U2 Goes On A Successful Spiritual Quest With 'Pop'

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Orange County Register, March 2, 1997

U2 Goes On A Successful Spiritual Quest With 'Pop'

By Mark Brown

+++++ (5 stars out of 5)

Fooled again.

Just as it's done the past two times out, U2 released a single that makes fans wonder if the band has lost its collective mind. And just like in the past, the album has finally arrived to set things straight.

This time it was "Discotheque" with its slick dance trappings and the noticeable lack of a good song underneath it all. They may have been a bit too good at setting up the bait-and-switch this time. Between the disposable single and a flurry of "We've gone techno!" interviews with the press, U2's concert sales have been slack, and there's a distinct absence of buzz around "Pop."

That should end in two days, when the album hits stores and fans' ears. Despite some odd guitar and rhythm sounds, the boys for the most part have put together a nice little rock 'n' roll album. It's a different suit for sure, but it's the same four guys wearing it.

Not as complex as "Actung Baby" or "Zooropa" and more accessible that either of those great discs, "Pop" completes a trilogy of searching, questioning works where Bono looks for meaning in a modern world by alternately embracing and disdaining its trappings.

It's a tack that, surprisingly, is not tired yet. U2 does it with grand statements "Wake Up Dead Man") or with tiny snapshots. "Miami" looks at the surface of that city and its people in a vivid portrait of what's real and what's not, powered by a funky little bass groove chugging through it. The Edge's guitar on "The Playboy Mansion" plays a sly musical pun, echoing the distinct ring of Marvin Gaye's "Let's Get It On" while Bono mockingly ponders what a mere mortal has to do to pass through those heavenly gates.

"If God Will Send His Angels" provides the emotional core of the album with the same unflinching confessional honesty as previous tracks "Who's Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses" or "Stay". "Please" takes the theme of "Stay" a step further, wallowing in what hurting people will do to fulfill their emotional needs: "So you never knew love until you crossed the line of grace/and you never felt wanted till you had someone slap your face."

U2 looks at the flip side of that in "Gone," where Bono mournfully sings, "You hurt yourself, you hurt your lover/and then you discover what you thought was freedom is just greed." The listener is left to ponder what kind of freedom it might have been -- financial? sexual? emotional? -- before concluding it could be all of them.

It's one of the band's more spiritual outings, despite the coarse language sometimes used to make the point. The album-closing "Wake Up Dead Man" is directed at none other than Jesus, bordering on the blasphemous while seeking answers. "I know you're looking out for us/but maybe your hands aren't free."

Some fans think the band has left its ideals behind. That's not true; U2 is as self-aware as it was in the "Joshua Tree" days. It's the music that's more challenging as the band refuses the easy path, either musically or spiritually. In tone, message and sound, "Pop" is a simple triumph.

Copyright © 1997 Orange County Register. All rights reserved.

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This page contains a single entry by Jonathan published on March 2, 1997 4:13 AM.

U2's Pop Salvation was the previous entry in this blog.

U2's Striking 'Pop' LP Both Pushes, Polishes The Edge is the next entry in this blog.

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