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"Adam is our jazz man and the Edge has more children than Abraham."

-- Bono

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Column: off the record..., vol. 13-580

@U2, August 18, 2013
By: Ian Ryan


off the record, from @U2

It's a pretty slow news period, the calm before the storm. The interviews, quotes and appearances have all but vanished. I suspect (hope!) this is because the band is truly focused on prepping the release of the album. I've found that when I'm getting ready for the band to release a new album, I take stock of their past releases. I consider the flow of their careers, what songs are connected across eras and styles. With a band as storied as U2, it's hard not to view a new release in the context of their overall collection of art.

Zooropa is tied with How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb for my favorite U2 album. I think that Zooropa embodies their intelligence and ambition while How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb embodies their sheer melodic and instrumental ability.

As you may know, Zooropa turns 20 this year. Matt McGee was 100% correct when he said the fantastic interview by Scott Calhoun with album producer Flood is one of the best things @U2 has ever produced. There was something about that haphazard recording and production schedule that produced a wonderful clarity in all the static. @U2 produced a number of tributes for Achtung Baby on its 20th anniversary, so I'll take this slow-news opportunity to write a short tribute to Zooropa.

I love Zooropa for the wealth of ideas it produced. Whereas The Joshua Tree and War felt like emotional outbursts of a child seeing an outrage ("Bullet The Blue Sky" excepted), Zooropa felt like U2's first true political analysis of an ongoing issue. Zooropa was about Europe and the troubles it was experiencing with the fall of communism, the burgeoning euro currency and the economic and social uncertainty gripping an otherwise relatively stable area of the world. Zooropa will always be ahead of Achtung Baby because it took the external, worldly themes that have fascinated U2 and applied the introspective techniques U2 learned on Achtung Baby to them.

"Exit" and "The Wanderer" cover a lot of the same territory of religious fanaticism and a distrust of the behavior of the material world, but I feel "The Wanderer" outclasses "Exit" in every way, shape and form, be it Johnny Cash or Bono singing the song. Bono touched on the idea of his mother in both "I Will Follow" and "Mofo," but "Lemon" is my favorite song about her, and in truth one of my favorite U2 songs ever. The high, impassioned falsetto combined with the cold, impersonal, dictating backing vocals from The Edge and Brian Eno evoke a passion and pathos that all the yelling and raging of the other two songs never quite hit. The foresight of a song like "Babyface," addressing digital porn beamed to a person's screens in his home, was so prescient at a time when the internet had only become publicly available a year before.

And then there's "Zooropa" itself, perhaps the best song on the album. It starts off easy and snarky with the advertising slogans, but after the swirling interlude at the midpoint, the song erupts into a joyful, melodic song of choral vocals and energy. The wistful happiness as the narrator sings about just how utterly lost he is conveys how confused and betrayed so much of Europe must have felt at the time. An ancient continent of fables and history suddenly dropped into confusion in almost every way possible from losing its resident economic superpower.

The massive skills and vocabulary of Achtung Baby combined with the massive windows and outrage of The Joshua Tree led U2 to create something it seems like they never knew quite what to do with. I'm not sure they had made anything better before Zooropa, and I don't know that they've made anything quite as good since.

Zooropa isn't getting the big 20th anniversary deluxe hyper-remastered bonus edition treatment, and was distressingly tacked on to the end of the Achtung Baby deluxe remaster version. It's a savant child that is outshone by its more popular older sibling. The purple static with no title, no clear images, no discernible message stands in wonderful contrast to Achtung Baby's red-themed graffiti-tagged album art. The little astronaut Lemon-head Zoo-baby has been dragged from the grimy gutters on one album to the digital outer space of the other, and is just as lost in both. The confusion coming from the clean, online, binary chaos of Zooropa makes it feel like one of the first albums truly of the Internet age, and I'll love it forever.

"Don't worry, baby. It'll be alright. Uncertainty can be a guiding light … I'm in the slipstream, let's go overground." Wow.

Fantastic (or notorious) U2 opening band Kings of Leon are releasing a new album in September. It's called Mechanical Bull, and the lead single, "Supersoaker," is out.

I've mentioned a few times on here before that they're a band I really enjoy. They haven't grown all that much over their past few albums stylistically and haven't really done any musical exploration, but they've clarified and refined their sound to an intense degree. If "Supersoaker" is any indication, they're better than ever, both as musicians and in song craft.

As with any band that has more than three or four albums, some folks will always long for the past. I prefer to see where bands that have that special spark are going to take me. 

(c) @U2, 2013

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