U2 Pop Out Un-Rock-Like album

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Jam! Showbiz, February 1997

U2 Pop Out Un-Rock-Like album

By JOHN SAKAMOTO, Executive producer, Jam! Showbiz

LABEL: Island/PolyGram
RATING: *** (out of five)

Taking its cue from its fiendishly obvious title, U2's first bona fide album in four years fulfills the one criterion that's most precious to anyone who spends way too much time thinking about music: It is capable of absorbing any interpretation you'd care to impose upon it.

A mainstream rock band taking a brave left turn? Easy. Pop is virtually bursting with loops, samples, and other patently un-rock-like production touches.

A uniquely ironic celebration of pop culture? No problem. The first words out of Bono's mouth here are, "You can reach but you can't grab it," which, when you think about it, pretty much sums up both the appeal of, and eternal frustration with, pop culture.

Or how about that old, facile, rock-crit standby: the eternal struggle to reconcile the twin impulses of hedonism and spirituality. Hell, you could apply that to EVERY U2 album. Why should Pop be any different?

The trouble with that scenario is that it demands an almost infinite malleability. That's a characteristic that's perfectly suited to theorizing about music, but much less desirable when it comes to listening to it.

When U2 was near the end of recording its last proper album, Zooropa, the Edge observed that the band's recent output tended to fall into two distinct categories: groove-oriented material that arose largely out of extended jams; and "real" songs. Applying those two categories to Pop, here's how the 12 numbers break down:

- Discotheque
- Do You Feel Loved
- Mofo
- Miami

- If God Will Send His Angels
- Staring At The Sun
- Last Night On Earth
- Gone
- The Playboy Mansion
- Please
- Wake Up Dead Man

- If You Wear That Velvet Dress

The result of that split is that most of the "radical" stuff on which Pop's advance rep as a daring departure is based gets poured into the four "jams". That means the other two-thirds of the album consists of relatively conventional -- albeit highly accomplished -- songs that have been pushed and pulled in all sorts of directions that don't necessarily serve the piece of music in question.

Ultimately, Pop boasts five songs -- If God Will Send His Angels, Staring At The Sun, Last Night On Earth, Gone, and Wake Up Dead Man -- that deserve to immediately take their place among the very best music U2 has created.

And the rest? Well, as with so many elements of the ephemeral culture it both disparages and celebrates, it ends up being something considerably less than has been advertised.

Far from an exercise in daring self-indulgence, Pop is too often guilty of a much more serious offence: not going far enough.

Copyright © 1997 Jam! Showbiz. All rights reserved.

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This page contains a single entry by Jonathan published on February 1, 1997 4:11 AM.

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