Island Records, 1993


REVIEW BY: Michael R. Smith


There have been many pop/rock artists who have tried their hand at electronic music over the years, but only a select few have recorded an entire trilogy of albums devoted exclusively to the genre. Back in the day, David Bowie was among the first to experiment with the latest in music technology, leading the way for the likes of U2 and Madonna to learn by his example. In the early nineties, U2 would even snag one of Bowie’s producers, Brian Eno, to bring electronica into a new age. Molding and sculpting a synthesized sound that would suit a stadium rock act like U2 was a tall order for any producer, so it’s hardly surprising Eno would seek out assistance from other legendary, cutting-edge producers like Daniel Lanois and Flood.

After Achtung Baby turned out to be a resounding success, U2 decided to continue on this new and exciting path they had discovered. As their eighth studio release, 1993’s Zooropa would push the envelope even further in the experimental direction, with very impressive results. Granted, there would also be a couple traditional-sounding U2 tracks thrown into the mix to satisfy long-time fans of the band. For starters, there is “Stay (Faraway, So Close),” a ballad that is very much in the same vein as their previous hit single “One.” There are also a few songs on my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 Zooropa that may as well have come out of the Rattle And Hum phase of their career; both “The First Time” and “Dirty Day” sound eerily comparable to the tone of “All I Want Is You.”

For an album that was recorded on the fly in between stops on their Zoo-TV tour, Zooropa doesn’t sound as if it was hastily put together. If anything, the spontaneous patchwork quality only adds to its appeal. Sometimes the best efforts come when you put the least amount of thought or time into them. In my estimation, this is U2’s last truly great album (though something tells me producer Rick Rubin will see to it that their 2008 album will be even better.)

Like Madonna, U2 is always at their best when they explore irony. As their most successful tour to date, the strength of Zoo-TV was in how they sought to condemn the technology that was taking over the world as well as the band. It was a pure adrenaline rush from start to finish, an all-out assault on the senses. Some of their statements about world politics and the media were right on the money, and there was no shortage of controversy that came along with them.

Now that this foursome have reached “elder statesmen” status, U2 have become more serious about their work and their humanitarian crusades. Another element that Zooropa has that subsequent U2 albums lack is a sense of humor. It’s a shame that so many entertainers seem to lose their youthful exuberance and adventurous natures as they get older. Today, you probably won’t hear Bono sing in a falsetto like he does on U2’s finest dance song “Lemon,” nor will you hear The Edge perform a monotone rap like he did on my favorite U2 track of all time, “Numb.” And now that Johnny Cash has died, there won’t be any more edgy and unique U2 songs like “The Wanderer” for the likes of him to join in on. I’ve always wondered how many of these songs would sound with different arrangements. For instance, how would “Numb” sound with a marching band supplying the music? Or, what would the swirling and trippy “Babyface” have been like had it been recorded by The Beatles instead of U2?

All hypothetical “what if” questions aside, Zooropa is just perfect the way it is, thank you.

Rating: A

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© 2008 Michael R. Smith and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Island Records, and is used for informational purposes only.