For at least a decade now, U2 albums have provided the soundtrack for my
escapes from the daily grind. I remember playing The Joshua Tree as
I drove along a one-and-a-half-lane road to a wooded Northern California
getaway, and a having a feeling of unlimited possibilities inspired by
Bono's uplifting vocals, and the majestic guitars of the Edge. Actung
Baby was blasting all the way into Death Valley one winter. And as I
walked on a cliff overlooking the Pacific Ocean at Point Reyes National
Seashore recently, U2's "Last Night On Earth," a song off Pop,
played over and over in my head.
I was gazing out at the water, sparkling in the afternoon sunlight. I felt
a million miles from civilization. Just the sun, the sand, the water and a
cool breeze. And I thought that rock & roll is about a lot of things, and
two of those things--maybe the most important ones--are freedom and
No band better expresses both a sense of freedom and the belief that one's
dreams can come true than U2.
A lot has been made these past months about U2 embracing electronica or
techno or dance, depending on the terminology you want to use for the
flavor of the moment. Certainly its true, as Bono and the guys have said
in interviews, that current underground and overground rock, pop and dance
has had its impact on them. That is also beside the point.
Pop is a great, grand U2 album. Not because U2 dip into the sounds
of the moment, but because whatever raw materials they happen to make use
of, the results are nearly always something that is both uniquely U2, and,
more important, a piece or work that connects to listeners in a powerful
Rather than sounding trendy and slight, this album sounds big, confident
and timeless. U2 delivers the goods from start to finish. In the end,
whatever the sonic dressing, it is the songs that determine whether we'll
be listening to this in a decade, or will have long ago tossed it into the
garbage with the ephemeral schlock of Celine Dion and LeAnn Rimes.
So let's get right to heart of the matter. "Last Night On Earth," from
it's moody Zooropa-like false start, to its relentlessly infectious
uptempo rock rhythm, is a masterpiece. "Well she don't care what it's
worth/ She's living life like it's the last night on earth," sings Bono
about a free spirit who is living life for the moment. Classic U2 chorus.
Cool weird sound effects. Falsetto vocals bits. The kind of song that
forces you to set the CD player on repeat for like three hours. At a time
when everything feels up for grabs, when nothing seems certain, "Last
Night On Earth" perfectly captures the moment.
"If God Will Send His Angels" is a gorgeous, moody love song that hearkens
back to "One" off Actung Baby. Beginning with the most minimal of
accompaniment, Edge arrives with an elegant guitar line around the second
verse. In contrast, "MoFo" is a full-on techno extravaganza that oozes
with rave energy. "Looking for to save my save my soul" are the first
words we hear from Bono, after a minute of pulsing rhythm.
No song on this album tracks in at less than four minutes in length; seven
of them are in excess of five minutes. This allows for extended intros and
the occasional unorthodox bridge. At an hour in length, this is an album
that feels like it was made with the CD format in mind. What I mean to say
is that free from the constraints of both vinyl and cassette, U2 has
created an extended sonic world that one can enter and explore for a full
hour. Put on the headphones, turn out the lights and...
The other major ballad here is "If You Wear that Velvet Dress," which
opens with an organ line, some acoustic guitar, and plenty of mood. Bono
is so faint at first that one can hardly make out his words. It's over a
minute and 45 seconds before he really begins to sing. But when he does,
his delivery is all charm and sweet seduction.
But those are just my favorites of the moment. "Do You Feel Loved" is
funky techno-pop cut with some pure old school U2 moves. "Staring At The
Sun" is majestic folk-rock that expands in a Beatlesque number. "Gone" is
all sonic grandeur as Bono sings "I'm not coming down, I'm not coming
down" over a raw Edge riff.
It will be months before the all the themes that run through this album
emerge. But certainly this is an album that deals with hope and promise,
disillusionment and abandonment. As usual, Bono is trying to make sense of
the world. Sometimes he succeeds, more often he simply presents the
dilemmas that we all must face.
With the last track--U2's version of folk-blues--Bono seems to be saying
that we've been lied to by nearly everyone, right up to the Lord himself.
"Jesus, Jesus help me/ I'm alone in this world/ And a fucked up world it
is too," he sings in a coarse voice. Then the key line: "Tell me, tell me
the story/ The one about eternity/ And the way it's all gonna be." Yeah,
another story, another fiction for us to buy into. Just like the one about
that great piece of vacation property down in Florida somewhere.
U2 makes music that keeps me sane, that makes the frustrations and
uncertainty bearable. Pop has already helped me make it through
another night. Perhaps it can offer you some comfort too.