way through, there's some real power and heat generated.

10. "The Wanderer" - Guest singer Johnny Cash sings a song obviously tailored for him, an epic kind of country ballad put through the U2 filter, with an easy cantering electronic-tinged bass line defining the song. Gorgeously sung, with some real rumbling low notes that fit Cash to a T.

Until Whenever

1 comment:

tragicallyflip said...

Why does everybody sleep on U2's 90's catalogue? Why?

It's goddamned revisionism I tell ya.