U2's Pop- by Thomas Donald Clarke

On February 12, 1997, U2 came to the K-Mart on Astor Place to announce their new album and their world tour. Now Pop is upon us. Is it a return to the 80s rock sound typified by The_Joshua_Tree and Rattle_and_Hum? Or is U2 twenty years ahead of now like they were on the revolutionary Zooropa?
Pop stakes the middle ground musically, sounding like something from this side of the edge of the 21st Century. The old U2 can be heard on "Last Night on Earth" and "Discotheque." But U2 sounds more like British electronic pioneers Massive Attack on "Miami" and "Please." Most of the tracks on Pop are synthesizer driven, although Bono's lead singing distinguishes the new U2 sound from the Massive Attack collaborations with Tracey Thorn and Madonna (who is mentioned in "Miami").
U2 has always had unique lyrics that have made certain songs more memorable for their meaning than for their instrumentation. Pop's lyrical classics include "The Playboy Mansion" (with OJ, Michael Jackson, and McDonald's references in a mocking quest to visit Hugh Hefner's abode), the longingly seductive "If You Wear That Velvet Dress," "Please," and the provocatively titled "Wake Up Dead Man."
A recurring theme throughout Pop is the sense of religious longing. In "Mofo," Bono sings about "looking to fill the God shaped hole" and "looking for baby Jesus under the trash." In "If God Would Send His Angels," one wonders how much society has stripped religion and faith of their meanings. And depending how you look at it, "Wake Up Dead Man" can either be a wake up call to humanity for ignoring Jesus or a wake up call to Jesus for leaving man alone in a faithless void. U2 mentions God and Jesus as often as DC Talk and Jars of Clay (two contemporary Christian rock acts) do in their albums. But many Christophobes in the media and society (perhaps the targets of "Mofo" and "If God Would Send His Angels") mention God only when cursing.
Overall, Pop is halfway between Achtung Baby and Zooropa. "Mofo," "Miami," "Please," and "Staring At The Sun" are the tracks most likely to follow "Discotheque" to radio success. U2 fans who thought The Joshua Tree was the last great U2 album might be disappointed. But fans of Zooropa might enjoy U2's slight return to the electric guitar and drums.

March 1997/BC Excelsior