Rob’s essay on Zooropa clashes with my understanding of history: Zooropa may have confounded fans, but it was of a piece with Achtung Baby, with which it shares sonic affinities. The outlier is Pop, by any standard a flop in America: number one on career momentum, sure, but one top ten single that tumbled out of the top forty in four weeks, followup singles floundering, a tour that conflated irony with spectacle (their Miami performance in a half-empty arena was actually rather good: seven months after Pop‘s release, U2 played like they wanted to sell the new songs).
Zooropa on the other hand is to my ears the band’s only interesting album after Achtung Baby. What I wrote in 2009 holds true:
Although I only started getting them with the Achtung Baby-Zooropa double shot that will likely remain their lasting achievements, it wasn’t until I read Bill Flanagan’s U2 At the End of the World that I was ready to give their back catalogue the benefit of the doubt. Flanagan’s U2 is so self-aware yet so wide-eyed. Bono sounded like the missing link between Irish and Cuban shit-talkers. It disappointed me when every subsequent album failed to match the flawed, very interesting people Flanagan wrote about. Pop, All That You Can’t Leave Behind, and How To Dismantle an Atom Bomb were lapidary efforts by a band on permanent holiday from itself, the work of dilettantes devoted to a work ethic that too closely mirrored the grind of democratic politicians on both sides of the Atlantic; they’re like senators who likes to pretend they’re not in safe seats, immersing themselves in “policy” and parliamentary minutia to prove they’ve mastered an issue. Telling Edge to play the blues and getting away with American flag jacket linings, each incident thirteen years apart – the permanent campaign.
I’m in the minority regarding All That You Can’t Leave Behind. From the overwrought title to the horrible mix to the gaseous second half, it reeks. I still dislike the desperation with which Bono and the other three lunge for the throat of “Beautiful Day”‘s chorus. Meanwhile the first two minutes of Zooropa’s title track alone — unmoored piano, the wah-wah guitar, sampled Bono plaintively calling “What do you want?” — would have sounded devastating playing through arena speakers. And the album doesn’t stop. Bono is foxy (“Babyface”), hungover (“Some Days Are Better Than Others”), humbled before gospel chords and Eno synths (“The First Time”). On “Lemon” he, Edge, and Eno finesse the despair-in-kitsch approach which on Pop looked as dangerous as the Golden Arches.