This week it’s all about Pop. As in, the band U2 and their 1997 release, Pop. This record remains U2’s largest side step from their initial sound (Joshua Tree, Rattle and Hum, etc)… but is one of my favorite albums nonetheless.

All great artists evolve over time. You can’t sit in the same creative pool for too long or things get stagnant. The Beatles, Zeppelin, the Police, Radiohead… these bands all followed an artistic road that has, at times, taken them far far away from the music that brought them into the public eye. (For instance, the other day I heard a DJ on a hard rock station how Radiohead hasn’t done anything significant since their 1992 single, “Creep”… a laughable statement.) I would cite Pop as exhibit A in the argument for U2’s status as a truly artistic and creative band, on par with the other bands I listed.

Pop was the official U2 release that followed up on an unofficial and widely unknown experimental record called Original Soundtracks 1 (released under the pseudonym “The Passengers”). Both albums rely heavily on electronica elements characteristic of the late 90’s, such as tape loops and sequencing. Pop was obviously the more commercially targeted of the two recordings, although the sales were down sharply from other U2 records and the album produced no hit singles or Grammys.

The first three tracks of this record pump me up so much. Really hard hitting electronica/dance/pop with great melodies and lyrical hooks, but not without some signature Edge guitar. Most of the bass tracks sound synthesized, and this fits well with the dance vibe. The drumming on the record is strange, but that’s how I feel about most Larry Mullen performances. His feel is just so unusual. It’s solid, but totally unassertive… almost timid sounding. Most of the songs don’t strike me as timid, so it’s hard for me to wrap my head around the way the drums fit in the whole picture, but it works. Especially noteworthy is the snare drum tone on most of the tracks. It’s really thin sounding, but somehow retains a full presence – it reminds me of hot rods or something. Maybe they’re samples? I don’t know.

Lyrically, the record revolves around concepts similar to the early 90’s releases Achtung Baby and Zooropa. U2 was preoccupied at this time with marketing and pop culture, and the ideas of celebrity and stardom. The “rockstar” imagery is all meant to be sarcastic, and this is especially evident in the over-the-top antics in their live shows from the 90’s (see video below).

It should be noted that the band has expressed disappointment in how the record turned out. Rumor has it that they had to hurry to complete the project due to the Popmart tour, which had been booked ahead of time. Bono has said that he wants to have the record remixed so that it would sound “like it was originally intended.” Even so, I love the music on this record, and I love the vulnerable position that U2 takes in producing a record so far outside their 80’s wheelhouse.

You can preview the record here, or go buy it here. And meanwhile, check out this video from the Popmart tour, on of the biggest rock and roll productions in history…

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