Picks and Pans Review: Zooropa
Welcome to U2 labs, where progress is their most important product. The latest experiment by these rock scientists was originally to be an EP—or mini-album—to accompany this summer's European leg of their extended Zoo TV tour. But the Dublin quartet got carried away in the studio and produced a full album of 10 songs instead. The hurried nature of this project has taken the band even further into the gritty garage where they parked 1991's Achtung Baby. By letting spontaneity rule, U2 has defeated its tendency toward heavily layered, sometimes mannered music. But some of these songs needed more planning and polishing.
As an extension of the Zoo Tour, Zooropa is partly an attack on the stultifying aspects of mass culture. The title track opens the album by lancing the blister known as advertising, suggesting that beneath the empty slogans lies confusion about what really matters. The album concludes with "The Wanderer," featuring a stoic lead vocal by Johnny Cash, who was recruited by Bono and pals after he played a concert in Dublin. Bono retooled the lyrics slightly for his fellow man-in-black, and Cash does a fine post-apocalyptic accounting of what could be described as truth decay.
On these tunes, and a few others, the band matches its finest efforts, setting tough-minded sentiments to relentless soundscapes. But tracks like "Numb" and "Some Days Are Better Than Others" are too minimal for their own good—the simple catchy grooves can't rescue lyrics that, as the lilies suggest, pound home the same idea over and over. "Dirty Day," on the other hand, tells a powerful story of generational conflict, but you wouldn't know it from the rather muddled arrangement. U2 could have released a magnificent EFJ but that's available now only to those with programmable CD players. (Island)