U2's Disco Daze

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Calgary Sun, February 1997

U2's Disco Daze

By Dave Veitch, Calgary Sun

LABEL: Island/PolyGram

When it comes to the appreciation of disco, North Americans and Europeans are oceans apart.

Generally, Europeans consider dance music viable and progressive.

However, ask North Americans about disco and often you'll be given the brusque response: "It sucks!"

But if those same North Americans are also fans of U2, they'll be in for a rude awakening when the band's new album, Pop, is released on March 4.

Seems like Bono and the boys have been soaking up the sounds of club culture in the four years since their last album, Zooropa. And Pop, though not full-blown disco album, shows techno and industrial influences to varying degrees throughout its 12 tracks.

Of course, U2 flirted with dance music on Zooropa and 1991's Achtung Baby, but this time the experiments are bolder and sexier.

Pop's first single and opening track Discotheque is a close cousin of The Fly, yet the latter sounds anemic compared to the booming rhythms, buzzing guitars and dense arrangement of the former.

Discotheque may be a studio-crafted concoction but, ironically, U2 has rarely sounded so loose and so free.

The next two tracks maintain the momentum. Do You Feel Love is carried by an in-your-face bass line that closely follows New Order's melody for Confusion; and Mofo, with its machine-gun-like blasts of electronic bass, is an all-out techno track that's unrecognizable as U2 until Bono starts to sing. It is, undoubtedly, Pop's boldest stroke.

After Mofo, U2 retreats a bit. Pop's middle three songs (Staring at the Sun, Last Night on Earth and Gone) still shuffle along to accentuated, syncopated rhythms, but they remain standard U2 rock tracks -- albeit fine, ingratiatingly tuneful rock tracks.

The tempo slows for the album's second half, with the electronically treated instruments painting ambient landscapes -- in fact, If You Wear That Velvet Dress even brings back the ethereal, ringing guitar style that earmarked U2's work on The Unforgettable Fire.

So, Pop isn't the band's most daring and adventurous album -- Zooropa maintains that title -- but it is deceptively substantial.

On the surface, U2 is aligning itself with the hedonism and moral ambiguity of dance culture, specifically Britain's Ecstacy-fuelled rave scene -- but only to point out how disconnected society has become to notions of God and faith.

In The Playboy Mansion, Bono plays the part of the Modern Thrill-seeking Man (or Woman) by making the gates of Hugh Hefner's palace of pleasure sound like the Pearly Gates. Pop culture, Bono suggests, has become our new object of worship; the pursuit of thrills and overstimulation our new religion.

And what has become of the mysticism that's been in U2's music from Day 1?

Bono -- who once declared, "Oh Lord, if I had anything/Anything at all/I'd give it to you" -- still pleads to the heavens, but now he sounds disillusioned.

"God has got his phone off the hook," he sings in If God Will Send His Angels, only to add: "Jesus never let me down/You know Jesus used to show me the score/Then they put Jesus in show business/Now it's hard to get in the door."

Later, on the closing track Wake Up Dead Man, Bono sings resigningly: "Jesus, I'm waiting here boss/I know you're looking out for us/But maybe your hands aren't free."

In the end, Pop is not about disco music or dance culture.

Ultimately, it's about being surrounded by people but feeling utterly alone and isolated; it's about having it all but feeling you have nothing; it's the sounds and moods of a pop-culture hangover.

Ten years have passed since U2 first declared: "I still haven't found what I'm looking for."

They haven't stopped looking but, with Pop, they've decided to shake their booties while they continue the search.

Copyright © 1997 Calgary Sun. All rights reserved.

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This page contains a single entry by Jonathan published on February 1, 1997 4:08 AM.

Inferno - Satire of U2 was the previous entry in this blog.

With Or Without U2? is the next entry in this blog.

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