U2 - Zooropa

Sunday 1st August 1993
U2 - Zooropa
U2 - Zooropa

RATING 7 7 7 7 7 7 7
LABEL: Island 5180472

Reviewed by Rupert Loydell

It's always interesting, seeing how major bands fare at the hands of the music press, and reading the response of those lucky enough to get advance copies of this new offering had been no exception. Reviewers have been bewildered, confused, ecstatic, downbeat... the usual claims have been made, abuse thrown, glib cynical remarks made. So what do we have? 10 tracks recorded in the short (for a band like U2) timespan of two months, garishly dressed in video cut up artwork, publicised as 'immediate', 'improvised' and 'experimental'. These terms, of course, are comparative: no one who listens to improvised jazz, electronic music, or avant garde rock, will find 'Zooropa' difficult to comprehend. Neither will anyone who has ever heard Eno's first few solo LPs. What is challenging, however, is a band prepared to change their music, a band at the peak of success abandoning stadium rock for the layered melange of first 'Achtung Baby', then 'Zooropa'. What is great is the way Bono, as lyricist, has abandoned the high 'n' mighty preaching of yore for some cut up entertainment: love songs, snippets of jingles, daft rhymes and more... There's still plenty of lyrical touches, deft images, and tender moments to make it memorable, but U2 still understand that music is entertainment, and only obliquely do lyrics influence, or teach (it's a lesson, of course, that most Christian bands never ever learn; there's still too much talk of 'evangelism' and 'witness'). So this is pop. Pop for the 1990s, pop with screaming guitars, battered rhythms, synthesizer scrawls, declaimed garbled vocals, hypnotic drumbeats, pumping bass lines, and strange, strange singing: Bono has turned his voice into another instrument for the band. He sighs, he croons, he sings in high falsetto, he yodels, he shouts, he whispers, he screams. He even lets Edge sing one song - the Germanic synth-chant of "Numb", with its strange lyrics and arcade-game synthesizer asides. Whether this is Brian Eno, the producer and extra musician, or Edge, it's typical of the synthesizer intrusions on this album, which are high in the mix, raw samples, bleeped extras, cut up sounds adding extra sparkle and effect. What this isn't, I suspect, is a 'timeless' album like, say, 'The Joshua Tree' was/is. This is what pop music used to be, a soundtrack for today that may not last into next week. You'll notice I haven't eulogised about the poetry, the nature of the songs, haven't looked at the 'theology' behind it all - that's because these songs aren't like that. They assume personas, they fictionalise, they speak of love, and lust, and hate; they visit heaven and hell, argue with God and man. If you don't laugh at the idea of Bono as 'rock messiah', or as 'Mr Mephisto' - be-horned devil on tour with the biggest rock band in the world -you'll hate this album. If you enjoy modern culture, in all its tacky glory, its noise, glitter, bright lights and dance beat, then you'll enjoy this. Like me, you'll turn it up loud and wait for the tour this summer.

The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.

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