10.31.2008

U2: Zooropa

I've never seen eye to eye with most record critics on Zooropa. It is generally regarded as one of the better albums in U2's catalog, but no matter how hard I've tried (and believe me, I've tried hard), I cannot hear anything but a lot of good ideas wrapped in half-baked execution.

It's been seven or eight years since I last listened to Zooropa, so when I saw it sitting on the shelf at the EPFL, I knew it was time to try again.

Music: 2.5 EPFL library cards out of a possible 5
Sonically, this might be U2's most adventurous album. The band completely reinvented their sound on their previous record, Achtung Baby, and it seems as if that album's success gave them the courage to push their boundaries even farther this time around. The production of this CD is nearly flawless.

Unfortunately, while the production of Zooropa is as inspired as David Bowie's Berlin trilogy, the songs could be from Bowie's lackluster Never Let Me Down.

Despite a few gems, Zooropa possesses some of the weakest lyrics that Bono has ever written. Musically, these songs flutter around in circles, which is a shame because most of them could have flown if they'd received the nurturing care that U2 typically gives their songs. Tracks like "The First Time" and "Daddy's Gonna Pay for Your Crashed Car" simply revisit great moments in the band's history, while "The Wanderer" makes it hard to believe that either U2 or guest vocalist Johnny Cash had any great moments left. Even the best songs on Zooropa ("Stay (Faraway, So Close!)," "Numb," and "Lemon") sound like b-sides when compared to the band's truly great songs.

Packaging: 2.5 EPFL library cards out of a possible 5
The album consists of underdeveloped ideas wrapped in great production. The package consists of great ideas wrapped in bad Photoshop.

Listen if you like: I don't really know. If you love Rattle and Hum, you're probably either open-minded enough or blindly loyal enough to love this album.

If it were food, it'd be: a half-baked cake.

23 comments:

bob_vinyl said...

To me, it's more like a half-baked cake made of poop.

Master Cianan said...

I keep forgetting this album exists. I'm willing to bet that the members of the band had a hard time sitting down after they made it, what with them only having half an ass.

Jeff said...

I have a tough time listening to this era of U2. I always felt this album sounded a bit pretentious. I think U2 were trying to be in vogue but found themselves out of their element. Maybe its just because I'm not a fan of the genre...

Professor Rosseforp said...

As I recall U2 had a pretty big and spectacular live show about this time.
They probably needed something to actually play at the show and boost CD sales -- maybe one of the last big-selling albums before downloads ripped the guts out of the record market?

taotechuck said...

You all make interesting points, particularly those who include poop and partial asses.

If you read about the making of this album, it's fascinating. Bill Flanagan's book U2: At the End of the World is unusual, in that the band gave Flanagan virtually unlimited access to every part of their personal and professional lives. As such, he had a completely unique perspective from which he wrote about the making of Zooropa.

The album started forming in the wake of marital problems that The Edge was having. The behind-the-scenes story was compelling enough that I wanted to like the album. I wanted to hear the pain and confusion that led to the music. No matter how hard I tried, though, all I could hear was a bunch of half-baked songs.

It's a shame, because the albums that preceded and followed Zooropa are two of my favorite U2 albums. This had the potential to be so much better than it was.

The Mad Hatter said...

I pretty much have the same opinion on all U2 albums. They all have a few great songs, and the rest is fluff. Whether it's America's heartland or international pop or Irish revolutions they're writing or singing about -- it's the same result. Some great songs, the rest fubbly filler. Great greatest hits band, but only one, possibly two solid albums across their long career that I can think of.

bob_vinyl said...

Hatter, did you burn their whole catalog onto two MP3 CDs and call that two albums? Zooropa aside, they haven't missed on much at all. Of course, you don't like the Beatles, so what do you know?

taotechuck said...

Yeah, nothing as solid as those sweet, sweet Steely Dan albums.

Mad Cracksmoker is more like it.

(I feel like I've used that line before. But being as you torment me with your cracksmoker comments, I probably have.)

Jeff said...

I'd have to agree with Bob on this one. Joshua Tree and War are definite classics, and even their past few releases have been great. Their work released in the 90s is definitely sub par, but any band going as long as they have will have a rough patch.

taotechuck said...

Jeff, are you including Achtung Baby in the sub-par releases? If so, why?

Just curious, because I think it's arguably the best U2 album (although strong cases can be made for War, Joshua Tree, and Unforgettable Fire).

Personally, and not at all objectively, Achtung is unquestionably in my top 10 greatest rock albums, and is a contender for first place.

Jeff said...

taotechuck - My bad, I wouldn't include Achtung Baby with the rest of the albums from the 90s. Personally it's not one of my favorite U2 albums because of the switch in musical direction, but I still respect it as a good album, much better than Zoopra and Pop.

taotechuck said...

I'm actually kind of disappointed. I was looking forward to hearing a rational and balanced argument against Achtung.

Pop has a few awful songs, a bunch of good songs, and three (the last three) that hold up to anything that the band ever did. (If you haven't listened to the last three on that album recently, take another listen to them in isolation from the rest of the record. Powerful stuff.)

Zooropa has a few good songs, a bunch of half-done songs, and two or three that are among the worst things the band ever did.

So why is Pop panned while Zooropa is praised? At least you're consistent, Jeff, and you dislike both of them.

The Mad Hatter said...

Bob,

You know, if I've missed anything, its your constant overuse of Beatles to judge a person's musical judgment. I expect better (and more original) arguments from you. For shame.

Chuck,

I forgive you. A cracksmoker is a cracksmoker. An asshole is an asshole. And I am both. That said, if Steely Dan is to my discredit, Black Parade and the Killers are undoubtedly yours. Also, since I think I'm going dark again -- that Gogol Bordello is wack. For good and for bad. It started off fresh, but I got tired towards the end. I will review Achtung one day for you, and say tepid, rational things about it.

And I've never listened to Pop or Zooropa. But I have a feeling I will dislike both. The few songs I heard were awful.

bob_vinyl said...

Hatter, when you provide such a clear example of poor judgment, it really cannot be ignored. The rest of your poor judgment simply pales in comparison, including your inexplicable dislike of The Black Parade.

The Mad Hatter said...

Bob,

My extreme though justified dislike of that album is not inexplicable at all. It is whiny, features second-rate guitar, third-rate pomp and is poppy in all the wrong places, not to mention its extreme pretenses. Now what is inexplicable is making a claim that many bands have picked up where Radiohead have left off and done better and then not naming those bands -- yes, that is inexplicable. It is also inexplicable to me that you can praise an album you admittedly haven't listened to in years (Fillmore East) and yet patronize my musical judgment simply because I don't cock-slobber over the Beatles. Weak sauce. Furthermore, we both have very similar opinions on the Stones, Fripp, etc. -- does that not make us martian brothers in arms? If you were food, you'd be steak at an inconsistent restaurant: pink one day and burnt the next. Boo, Bob. Boo.

bob_vinyl said...

If you were food, you'd be tea that someone left the tea bag in for far too long. Bitter.

So, how long have you been cataloging the comments that you've disagreed with? How long ago did I say something about Fillmore East (I'm guessing you're referring to the Allmans and not Humble Pie, but frankly I don't even remember what you're talking about)? I suppose I should be flattered that you care enough to keep score.

The Mad Hatter said...

I wouldn't say I'm keeping score. I just have a memory that has no bottom, it seems -- that and I usually remember fairly significant inconsistencies. For example, Chuck warned me way back to never use something he said against him or he would delete it. I remember things like that; they're significant. What I ate for dinner on Tuesday? No clue. Genuinely waiting for you to give me the names of those bands? No, not really. But I haven't forgotten.

bob_vinyl said...

I dunno. It sounds more like you're hanging on my every word.

The Mad Hatter said...

I assure you, I'm not. Certain things just stick. Chuck called Roger Waters a "nihilistic asshat." You were "aghast" at my Houses review. Sometimes I remember kernels of ideas around specific words or phrases or ideas. I guess I proved your point hahahaha! Maybe I'm not hanging on every word, but my memory is.

taotechuck said...

Mad Hatter <3 Bob's Every Word.

(Because, you know, we hadn't quite devolved far enough yet.)

The Mad Hatter said...

Mad Hatter = 1.6180339887

Elijah said...

Zooropa is the best album ever! It sounds perfect. Its a landscape of sounds. Its the way that u2 is bigger. If you don't know the group, this record makes you dream out loud. It's a unique sound, a music without comparision, an atemporal album. A portrait of scenes, and an air of germany is captured in the voice choir. It's a epic record. The last cd with voice young. with messages of life inside the songs. The end of U2's era. Pop, is like a Zooropa, a Zooropa, with another concept. A great Album too. But different. Pop is the beginning of the new U2's era. The official website born with a U2, rebooted and distant from the past. The new U2's era is "No line on the horizon", a young brother, with landscape through veins.

bob_vinyl said...

A "landscape of sounds," huh? Not every landscape is beautiful. Sometimes when an artificial landscape is created, not only is it ugly, but it just utterly fails to achieve what it attempts. That's the kind of landscape that Zooropa is. They've re-invented themselves several times successfully. To their credit this was the only time they really flopped.