Music

U2: Zooropa

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U2
Zooropa
(Island)
Originally released: 1993

Zooropa occupies a confused moment in U2's history. Although it won a Grammy in 1994 for Best Alternative Music Album, and was called U2's most creative album, none of the three released singles reached the heights of the previous two albums, and the band continues to look back on it with mixed reviews. Conceptualized during a break in the ZooTV tour, the band was caught up in the exploration of technology and media saturation. Bono and The Edge took that momentum and delved into the use of noise manipulation, electronic music and sound effects, but amidst the chaos the band managed to compile 10 tracks alternating between crazed noise and dedicated love songs.

The title track is dominated by advertising slogans with radio signals fading into looping melodic guitar. It quickly sets a dystopic stage of uncertainty (“And I have no compass / And I have no map / And I have no reasons / No reasons to go back”)  that resonates throughout the album. In reference to the lyrics to the monotonous, mantra-like “Numb,” The Edge stated that he wanted to capture the feeling of “being bombarded by so much information that you find yourself shutting down and unable to respond.”

But amidst the chaos and over-saturation of sound, the songs remain grounded in the core beliefs of the band. “Lemon” is a love song Bono wrote to his mother, and the lilting piano track calms an otherwise frantic album, but also transitions to the confusion the band was dealing with: “And these are the days / When our work has come asunder / And these are the days / When we look for something other.”

At the time of the album's conceptualization the band was also attempting to bring attention to the Bosnian War. Responding to Bill Carter, a journalist on the ground in Sarajevo, the band had begun dedicating time during their concerts to live interviews from war-plagued Sarajevo. That experience echoed during the recording sessions. Bono had written several songs dedicated to the feeling of helplessness generated by watching a war on television, and although several of these tracks were cut from Zooropa, they continued to appear in tour setlists and on future albums: Pop's callout for peace in “If God Would Send His Angels” and the desolate and hopeless “Wake Up Dead Man,” and “Miss Sarajevo” from the 1995 Passengers side project all contain the weight of a band attempting to deal with the political realities of an uncertain world.

The alienation and isolation that was running through Eastern Europe at the time echoes through the album's noisy loops and experimental tracks, but remains grounded in the basics U2 has always attempted to put forward. As the title track suggests, “Don't worry baby, it's gonna be all right
 / Uncertainty can be a guiding light.”
 

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