All-Time Favorite Albums - WEEK 5
Updated: Jul 26
June is finally upon us! Half way through 2018 and boy.....everyday it is something right? That's one of the reasons why I am doing these as individual blog posts, I know I need to decompress from the daily grind like everyone else. What better way than to share my love of all things music? With that, here we go!
In case you missed my first round of albums and are curious, you can find them here:
“She wore Lemon” Bono- U2-Zooropa-Lemon
U2 as a band has become an enigma to me. I don't quite understand how a band that's well received by two generations is considered overrated or more bluntly, lame, by another.
Maybe they are the young generations "Beatles". Loved by their parents but they don't get the hype because to them, they're just a band. I don't know the answer.
However, what I do know is they're a band, that wasn't afraid to forge their own path, but knew when they strayed to far.
They had a run of on top of the world success from the mid 80's to the mid 90's. "The Joshua Tree" propelled them to another galaxy, how do you follow that up, let alone, continue sustained success?
Thanks to hindsight, it looks easy now, but rest assured, they took their bumps and bruises too.
By the time "Pop" was released in 1997, although loved by many, it wasn't the commercial and musical success of what was expected. I don't know what was expected, but what I do know is that this album is the one that brought them home to their roots, as evident in "All You Can't Leave Behind"
Sandwich between "Achtung Baby" and "Pop" however is what I consider their hidden gem, my Week 5 All Time Favorite Albums:
Released July 5th, 1993, "Zooropa", continued their trend of sound manipulation as music within a band, not a band just playing like, well a band.
Sound FX, sound design, traditional sounds but yet processed differently, all these continued their arc of natural progression.
Too bad the album went unnoticed, and looking back through the prism of time, it was 4-5 years ahead of where music was.
Before I begin singing praises to this album, I would like to start off by saying I found this article as I was searching for a picture of the album cover, literally right before I posted the blog. To celebrate the 20th anniversary of the record, it was written five years ago for the well respected, music biz periodical "Spin":
I thought it was interesting as the article is wrapping up, the author, Rob Harvilla, had this to say at the time:
"Yes, 20 years on, Zooropa is a weird blip best understood as a portent of the burps that followed, a mega-band dipping a big toe into murky art-rock waters before belly-flopping completely with Pop and its subsequent crass, costly, cred-depleting tour misadventures. (The “costly” part, at least, is a weakness that plagues the band still, even though 360 was the biggest-grossing tour of all time; please read this photo caption.) The Time-conquering comeback would soon follow. But it’s hard not to mourn this era, now that they’ve settled into a middling “ho-hum album just to justify another lavish tour” phase that may never actually end, neither offending nor particularly exhilarating anyone. Mark this record, then, as a celebration of a time when U2 was still musically daring; give “Lemon” credit at least for successfully trolling you. It is the maddening, befuddling, discomfiting, somewhat ill-advised, occasionally inspired sound of very famous, very difficult men trying on some ill-fitting clothes."
Like I said, I never knew this article existed until five minutes before I posted the blog.I just find it curious that someone who makes their living writing about music, and someone who makes their living writing and mixing music and promos, happen to agree in some ways what this record is to the band.
As I was saying, "Zooropa", in my opinion, was 4-5 years ahead of its time. 1997 was the year "OK Computer" by Radiohead dropped. This thing cemented Radiohead as THE Alternative Rock band of its time.
"OK Computer" can thank "Zooropa" for paving the way, for when I got around to immerse myself in "Zooropa" circa 1999, side by side with "OK Computer", there is no doubt in my mind Radiohead was indeed paying attention to rock musical history.
Kicking off with the title track "Zooropa", the listener for the first two minutes, is taken on a atmospheric soundscape that asks you to just sit back and enjoy the journey. All of a sudden, you hear the familiar tone of The Edge, and you now know you have arrived to U2 land. But wait there's more! Just when you think the song has settled in, it kicks in another gear around four minutes. This is the climax that you've been waiting for, but didn't know it.
"Babyface" starts with a repetitive FM bell synth motif as the bedrock of its hook. Bono's vocals are layered an octave apart, it's the blend of his falsetto with the lower octave that compels you to take notice of the story.
"Numb" is the Edge's turn in the vocal spotlight. Monotone drone melody, with his processed guitar driving the song, he has help with Bono as his background vocalist. The song itself is repetitive, more like a drone to highlight the lyrical content. Make no mistake, the boys have fun messing around with the vocal fx near the end.
Next up is what I consider the crown jewel of the album, "Lemon". With the help of the Eventide H3000 Crystalizer patch, this song is mesmerizing and hypnotic. Thanks to the introduction of the piano, the chorus propels you to the next level of the song. It then repeats its verse structure, adding another chorus, but it's the bridge, that harkens to a spiritual experience one gets listening to hymns. It wraps up with another chorus, then ends with an out verse fade out. The production is absolutely phenomenal on this diddy.
"Stay (Faraway, So Close!) is as close to a classic U2 track on this album, albeit with a twist. A jingly jangly guitar riff is the hook, but it's the layers going on behind the scenes that makes it a different take on their sound. Bono's vocals are as haunting as ever, lamenting with the best of them. Just a classic ballad.
Up next, your bombarded with a classic brass fan fare from something out of WWII Eastern Block. Then bam, backwards Guitars, a drum loop that hits this metallic alarm like tone..."Daddy's Gonna Pay For Your Crashed Car" is not your ordinary U2 song. Aggro is the name of the game for this track. Pulling out all sorts of production tricks, this song grooves with the best of them.
"Some Days Are Better Than Others" grabs you by Adam Clayton's swampy bass groove. Larry Mullen compliments this by laying down a simple back beat then Bono just lays down a vocal line that wrote itself. Once your vibing to this, The Edge makes sure he's not forgotten by hitting the 2 and 4 at the chorus, bouncing the song along to its well established groove. Okay, maybe on second thought this can be considered another classic U2 jam, but it is a little different enough that I'll still hold to my original proclamation 😉.
"The First Time" is a majestic ballad reminiscent of something from the "Joshua Tree" but with added production value. Another hymn like song, it smacks you in the face of contemplation.
"Dirty Day" is a track I consider one of their drone like compositions. It's not a bad track, but it just drones on to its end.
"The Wanderer" features the late legend Johnny Cash, with U2 as his backing band. Laced with the production value of "Zooropa" it's a nice way to pay tribute to one of the greats and end the album on what I consider the overall tone of it, reflective.
So there it is, my run down of "Zooropa" What makes this album stick out for me is how it's truly a studio production. They pulled out all the tricks and more, creating something that sounds like it came out in the late 90's not in 1993. Sure it's still U2, but it's how they were not afraid to experiment, go where their musical sense ability told them to go that makes it a bridge to their next phase, which was "Pop". Hindsight tells us now "Pop" pushed them to their extreme, allowing them to know the veered off the path just a smidge, leading to "All You Can't Leave Behind"
Side note, their single on the "Batman Forever" soundtrack "Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me" is a triumph of the lessons learned from "Zooropa". With that, I said enough of why "Zooropa" is truly their hidden gem of a masterpiece.