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U2's seventh album, Zooropa, released in May 1993, was intended to carry on Achtung Baby's experimentation, and that it did very well. Too well, in fact, as the depth of its experimentation with electronic, almost techno-style, textures pleased many critics while alienating many of the fans who had come to see U2 as a 'pure', traditionalist rock band. Nevertheless, it complements its predecessor very well and exhibits less of the excess found in some parts of its successor Pop.

Better comments on the siginficance of this album than I could make were made by azzer in the U2 node, so I shall proceed directly to a track-by-track analysis of its sound, mood, and lyrics.

  1. Zooropa (6:31)
    A subtle but effective fade-in begins the album. Ghostly, quiet piano tones gradually build, and are joined by a collage of noises before the guitar clears them away and begins the song proper. A classic U2-style Infinite Guitar riff leads into the calmly-paced verse which seems to be cobbled together from a variety of advertising slogans. After a few verses of this, the song breaks open into a faster, almost headlong section. The song speeds towards the ending which comes with a joyful enthusiasm and some distorted noise.
  2. Babyface (4:01)
    This song begins tenderly, almost like a faster foreshadowing of Radiohead's song Kid A. The verse cuts in and the synthesiser is joined by the usual U2 beat, which strengthens for the chorus. The lyrics describe and comment on the bizarre one-way relationship between the subject of a pornographic video and its viewer. A good song, but not an especially distinguished one.
  3. Numb (4:20)
    Back on the experimental end of things, this unusual U2 song begins with a surprisingly minimalist drum beat and distorted guitar riffs. A techno-style backbeat joins in along with the vocals. But these are not Bono's enunciated vocals, but a monotonous, droning vocal courtesy of The Edge. The song evolves slowly and, with the addition of some backing vocals creates an interesting musical picture of utter existential boredom. Naturally, the end comes with a whimper, not a bang.
  4. Lemon (6:58)
    Possibly the most 'dance' track on the album. It is filled with insistent, reverberating vocals, electronic shimmers, and fast, hi-hat saturated drumming. The bass line is one of the most prominent and integral ones in U2's catalogue, being the basis of the song on which the rest of the song is built. This is in fact the same way that Radiohead's The National Anthem is built, although that song layers free jazz rather than tight techno. In the end, it fades rather than coming to a true finish.
  5. Stay (Faraway, So Close!) (4:58)
    Contrasting with the artificial, aloof electronica of the previous song, Stay is an intense, warm, guitar driven ballad. The song develops slowly but with the passion U2 showed most famously in the song Bad. Although it would fit on Achtung Baby it appears more effectively here between two abstracted and electronic songs that are both icy in their own way.
  6. Daddy's Gonna Pay For Your Crashed Car (5:20)
    Beginning with a Soviet propaganda fanfare, this jerky, artificial-sounding song follows up the themes and aesthetic of Numb, this time chronicling the plight of someone who has always received everything they've ever wanted, isolating them from the realities of the world. The distorted, twisted beat and synthesised texture build up through the song, eventually burying the vocals before leaving themselves.
  7. Some Days Are Better Than Others (4:17)
    Probably the most unremarkable song on the album, this song fits with the general mood of the album for its verses and breaks out for the choruses. A pause for relaxation.
  8. The First Time (3:45)
    Recapturing the passion of Stay (Faraway, So Close!), this song begins with a short ode to a lover, continues with a brief comment on brotherhood, and finishes with an expression of a certain religious humility. Throughout, the instrumentation remains low-key, with exactly enough presence at each point in the poetry. Also throughout is the emphasis on love, in all of its various forms.
  9. Dirty Day (5:24)
    Fading on with a repeating bass line, this song is moody and dark with a hazy synthesised backdrop. The guitar joins in more around the chorus and in the breaks in the lyrics. Later in the song an organ breaks up the mood before sinking away into the murk. Successfully separates the two intensely passionate songs that bracket it.
  10. The Wanderer (5:41)
    A calm, bouncy synth backdrop propels this moving and passionate closer. Lead vocals are provided by the late, great Johnny Cash, whose tone provides an effective contrast to Bono's and fits the subject of the song. Subtle backing vocals are provided by Bono and The Edge while the main lyrics meditate on identity, hypocrisy, doubt, and faith. "I went out there, in search of experience. To taste and to touch, and to feel as much, as a man can, before he repents." In the end, the lyrics turn to the subject of death, and then the song fades away into the night. An interval of silence is followed by a synthetic beeping that cuts off abruptly.

In the end, this may not be U2's best album, but it is quite probably their most interesting. It plays a similar role in their career to Kid A in Radiohead's career, being the album that most defies expectations and conventions, as well as being their deepest foray into an electronic sound.

This writeup is copyright 2003 D.G. Roberge and is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs-NonCommercial licence. Details can be found at http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd-nc/2.0/ .

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