Zoo Station

A quiet ticking. A whirling grunt of distortion. And again, four muffled wafts of percussion following, a high drone in the background upping the tension. And again, the drums getting more coherent, the pace gathering, and fifty seconds in a primordial rock arrangement has lifted itself into modernity, a driving but gleaming efficiency and drive. The bassline (a refugee from “Salome”) and beats propel the song along steadily from verse to chorus, stop to stop along the song’s line, as the guitar alternates with primitive fuzz and chug and hyperfuturistic unrecognisability in swirling phases and timbres. This is a song that is going somewhere, and judging by the confident opening statement (I’m ready) it’s going somewhere great. Of course, regular listeners of the album know that it is and isn’t, depending on whether you’re the listener or the album’s protagonists.

Lyrically, “Zoo Station” is interesting by U2 standards in that it is, essentially, a relentless declaration of self-confidence (I’m ready for the shuffle/Ready for the deal/Ready to let go of the steering wheel) bound up with a vague attempt at a love song (the interjections during the final verse/chorus combo) and a repeated reference to the real life Zoo Station in Berlin, which as the album artwork is ever so keen to point out, is on the Berlin U-Bahn’s U2 line. The most key element of the vocals here, though, is that they are deliberately distorted (as opposed to simply having rubbish equipment), something the band hadn’t really done before, which adds a distance of sorts, suggesting a character rather than Bono himself. It’s not that Bono had never written in character before – “Exit”, for example, is surely not drawn from real experience – but here he actively intends to emphasise the distance between reality and fiction. The same, incidentally, was true of ZooTV, which may be why the song was such a key part of it – the leaping figure silouhetted against a screen of blue and white static is a key image of U2’s ZooTV era, to go with the belly dancers, Trabants, ironic messages and flamboyantly coloured artwork.

“Zoo Station” is perhaps the most startling opening to any U2 album, maybe even surpassing “Sunday Bloody Sunday”; where War kicks off with loud but nonetheless very natural sounding drums, Achtung Baby begins with totally alien sound, and also with the widest range of them, and also the greatest dynamic range, too, as opposed to mere crashing noise or gradual fadein. It possibly devalues the term “classic” to apply it here, as there are slightly too many better songs on the album, but it’s definitely a key song nonetheless, its existance well deserved.

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~ by 4trak on September 13, 2008.

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