Quick Review (LP): Pop by U2

U2
Pop
Island; 1997

My Rating: C (56/100)

Best Tracks: "If God Will Send His Angels", "Gone", "Wake Up Dead Man", "Last Night On Earth"

U2’s anti-U2 album.

NOTES

  • I can remember hating "Discotheque" when it came out. I thought it was U2 going off the deep end. It’s not so bad though. Strange/hilarious video.
  • "Do You Feel Loved" has a little bit of gracefulness to it. However, it’s nothing special.
  • On "Mofo", the band does their best Prodigy/NIN imitation and pretty much fails.
  • "If God Will Send His Angels" is one of the band’s best melodies. It’s almost like an old school soul song. In fact, I’d love to hear a soul singer cover it.
  • I always though "Staring at the Sun" sounded like U2 were a bit short on inspiration, but they were trying really hard to write their next big cultural milestone.
  • "Last Night On Earth" is a cool tune. Nice big chorus as you would expect from U2.
  • "Gone" is great. The Edge’s guitar work is impressive without sounding like The Edge.
  • "Miami" is just plain ugly.
  • You know, there might be something to "The Playboy Mansion." A twisted vision of heaven for sure, but isn’t that the point?
  • "If You Wear That Velvet Dress" and "Please" don’t really do anything for me. Both are pretty dull.
  • "Wake Up Dead Man" may be one of the band’s best closing tracks. Surprised to learn that it was originally conceived as an upbeat track during the Achtung Baby sessions.
  • Pop has a great concept. I’ve read something somewhere about the genius of the title. In the grand sense, Pop might be U2’s most spiritually significant record, in that it stands as the band’s ironic embrace of the hedonistic mentality of the late 90’s. Pop is a clash, full of noise and confusion, with the grace so common in U2’s work barely perceptible. Me? I love the heart on sleeve U2. I gave Pop a pretty harsh grade, but I can appreciate that this album might be one of their most rewarding for those willing to go as deep as U2 apparently wanted. I suppose that one of these days I might just come back to it and find an album I love.
  • A “C” does seem unfair. Not trying to be a hater.
  • Erlewine’s review at AMG is spot on: "Achtung Baby also was a comment on the numbing isolation of modern culture, but it made sweeping statements through personal observations; Pop makes sweeping statements through sweeping observations. The difference is what makes Pop an easy record to admire, but a hard one to love."

ATTRIBUTES
Cohesion (3/5)
Concept (5/5)
Consequence (4/5)
Consistency (2/5)
Songs (4/5)

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Quick Review (LP): Zooropa by U2

U2
Zooropa
Island; 1993

My Rating: A- (81/100)

Best Tracks: “Babyface”, “Lemon”, “Stay (Faraway, So Close!)”, “Some Days Are Better Than Others”

Post-U2 (and everything else).

NOTES

  • Man, “Zooropa” (the title track) is like the anti-“Where the Streets Have No Name.” Very Eno-esque, reminiscent of something off Another Green World, but a little groovy too. I dig it.
  • “Babyface” is one of the strangest things they’ve ever recorded. It’s also really good. Kind of like a collision of Radiohead’s “Kid A” and “The Fly” off Achtung Baby. Love the twinkly piano thing.
  • Ah, “Numb!” The one where The Edge sings in the monotone and gets his face abused. Bizarre, but strangely enjoyable. I think it’s Bono’s falsetto that makes this track, and the organ breakdown is so silly that it’s fantastic.
  • “Lemon” is wonderful. Beautiful inspiration, transcendent melody. This is one of the U2’s underrated greats. I adore the bridge. See my review of the track here.
  • Man, “Stay”…the goodness on this one just astounds me. That chorus rises to heaven.
  • “Daddy’s Gonna Pay For Your Crashed Car” isn’t great, but it’s decent and pretty interesting. Bono calls it “industrial blues.”
  • The rhythm on “Some Days…” is some of the best work of Clayton and Mullen. Love Clayton’s bass line.
  • The atmosphere on “The First Time” is great. Another underrated gem. Kind of like a hybrid of “Mothers of the Disappeared” and “All I Want Is You.”
  • “Dirty Day” is a bit of a drag, but the overall tide of the album lifts it a few notches.
  • As much as I gotta respect Johnny Cash, I’m looking forward to hearing Bono on “The Wanderer” at some point in the not too distant future (AB deluxe perhaps?).
  • It’s amazing to think about how much this album has grown on me since its release. At the time, I though U2 had gone off the deep end, but as I listen to it now, I realize this is one of U2’s crowning achievements. It’s not quite a masterpiece, but this, like Achtung Baby, is a work of art.
  • There were apparently 20 tracks recorded during the Zooropa sessions, 10 of which are here, and 4 saw release (in re-recorded form) on Pop. I wonder what the other handful were, and if we’ll ever get to hear them? (I think “Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me” was one as well).

ATTRIBUTES
Cohesion (5/5)
Concept (5/5)
Consequence (4/5)
Consistency (4/5)
Songs (4.5/5)

Quick Review (LP): Achtung Baby by U2

U2
Achtung Baby
Island; 1991

My Rating: A+ (100/100)

Best Tracks: "Even Better Than The Real Thing", "One", "Until the End of the World", "Who’s Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses", "Mysterious Ways", "Ultraviolet"

“Let us go then, you and I / When the evening is spread out against the sky…”

NOTES

  • Even today, "Zoo Station" is such a bizarre song. It certainly sent the message at the time that U2 were re-defining themselves as a band. The "Everything In It’s Right Place" of the 90’s.
  • "Time is a train/The future, the past/We’re standing in the station/Our face pressed up against the glass"
  • "Even Better Than The Real Thing" = prophecy. Brilliant guitar work from The Edge.
  • You don’t need me to tell you that "One" is great, but I really love the way the song avoids the traditional verse-chorus-verse. The guitar tones are wonderful too.
  • "Have you come here for forgiveness/Have you come to raise the dead/Have you come here to play Jesus/To the lepers in your head?"
  • "Until the End of the World" is worth the price of admission alone. Judas sings the lead. Jesus sings the "Love love love!"
  • "In the garden, I was playing the tart/I kissed your lips and broke your heart/You, you were acting like it was the end of the world…"
  • "Waves of regret and waves of joy/I reached out for the one I tried to destroy/You, you said you’d wait til the end of the world…"
  • That ending. Haunting, beautiful, amazing.
  • “Who’s gonna ride…?" has always been a personal favorite. Love the wall of sound, the glam coupled with the gorgeous and romantic melody. Amazing lyrics.
  • "Oh the deeper I spin/The hunter will sin/For your ivory skin/Took a drive in the dirty rain/To the place where the wind calls your name…"
  • "So Cruel" is another great from this record. Brilliant songwriting. Sort of sounds like Elvis, doesn’t it? I could see him covering this, a medley with "Suspicious Minds."
  • "The Fly" is a really cool tune. I’ve always loved Bono’s falsetto on that tune, and the way he duels with his own voice on the lower end is brilliant.
  • "Love/We shine like a burning star/Falling from the sky/Tonight"
  • "A man will rise/A man will fall/From the sheer face of love/Like a fly on a wall/It’s no secret at all…"
  • "Mysterious Ways" is the big poppy hit here, but it’s no less a brilliant tune. No one can make meaningful and rich radio rock like U2.
  • "Tryin’ to Throw Your Arms Around the World" is another personal fave. It’s another example of the band sounding completely re-vitalized and fresh, brimming with ideas. Love that ethereal synth part in the background. That makes the song in my book.
  • I know I’m starting to sound like a broken record, but "Ultraviolet" is such a wonderful song. Amazing atmosphere, amazing tune.
  • Achtung Baby contains the band’s best ending sequence. "Acrobat" sets things swirling, setting the mood for what comes next.
  • "Love Is Blindness" – the opening organ is a nice touch. A waltz – what a way to end the record!
  • By the way, what is that lyrical style called (on "Love Is Blindness")? Bono uses it quite a bit, but he really nails it here. Is it a litany?
  • Big awards go to all players here. Bono’s vocals and lyrics are rich and compelling, The Edge’s guitar work is other-worldly, and Clayton and Mullen changed their style to lay the groundwork for greatness. Also, Eno and Lanois work their magic again. Can’t forget Lillywhite or Flood either.
  • Nevermind and Out of Time may have helped spur the music revolution in 1991, but it’s Achtung Baby that stands alone as a truly revolutionary experience. Even today, there’s a magical "high art" quality to the record that is an extremely rare achievement in the world of pop music. Only U2 could pull off a tongue-in-cheek pop record concerned with such weighty themes. A marvel of biblical proportions, and perhaps the record U2 was pre-destined to create.
  • A previous write-up.
  • Really looking forward to the deluxe edition (6CDs!!!) in November.
  • One last thought – AB as a whole sort of reminds me of the T.S. Eliot’s “J. Alfred Prufrock.” I mean the feel of the record. I just realized that.

ATTRIBUTES
Cohesion (5/5)
Concept (5/5)
Consequence (5/5)
Consistency (5/5)
Songs (5/5)

Quick Review (LP): War by U2

U2
War
Island; 1983

My Rating: A- (83/100)

Best Tracks: "Sunday Bloody Sunday", "New Year’s Day", "Drowning Man", "Seconds", "Two Hearts", "40"

NOTES:

– I’ve always thought the drums sounds like CANNONS on this record. I love Steve Lillywhite’s production.
– "40"…A brilliant way to end an album. One of the great closing tracks.
– "The Refugee" is the only significant misstep on the album, and even then it’s a big cheesy goof of a song that has the potential to be a lot of fun live. It sounds very dated.
– One of the best album covers ever. Pure poetry.
War can safely be called U2’s "heart-on-sleeve" album. Witness "Like A Song…", which is quite possibly the most intense track the band has ever produced. "A new heart is what I need/O God make it bleed!"
– My only significant gripe with this record is that it is so intense that anything in the way of a sense of humor or lightness seems completely removed. I’m sure that’s the feel they were going for (after all, war is hell), but the result is that for a great record, it is not very suitable for repeated listening. I guess what I’m trying to say is that it is not exactly delightful in the way that The Joshua Tree or Achtung, Baby! is. This was the pinnacle of U2’s early sound, and it was a wise move to leave the intense, "Love and Peace or Else" phase behind them.
– U2 definitively makes the case here that they had what it would take to become the biggest rock and roll band in the world. "Sunday Bloody Sunday" and "New Year’s Day" are both wonderful in every way imaginable.
– "The newspaper says it’s true/We can break through/Though torn in two/We can be one." That line always leaves me speechless.
– "Drowning Man" is a beautiful, austere change of pace. Just great.
– DELUXE EDITION HIGHLIGHTS: "Endless Deep"

ATTRIBUTES:
Cohesion (4.5/5)
Concept (5/5)
Consistency (4/5)
Consequence (5/5)
Songs (4.5/5)

My review of Boy by U2
My review of October by U2

Tracknotes: “Lemon” by U2

Big Lemon Of U2’s albums, the record that has grown on me most over time is undoubtedly Zooropa. The record that nipped at the heels of the classic Achtung Baby!, Zooropa was heavily steeped in a European irony that made it, in terms of U2 albums, almost inaccessible to American audiences. After all, the debut single from this album was “Numb.” But there are some great tracks on Zooropa (“Stay (Faraway So Close!)”, “Somedays Are Better Than Others”, “The First Time”), and chief among those is the epic kraut-pop of “Lemon.”

  • This song has a great back story. At one point in the early 1990s, a relative sent Bono an old home movie of his mother wearing a lemon-yellow dress as the maid-of-honor at a wedding. Bono was extremely moved by the footage of his deceased mother as a young woman, and the song is about the power of images to stir our memories and our emotions.
  • The video is intended to mimic the first motion picture ever created, a “moving picture” of a rider and horse by a man named Eadweard Muybridge.
  • The lyrics are deeply stirring: “She is the dreamer/She’s imagination/Through the light projected/He can see himself up close.” In my opinion, with this track U2 nailed the paradox that they were trying to capture in the 90’s, that of the extreme humanizing and de-humanizing effects of technology.
  • The guitar sound is amazing. The Edge apparently stumbled upon a gated guitar effect that went perfectly with a drum and bass pattern that he’d put together in the middle of a tour. Still, I think the piano interlude makes the song. It adds the “sehnsucht” to the track that is the key to any great U2 song.
  • All in all, this is one of my favorite U2 tracks. The unique sound of the song, the watery guitar effects, the gorgeous melody, the backstory – it all combines to make classic U2, and one of the most innovative pop songs I’ve ever heard.

August 4th, 2009

Thanks for dropping by! Why not drop a few comments while you’re here…

– I’m continuing my walk-through classic records with new reviews today for Radiohead’s The Bends and U2’s Achtung, Baby.

– There’s also a continuing fan discussion over at Paste on the 20 Best R.E.M. songs.

My Old Kentucky Blog recently interviewed master folker Josh Ritter. Dude’s gotta new album on the way. Woo-hoo! As a note, I learned recently from the ever-reliable Wikipedia that Ritter recently married fellow folker Dawn Landes, a big, big talent (and high school acquaintance of mine) in her own right. Congrats, you crazy kidz!