Ruminations on TV Shows, Comics, And Music
This was the first U2 album where I got to see the hate for it in real time. It's also the first album I was able to buy the week it came out.
I don't have a good track record with buying new albums by my favorite bands. For some reason, if I'm compelled to get something when it's new, it ends up being Guns'N'Roses The Spaghetti Incident, Bruce Springsteen's Human Touch, or Metallica's Reload.
But I still like Zooropa. Whereas Rattle & Hum seemed like U2 had failed on creating the album they set out to make, I feel like Zooropa is exactly what it was advertised to be, and if you liked the idea, you liked the album. It's just that the idea of an album mostly based on advertising and the omnipresence of capitalism is a tough sell at any time, but particularly in a 1994 where an entire generation of rock bands from the 80s were realizing that grunge/alternative rock hadn't just paused their careers but had actually ended their ability to get hit musics on the charts. Probably forever.
While certain songs on Achtung Baby felt overproduced, to the detriment of the music, all of the overproduction on Zooropa feels intentional, and a necessary part of the song.
I think people were also at a loss because U2 is always So Serious. "Even Better Than The Real Thing" was a fun single on an otherwise serious album, but Zooropa often sounds serious when it's being deliberately ridiculous.
Much like "Zoo Station" is .the essential introductory track to Achtung Baby, so too must Zooropa start with "Zooropa". The first forty-five second crashing basslines and building guitar of "Zoo Station" let you know what you were in for. "Zooropa" has a two minute build of piano and sound clips (mainly George H.W. Bush saying peace talks over and over until they don't mean anything) before a melody comes in for an additional twenty seconds before the lyrics kick in.
I used the term "bumper sticker wisdom" for a lot of the lyrics on Achtung Baby. "Zooropa" avoids that by using actual advertising slogans as lyrics. The idea is that we are now in a futuristic European city that has a sort of Blade-Runnery advertising focus (you know, like the horrible present we are currently living in). This was somehow released as an introductory single. As with "The Fly" being the introductory single for Achtung Baby, I don't understand why they did this. I had a few friends who were as into U2 as I was, and our common belief was that they deliberately released the least radio playable track as the lead single just to see what happened.
In this alternate universe the first single climbs out of "Zooropa". "Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me" got scrubbed off our universe's Zooropa and saved for the Batman Forever Soundtrack. To me, its narrative about rock stardom is a necessary expansion of U2's de-evolution into advertising and other forms of media. Plus, the suggestion of the video (it repeats sequences too often for the video to actually work, but the conceit is cool) that Bono is caught between two of his Zoo TV personalities: Macphisto and The Fly, to the point where he's no longer Bono is interesting.
There is a fuzzy changing of channels effect before we get the Bolshevik intro to "Daddy's Gonna Pay For Your Car", a song about how the subject of the song is too privileged to be affected by their failure. Is it a surfacey song about a young "princess" whose father protects her from the world, or is it about how, now matter how badly U2 fails, their record company and management team is there to protect them? You be the judge.
The song ends in a spiral of Bono proudly reciting the days of the week, which brings us perfectly into "Some Days Are Better Than Others", a simplistic track about how life is different from day to day. I have edited out a line in the song that didn't age well, and shouldn't have been included, even at the time.
There is a proper fade out to "Some Days Are Better Than Others" that leads into the first track with a guest vocalist. Johnny Cash is the lead vocalist for "The Wanderer", which U2 put at the end of the album, where they love to put their ideas of new hymns. I think the idea of closing the album with this track was that they'd stripped out much of (but not all) of the grungy new U2 sound, and that the next album would be more back to basics. But that's not at all what happened, so I'm moving this toward the beginning where it's just an interesting sonic oddity. It also echoes the theme of Just Another Day from the previous track, as it follows a guy who leaves his house one day and chronicles what keeps him wandering. Of course it's overly and overtly religious, but it you take out Jesus's name and replace it with Elvis, it could easily be about Bono's choice of being a rock star and how it affects the family he left behind.
Clicking out of the countrified U2 sound is a ridiculous dance song. I cut a minute or so out of this version of "Lemon" back before I was more adept at sound editing, so there's a brief volume rise where I've spliced out a bunch of the chorus.. This All Macphisto vocals or "fat lady falsetto" that Bono uses all over this album renders any seriousness that this song intends moot. It's a song about Bono's mom wearing a yellow dress? Sure. It's use as the third single from this album only accentuates what a ridiculous album this is.
U2 released a soundtrack to the film The Million Dollar Hotel. It's not good. Don't bother seeking it out. But I do like "The Ground Beneath Her Feet", a song Bono swiped from Salman Rushdie. It's the most Irish track since "Tomorrow" from October but it definitely has the Zooropa style drumming and guitar effects.
The second guest vocal track from the album comes from Sinead O'Connor as she takes the lead on "The Thief Of Your Heart". This is one of three tracks I've taken from the In The Name Of The Father soundtrack, a film about four people falsely convicted for a terrorist bombing in Ireland. Unlike The Million Dollar Hotel, I do suggest you investigate this movie and soundtrack. They're both great.
In fact, the next track is the title track, "In The Name Of The Father", where Bono trades off lead vocals with Gavin Friday.
Marvin Gaye is the next guest vocalist, despite having been dead for a decade before Zooropa's release. "Save The Children" from Inner City Blues: The Music Of Marvin Gaye keeps up the bombastic and earnest U2 that the band tried to step away from in the 90s, but which is creeping its way back into their image and their non-album tracks. While these heavier tracks do not come from the original Zooropa album. I enjoy having the album see-saw between Earnest U2 and Silly Zooropa U2.
The second single from the album, Numb is the logical successor to the intro track. Sound samples are spliced behind lead vocalist, The Edge, as he monotones a list poem style song about sensory overload while playing with the band. Bono does background vocals here, presumably as Macphisto.
Put your dancing shoes back on. The third track to makes its way from In The Name Of The Father, and the second to have Bono sharing lead vocals with Gavin Friday, is "Billy Boola". This song is pure misguided sexuality. The lyrics are inspid and stupid Baby'e a big flirt / nipples in a t-shirt coming not to soon after Oh pa coca cola E A O / E suck-a-dick-a exactly the quality of lyrics you'd expect from ... nobody involved with U2. This song is a weird anomoly in their catalogue, but the beat is super catchy.
Returning to Zooropa proper, we have "Babyface" which is lyrically similar to "Lemon", which is creepy as one is about the supermodels the band hung out with, and the other is Bono singing about an old video of his mom.
Buzzing beneath the surface of the song is another cover. "Night And Day" was released before Achtung Baby in our universe, as a track on Red Hot + Blue: A Tribute To Cole Porter but it feels more Zooropa to me. I actually somewhat prefer the Steel String Remix, and was going to put that on Desire, but it has a wonky start, and I was having trouble editing it down into a more manageable length. So this version gets put on Zooropa instead.
The fourth and final single from the album is easily my favorite track. "Stay (Faraway, So Close) was on a jukebox in the snack bar of my high school. One of my friends used to play this song at least twice a day while we ran lines form Romeo & Juliet. Bono's operatic ascent into falsetto is one of his best vocal performances on any album.
"The First Time" is a good closing track. As it seems to be the story of the person from "Daddy's Gonna Pay For Your Crashed Car" growing up, taking responsibility and leaving "daddy" behind. Plus it has Edge doing his pounding chord piano technique.
But, fuck it, the album isn't over yet. I LOVE the Junk Day remix of "Dirty Day" that U2 released for Pop. Bono's vocals are better, and the song deserves the filthier bass line.
Actually closing out the album is a song that showed up on Desire but was remixed here. As much as I love the other version, I did like the conceit of the album still ending with a track featuring guest vocals by a country musician, so here is "Slow Dancing" with Willie Nelson on lead vocals, as the band originally intended.
My website is currently in transition, so I'm unable to upload my version of the album. If you're interested in it, e-mail me, and I'll send a copy your way.
The track listing is:
2. Hold Me Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me
3. Daddy's Gonna Pay For Your Crashed Car
4. Some Days Are Better Than Others
7. The Ground Beneath Her Feet
8. The Thief Of Your Heart
9. In The Name Of The Father
10. Save The Children
12. Billy Boola
14. Night And Day
15. Stay (Faraway, So Close!)
16. The First Time
17. Dirty Day
18. Slow Dancing