9.16.2008

U2: Pop

I would argue that U2 is the only true successor to The Beatles' throne. Sure, U2 isn't as exciting as Zeppelin or as heavy as Sabbath or as yearning as Springsteen or as bald as Phil Collins, but there isn't another band out there (other than The Beatles) who perfectly balance everything that makes rock so incredible. They are one of the very few rock groups to successfully reinvent themselves, and they might be the only band to do it more than once.

Music: 4 EPFL library cards out of a possible 5
Pop would've been stronger if a song or two had been removed ("The Playboy Mansion" is the worst offender), and it didn't capture the energy of American club culture nearly as well as Achtung Baby captured the excitement of European dance music. With that said, the album is far better than critics make it out to be. Songs like "Mofo," "Gone," and "Miami" have an incredible amount of energy, while "Staring at the Sun" and "Do You Feel Loved" are good pop songs.

The highlight of Pop comes in the last three tracks, though. "If You Wear That Velvet Dress" nails the darkness of temptation, "Please" reeks of desperate prayers for a fragile peace, and "Wake Up Dead Man" is probably the most hopelessly hopeful song I've ever heard. These three songs alone make Pop an essential album for anyone who truly loves rock music.

Packaging: 3.5 EPFL library cards out of a possible 5
When you strip the booklet to its barest elements, it's nothing more than lyrics, credits, and photos. But this is U2 at the point in their career where everything they did was larger than life, and the booklet reflects it. The jacket is printed on a silver background (which makes the grey text occasionally difficult to read), and the entire package screams out with loud colors. It's very well-done, but it mimics many of the design elements of electronic dance music of the time, making it less original than it could have been.

Listen if you like: the dancey side of U2, but especially listen if you like the songs that end U2 albums. If you like "Exit" or "Love is Blindness" or "40," the last three tracks on Pop will be right up your alley.

If it were food, it'd be: a fresh fruit smoothie at an after-hours dance club. You might be drinking it because you're dehydrated from drugs or alcohol, or you might be drinking it because it's 6am and you've been sober all night, but either way it's refreshing and revitalizing.

8 comments:

Master Cianan said...

They only appear not to be as bald as Phil Collins because the Edge is always wearing hats. The Edge is one bald, bald hombre. In fact, he was ahead of Phil in the bald department back in the early 80s, and he didn't start hiding his shame until it was too late and the cat was out of the bag. The Edge should take his hat off and rename himself "the pate".

Anonymous said...

Well said, Cianan.
Hence the name, The Edge, when he would rather have been The Hedge.
Thankfully, only Phil Collins is Phil Collins, and that's more than enough to go around.
I missed the mid-80s to 90s in music, hence had no real exposure to U2 -- in fact, the only song of theirs I knew was "I still haven't found what I'm looking for", and for years assumed it was a track by Marc Hunter, lead singer of Australasian group Dragon, and a singer every bit as good as Bono.
So, there was no golden glow of hype around U2 when I listened to them for the first time. I was genuinely shocked to hear how ordinary they were (putting aside the impact of live shows). Their songs were tedious and overblown, and overlong. They needed a good editor, and I think Eno helped them with "It's a beautiful day". Bono has some good lyrical ideas, and can sell a dud song very well ; The Edge has some distinctive guitar work which shows a real appreciation for supporting a melody, and which is as sparse as his cranium.
But in my view (as opposed to millions of others), they are nothing special, and there's a hundred bands I would listen to before I listened to U2.
They lack range, but have had a couple of nice hits.

taotechuck said...

Master C., I was hoping no one would pick up on the Shiny Dome Syndrome shared by Messrs. Collins and Edge. At least The Edge had the sense to wear hats rather than a ponytail.

Anon, I can't entirely disagree with you. Last week I posted a Bob Marley review, and my reaction to hearing him after nearly two decades away from his music isn't all that different than yours to U2.

The thing with Marley and U2 is they both have a sort of quiet power that -- if you can imagine what it would've been like to hear them when they first appeared -- is really quite incredible.

I'm bored by The Beatles, but I recognize that they changed everything. Whether you like them or not, U2 is the same way.

The Mad Hatter said...

I'm not really into U2 other than the fact that they always have a few excellent songs on every album they ever did. I always found their entire catalog (minus October) to be pretty messy affairs musically. That said, I've never listened to this or -- Zooropa, is it? Always too scared and busy to try them on for size.

Anonymous said...

taotechuck, thank you for your response. I love the best of Marley's work. I think he had a great voice, rock steady right hand on the guitar, and great lyrical interest (the latter not easy to do if you're talking a lot about God/Jah). His backing musos were absolutely fantastic (especially the bass), and the harmonies with Peter Tosh or the ladies are just lovely.
In the latter stages, he was well-produced, and there are lovely touches like the brass in Buffalo Soldier.
I definitely don't think that U2 changed everything like the Beatles did -- otherwise they wouldn't have passed under my radar for a decade.
I also have heard enough of the Beatles, as they are permanently imprinted in my auditory brain, but nothing has ever come close to the impact they had on the world, and because of the fragmentation of the media, nothing is likely to. You would have to think of something like the advent of the PC to find the equivalent impact on western society.
If U2 had never happened, I don't think the world would be much different.

Master Cianan said...

Actually, Chuck, he did flirt with the ponytail for a short period, just before he made his fateful trip to the milliner's to be fitted for something to cover that spreading solar panel on his head. Mercifully, the tryst was brief.

Anonymous said...

Ah, the bald mullet, aka the skullet.

bob_vinyl said...

Anon, I don't think you can say that they didn't change things just because they passed under your radar. You had to be living under a rock to miss them even f you didn't buy their albums.