U2 – Zooropa

Today it’s time to talk about one of my favorite U2 albums… to talk about, that is. Zooropa is an interesting piece of the Irish mega-band’s history, and perhaps as a bonus, it’s a good album!

To be fair, they only had a few weeks to put this album together, I doubt the thought of making an album cover that wasn't retarded didn't EVEN cross their minds.

Now, if I listened to Zooropa like I listen to most albums by artists I don’t really care about, my writeup would be “sequel to Achtung Baby” stretched out to 1000 words. Thankfully, I actually know a thing or two about this album not only because it actually is one of my favorite U2 albums, but because I used to go out with a U2 super-fan, so I came into my own U2 fandom with lots of information already present.

This album contains not only a whole lot of unusual aspects for U2, but also for album-making in general. I can’t name you another band the size of U2 who, in the middle of a career-redefining world-wide tour, decide to take 12 weeks off to record another album. Better yet, since 12 weeks was hopelessly not enough time to finish the album, they went back to touring and flew out to Dublin to finish the album on their days off. To borrow a reaction from Eddie Izzard: I can’t even get out to the gym!

The other interesting aspects to this album are contained in some of its more interesting tracks. The opening song, “Zooropa”, was built basically out of a tape recorded sound check the band had done, and then they wrote in a bunch of commercial slogans to advertise this futuristic European (sorry, Zooropean) society where everything’s kind of crazy. I guess the album starts of being a late-comer to that “cyberpunk” craze of the late 80’s. Another crazy thing about “Zooropa” is that the drummer wrote and apparently performed the bass-line, adding substantial evidence to my theory that Adam Clayton (the band’s bassist and a man I consistently envy) has the easiest and best job in the world.

The second song, “Babyface”, may not be quite as interesting to the casual listener or fan of trivial information, but I personally think the song is great. It’s about the singer being obsessed with an image of someone, possibly a celebrity or just a beautiful woman, and like the song “Lemon”, is kind of about images of people, living with them, manipulating them, and so on. The only part of the song that sticks out to me, besides the fact that it’s a really fun-sounding song with great guitar effects, is the line “Babyface, babyface, slow down child let me untie your lace”, and like a few other songs, makes me think all these women keep outrunning Bono, it’s just kind of funny to me. I’m probably the only one who finds this funny.

The song “Numb” is probably the one everyone knows from this album. It was the first single, which itself is kind of a weird idea, since the lead “singing” is done by guitarist The Edge, with falsetto assistance from Bono. The song has a weird video, which was hilarious lampooned by, well, everyone (my particular favorite is Beavis & Butthead’s commentary, but I hear there’s a Weird Al parody out there that I really want to see), and it’s about as random as the song. It’s basically a string of “Don’t -” followed by just about every kind of verb. The idea behind the song is avant-garde and I think very clever, so I really have no complaints about this song, I could listen to it all day. It’s at least a nice change of pace from having Bono singing lead, plus there’s something inherently charming about dead-pan monotone vocals, just ask Cake.

“Lemon” is another unusual idea for a song, let’s just throw everything that makes U2 who they are out of the window and sing a falsetto-laden German techno-style song about a home video of Bono’s mother. Great! Let’s also make it unbelievably catchy, with spacey guitar sounds that nobody’s really ever used before that doesn’t even sound like a guitar. Super! Let’s end our shows from here on out by soaring in on a flying lemon! O…k?

It’s so very hard for me to pick a favorite song on this album, but I will say that the song I feel is the best one, outside of my own feelings, is “Stay (Far Away, So Close!)”. I guess the song kind of stands on its own, outside of the futuristic feel of the rest of the album, and is just this 7 minute song about a troubled soul with a lot of real feeling. This song also features a great melody and just overall great performances from the band playing their instruments with minimal interference from the album’s overall ambition. Maybe it’s because they had Frank Sinatra in mind when they wrote the thing, I don’t know. It’s just a great song.

In fact, after such a lovely song, one almost doesn’t want to go back for the second half of the album, since it seems to start off right where it left off with “Daddy’s Gonna Pay For Your Crashed Car”. I know I, for one, kind of wandered off the album at this point many times, but really there are some great songs on the second half of this album too. I like “Daddy’s Gonna Pay For Your Crashed Car” because the way they play with the electronic sounds and sequencing is really cool-sounding to me. The lyrics are a bit much for me, but still funny, particularly when sung by Bono’s little alter-ego, the less about which is said, the better.

“Some Days Are Better Than Others” starts, like many great songs, with the bass. This is not to take away from any of the other instruments, I particularly like the squeaky guitar in the chorus. The lyrics, well, they’re not very good but they are supremely quotable. Memorize the words and try to tell me I’m wrong. If you didn’t notice, the line “Take me to another place” would later be cannibalized for a later song, and I like how sneaky U2 is like that.

“The First Time” starts off slow and I will admit that I skip it often. How could you not skip a song that starts with a slow guitar and the words:

I’ve got a lover
A lover like no other
She’s got soul soul soul

(this is me skipping)

The song never really builds up either, so you had just better be in a mood for a slow song by this time, is all I’m saying.

“Dirty Day” is another song that kind of flies under my radar, even if it is a good song in its own right. This song is largely composed of things Bono’s father used to say, and it’s about a father returning to his estranged son, and I’m only telling you this stuff because there’s not a lot else to say about it. The song kind of plateaus early and stays there for about 4 1/2 minutes of the song’s total 7 minutes.

Finally, we have another oddity, a U2 song without Bono singing a single note, and without The Edge playing guitar. Yep, “The Wanderer” features the man, the legend, Johnny Cash on vocals, with The Edge backing up with ghostly “ahhhh’s” far in the background. The entire song is pretty much really light drumming, synthy bass guitar, and this constant siren-like sound created by a keyboard, and Johnny Cash’s vocals. It’s the strangest thing, but I kind of can’t help but love it, the lyrics are great, and of course this is one of the various elements that helped re-introduce Johnny Cash to the music mainstream, as this was recorded just before his first American album dropped. Sure, my dad probably wouldn’t have approved of all this, but I think it stands as a testament to Cash’s own feeling on the song that it was included on 3 of his own albums (1 re-issue of The Mystery Of Life and 2 compilations).

So there we have it, Zooropa is an album of oddities, and, save for a couple of boring tracks near the end, does a really good job of expanding U2’s overall sound far beyond what even Achtung Baby set out to accomplish. Of course, the band would ultimately abandon most of these directions by radically re-designing their sound again, but not before coming out with more ludicrous material, which we will surely cover on another day. Until then, keep on wandering!

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One Response

  1. How is it possible that you haven’t seen this yet?

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