NOW PLAYING: 'ZOOROPA' BY U2...
It was National Album Day the other day, this year’s theme was the 90s. Needless to say, I picked up some classics but realised I’d also ordered a few more albums from back then so the next few reviews will be from the decade where football was supposed to come home!
The album was recorded in 1993 between legs of U2’s epic Zoo TV world tour and is very much a product of that multimedia spectacular ideology the band were running with at the time. It is scratchy and chopped, full of distorted vocals and guitars, designed to be played in massive stadiums on a tour spanning continents.
It was originally intended to be a tour EP but morphed into a full album with the band snatching parts of soundchecks and looping them to create the bed for new songs - all very avant-garde and clever.
I think ‘Zooropa’ gets a bad rap for being too weird or experimental but time has helped it. Yes, it includes samples from a Soviet folk compilation record and a snippet of a Hitler Youth member hitting a drum but it also includes some of U2's best songs In my opinion.
I read somewhere that bands usually put their best songs near the start of the record to hoik people in, I think U2 deliberately put their weakest track first because, well, they can. ‘Zooropa’ starts as a weird ballad that sets the tone for the record - a mass of layered samples and guitar effects with Bono’s computer-enhanced voice singing about consumerism before it goes all euphoric.
If that wasn’t weird enough for you, the majority of the next track, ‘Babyface’, seems to be played over a child's toy piano. The distorted guitars make an appearance again obviously, but it is a head-scratcher for me.
’Numb’ is a weird spoken word piece with The Edge reeling off a list of gloomy don’ts while Bono howls in the background. It is strangely hypnotic and the video genuinely makes me smile, watching The Edge being ‘attacked’ as he tries to get through the song.
‘Lemon’ follows, a song of two parts with Bono singing verses and choruses in falsetto with The Edge and Brian Eno providing darker backing vocals. This track got the mother of all makeovers when Paul Oakenfold created ‘The Perfecto Mix’ which became a massive floor filler and was also the walk-out music for their PopMart Tour.
‘Stay (Faraway, So Close!)’ is as good as anything U2 has ever written, there, I’ve said it.
‘Daddy’s Gonna Pay For Your Crashed Car’ is the most Zoo TV song on the album for me, it feels somehow incomplete and shallow but fits the aesthetic perfectly.
‘Somedays Are Better Than Others’ starts all Zoo TV then the chorus harks back to Boy/War-era U2 in my mind with vocal harmonies and jangling guitars.
‘The First Time’ sounds like it was written for ‘The Joshua Tree’, to me with a ‘Running To Stand Still’/‘Hawkmoon 269’ vibe which comes as a palate cleanser after all the experimental weirdness.
‘Dirty Day’ is one of my not-so-guilty pleasures, a track I’ve loved since Zoo TV. I was lucky enough to catch U2 live in Manchester as part of their Experience + Innocence Tour and it was rumoured they would play it for the first time in 25 years. Alas they didn’t, they saved it for their hometown show in Dublin a few days later sadly.
The final original track on the album is ‘The Wanderer’ which confused the hell out of me when I first heard it as a 20-year-old. U2, arguably the biggest band in the world, got some old bloke - with a decent voice admittedly - to sing on their record, why? The old bloke is Johnny Cash, I wasn’t aware of him at the time, but I now adore this track.
This is the 30th Anniversary rerelease of the record which comes on delightful yellow vinyl and costs a whopping £55 - the band must be down to their last £100m each and need to raise funds, bless them. What I will say is the packaging is lovely and the record sounds fabulous.
Tracks To Try: ‘Numb’, ‘Lemon’, ‘Stay (Faraway, So Close!)’, ‘The First Time’, ‘Dirty Day’, ‘The Wanderer’.