“Don’t worry baby/It’s gonna be alright/Uncertainty can be a guiding light.”-U2, “Zooropa.”
When I was 12, I was deep into a phase of being an “individual.” I wanted to be special. I wanted to be unique. This applied to my love as a U2 fan as well. What was the most obscure U2 album I could find buried in my father’s CD closet?
When I stumbled upon “Zooropa,” with its vibrant jewel case of purple, pink and yellow, I knew I’d found it. Years later, I still kind of love this album.
“Zooropa” is the underrated middle child of U2’s 90s work, not quite remembered as the masterpiece of “Achtung Baby” or the commercial flop of “Pop.” And while the album does suffer from its rushed production time-delivering filler tracks like “Daddy’s Gonna Pay for Your Crashed Car” and “Babyface”-it’s still an interesting listen to my ears, catching U2 at a fascinating creative period in between the drain and chaos of the Zoo TV tour.
The opening title track on here is a perfect example. In its six-minute runtime we are treated to two minutes of overlaying advertisement voices, building to a cacophony of a crescendo as The Edge suddenly breaks through with a slippery and lush guitar riff.
From here the track explodes into a vibrant and expansive sonic landscape of bright colors and flashing neon city lights, as Bono ushers us through the unfamiliar city with lines like “And I have no compass/And I have no map/And I have no reasons, no reasons to get back.”
It’s a wild head-first arrival into the new world of the album, and the first time 12-year-old me heard it, she absolutely ate it up.
The album’s leading single, “Numb,” remains the only track the band ever got Larry to sing on, and he and Bono create a weird sort of talk-sung falsetto harmony of “I feel numb” over a grinding and fuzzy guitar riff. The Edge’s lead vocals sing a monotone rap of societal rules.
The increasing amount of noise that the track builds into, with both crowd noises, arcade noises and the grate of Bono’s over-exaggerated operatic vocals cause a listener to feel numb throughout the runtime, unsure of whether they should be liking the strangeness so much.
“Some Days are Better than Others” is a somewhat nonsensical moment in the track listing, as Adam creates a slick smooth bassline underneath Bono’s silly lyrical delivery. Once the track actually kicks into the chorus, though, production on Larry’s drums create a danceable groove, and The Edge’s backing vocals make a listener want to rock along to the beat.
“Dirty Day” is a grower of the track, as Adam once again leads the band through a murky and unsure vocal landscape of Bono crafting a conversation between two drifters in society. Once the chorus breaks in, lead with a wild riff from The Edge and a massive drum roll from Larry, the album achieves one of its few moments of genuine swagger.
The outro of the track, in which the din of the instrumentation lines up into a righteous and powerful groove, is made all the more enjoyable with Bono’s repetition of the easy to sing along with line of “These days, days, days/Run away like horses over the hills.”
The closing track on here, “The Wanderer,” features the one and only Johnny Cash taking lead vocals over a simplistic and calming bass riff from Adam Clayton.
The etherial sparkling synths in the background create a more atmospheric vibe of wonder as a listener walks out of the mystic gateway of Zooropa, back into reality. It’s such a bizarre way to end the album, hiding such a legendary talent on the last track of the band’s most oft-forgotten albums.
But maybe that’s the message we’re supposed to take away from “Zooropa,” that of sticking it out through the noise and confusion of life until we reach a moment of genuine clarity and inspiration.
Or at least, until the alarm that closes the album goes off, and we must once again wake up to dream it all up again.
Thanks for reading, tune in next time when we take a closer look at U2’s electronic dance project “Pop” and God bless.
(Photo Credit: U2/Island Records; retrieved from Wikimedia Commons).