If “Zoo Station” sounded like a whole new U2, then Zooropa‘s opening/title track sounded nothing like U2 at all. A humming synthline opens, along with flickerings of voices overlapping, sounding thin and distant and detached. Piano enters, playing a simple line but repeating over and over, seemingly each repitition bringing more emphasis. What’s strangest about this opening, though, is that just about every previous opening track to a U2 album (and every one since, in fact, unless we count OS1) had Bono enter stage right within the minute, yet here that minute passes free of anything but the synth, piano and the buzz of voices, two parts of which intensify over another vocal-free minute, the piano reducing to two notes swinging back and forth like the ticking of a clock, and the voices getting louder and busier. An echoing, heavily wah’d guitar emerges out of the mist, and finally, after two minutes and twenty two seconds – U2’s longest intro to a vocal album track – the singing finally starts.

…and so we get a slew of advertising slogans, which are from, respectively, Audi, the American Army, the UK National Lottery, Slimfast, Daz, Fairy Liquid, Toshiba, United Airlines, Zanussi and Colgate. That’s quite an international sampling, no doubt reflecting the globalised, commercialised Europe of 1993, but it’s also worth point out that none of those products or businesses sell anything that’s utterly essential (and indeed, a sizeable proportion of modern businesses, European or otherwise, don’t either), which suggests an overcommercialisation. If the first third suggests, in a symbolic and indirect way, how Western society got to where it is, this second third suggests what’s wrong with it.

The final third, however, suggests what can be done about it, however vague the advice. The wah filters up to a digital blipping and the vocals raise higher, urging the listener to go to ‘the underground’, which may well be musically, commercially or politically, which isn’t to say that U2 don’t do their own self-promotion (well, self-reference, which is not totally dissimilar) here – the phrase Dream out loud making a reappearance in a lighter context; where its older, darker mention was pleading and insecure, here there’s a kind of sequel, a sense that the female character has broken free, that there’s real possibility.

Zooropa‘s title track (there’s only three such songs amongst U2 albums, and this is, at the time of writing, the last such one) is quite a manifesto, albeit one that doesn’t necessarily go into a lot of detail (not that songs are ever detailed white paper policy proposals anyway). In any event, at six and a half minutes it feels epic, and its three sections contribute to this. Like a lot of this period, it’s lacking obvious commercial appeal, yet it’s an underrated song kicking off an underrated album because it’s U2 daring to be different, both to themselves and everyone else. You could accuse Achtung Baby (not accurately, but still) of slapping different timbres over the same roots as “With or Without You” or “Still Haven’t Found”, but that doesn’t apply here; this is a U2 with different focus in terms of sound, structure, themes and mood, and thus quite a metamorphasis from how they were viewed just four years ago.


~ by 4trak on September 26, 2008.

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