U2's POP
March 2, 2012 7:28 PM   Subscribe

Fifteen years and three weeks ago, four lads from Dublin wandered into a K-Mart in NYC and attracted a crowd as they played a song they've never played live since. They then took some questions from the audience about their intentions over the next year or so. The proceedings were carried live on music television stations around the world. (Part 1 2 3 4) The day was February 12, 1997; the song was Holy Joe; the men performing were U2. They were announcing the release of their new album, POP, released 15 years ago, on March 3, 1997. Loved by many critics, adored by many fans, met with an indifferent shrug by the general public, and repeatedly scorned by the band themselves, perhaps it's time to look back again at this controversial groundbreaking album and landmark tour.

The album itself, which went instantly to number one in 35 countries, was an audacious blend of classic U2 melodies and lyrics, techno rhythms, and DJ loops and samples. Laden with irony wrapped around a core of earnest, it extended the path begun by Achtung Baby and continued by Zooropa. Recorded over some 18-odd months (and missing several deadlines and released under pressure from their record label and the looming pre-announced tour), it was produced by Flood (who had done engineering work on previous U2 albums) and Howie B (who had worked with U2 during the creation of their Passengers project) and Steve Osborne (part of Paul Oakenfold's Perfecto team). The creation of the album was a long and difficult affair, best related by Flood and Howie B in this 1997 interview. (One little tidbit about the production: Adam Clayton took bass lessons before going into the studio to record POP.)

Do You Feel Loved
If God Will Send His Angels
Staring At The Sun
Last Night On Earth
The Playboy Mansion
If You Wear That Velvet Dress
Wake Up Dead Man

Or listen to the entire album
The videos for POP:
Staring At The Sun
Staring At The Sun Version 2
Last Night On Earth
If God Will Send His Angels
and the dance track Last Night On Earth (First Night In Hell Mix)

Bonus: Last Night On Earth (Making Of)
The album had many b-side tracks from various singles:
Holy Joe (Garage Mix)
Holy Joe (Guilty Mix)
from the Discothèque single

North And South Of The River [which has only been performed live once]
Your Blue Room (originally from Passengers' Original Soundtracks Vol. 1) [images NSFW]
from the Staring At The Sun single

Pop Muzik (Pop Mart Mix) [cover of the M song]
Happiness Is A Warm Gun (The Gun Mix) [from the ABC anthology TV series Gun]
Happiness Is A Warm Gun (Danny Saber Mix)
from the Last Night On Earth single

Slow Dancing [a song they had recorded previously with Willie Nelson]
Two Shots Of Happy, One Shot Of Sad [written for Frank Sinatra who died before he could record it. His daughter Nancy did record it, however.]
from the If God Will Send His Angels single
U2 started releasing dance mixes of their songs with the Achtung Baby album, and POP's techno-infused sound inspired many an official remix. Those which can be found online include:
Discothèque (DM Deep Extended Club Mix)
Discothèque (Howie B, Hairy B Mix)
Discothèque (Hexidecimal Mix)
Staring At The Sun (Monster Truck Mix)
Mofo (Phunk Phorce Mix)
Mofo (Mother's Mix)
If God Will Send His Angels (The Grand Jury Mix)
Despite their confident rhetoric at the time, perhaps in response to the relative public disinterest in the album, U2 claims they've never been satisfied with the final product of the POP album. Over time, many of the tracks have been redone and released:
Discothèque (New Mix)
If God Will Send His Angels (single mix)
Staring At The Sun (New Mix)
Last Night On Earth (single mix) [heard in the video linked above]
Gone (New Mix)
Please (single mix) [heard in the video linked above]

Bonus: Bono remakes If You Wear That Velvet Dress into a slinky lounge jazz piece in 2002 for Jools Holland's Small World Big Band Vol 2 album

The tour for POP, named POPMart, was a mammoth vision hastily constructed. The delays in completing the album meant the band didn't have as much time to flesh out the show as they perhaps might have wanted. But with only their own ZooTV tour to compete with, they again went for full-on spectacle, embarking on the only world-wide stadium-only tour thus far in their careers. Instead of a myriad of TV screens, they invented the world's largest single screen out of LEDs, measuring 150 feet across by 50 feet high. Visuals were inspired by artists such as Keith Haring, Andy Warhol, and Roy Lichtenstein, and featured videos by artists such as Leigh Bowery and John Bland.

The overall theme of the shows was a full-on takedown of popular culture obsession and consumer society, presented as an ironic embrace of the same. Singing under a giant yellow parabola (which looked enough like a Golden Arch that McDonald's attempted to stop them from using it), entering the stadium as prize-fighters, and featuring concert schwag which included an inflatable lemon (one of the higher-priced items), U2's sardonic message presented to concert-goers was perhaps summed up most succinctly by this graphic. Another iconic moment was Leigh Bowery's masked dance of seduction, during which the camera gradually pulled back from the veiled face and buxom torso to reveal male genitalia, a classic example of how reality may not match marketed perceptions.

With the tour opening less than two months after the album was released, U2 took a risk and created a television special which would air on ABC on April 26, 1997, the night after the opening show in Las Vegas. U2: A Year In Pop was narrated by Dennis Hopper, contained footage filmed at the concert the night before, and would attempt to put POP and POPMart into perspective for long-time fans and the general public. The result was an hour of television which remains the lowest-rated non-political documentary ever shown on ABC.
A Year In Pop 1 2 3 4 5
As time progressed after the release of the album, as single after single failed to make any real impression on the public, U2's tour kept running on. After wrapping up the US leg of the tour, they started in Europe. Once again, they aired a television special to drum up enthusiasm.
A Year In Pop Europe 1 2 3 4 4.5 5 [sound and synch quality varies]
The mammoth size of the tour, never before attempted, involved logistical and technical challenges that no other tour had faced. The full scope of the project was documented for the Discovery Channel:
Working In The Popmart 1 2 3 4 5
One jewel in the crown of the POPMart tour was the stop in Sarajevo, an event which had been promised by the band during the ZooTV tour. The hurdles to be surmounted were legion and giant, but the band managed to take this biggest-ever-thus-far production there, and to make the night a true moment in rock history.
Missing Sarajevo 1 2 (previously)
Ultimately, after all the bugs were worked out of the show, U2 recorded two nights in Mexico City and released the document as POPMart: Live In Mexico City.
Pop Muzic (Intro)
I Will Follow
Even Better Than The Real Thing
Last Night On Earth
Until The End Of The World (not available)
New Years Day
Pride (In The Name Of Love)
I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For
All I Want Is You
Staring At The Sun (unavailable)
Sunday Bloody Sunday
Bullet The Blue Sky
Where The Streets Have No Name
Lemon (Perfecto Mix)
If You Wear That Velvet Dress
With Or Without You
Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me (unavailable)
Mysterious Ways
Wake Up Dead Man
Ultimately, POPMart was the second-highest grossing concert tour of 1997. But in the end, it cost more to produce than it brought in. Still, as recently as 2009, Bono was quoted as saying "Pop is our finest hour. It's better than Zoo TV aesthetically, and as an art project it is a clearer thought."

After all was said and done, U2 retreated with its collective tail between its legs. The album remains one of the lowest-selling of the band's career, and the concert tour lost them tens of millions of dollars. When they finally reemerged several years later, it would be without irony, without giant video screens, and they would abandon the musical explorations they had began with Achtung Baby.
posted by hippybear (84 comments total) 88 users marked this as a favorite
I love you.
posted by zerobyproxy at 7:31 PM on March 2, 2012 [10 favorites]

I love POP. Shamelessly.
posted by grabbingsand at 7:33 PM on March 2, 2012 [7 favorites]

Oh god yes. Thank you. I loved (and still love) Achtung Baby, liked Zooropa, but Pop was a mostly-ignored blip on the radar for me. This is a great revisit.
posted by tracicle at 7:34 PM on March 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

I have no idea why I was home but I watched that live. It was a but surreal because it was the first. Kmart, or big chain really in NYC.It was on Astor Square, practically the East Villiage for god's sake! It was pretty much regarded as the end of the world.
posted by Ad hominem at 7:35 PM on March 2, 2012

There was a month or so in 1997 where all I listened to were two tapes: Pop and Time Out of Mind. Great therapy.
posted by swift at 7:36 PM on March 2, 2012

POP is an under-appreciated album. It's pretty clear it was sort of under-developed but that's sort of why I love it. It's raw. It's immediate. It wasn't -- and isn't -- like anything else U2 has done. It may be, in the end, my favorite U2 album because it's kind of a mess.

I also adore the Discothèque video. Stephane Sednaoui, direct more videos!
posted by darksong at 7:38 PM on March 2, 2012 [4 favorites]

I don't care what anyone says: "If You Wear That Velvet Dress" is a good make out song."
posted by 4ster at 7:39 PM on March 2, 2012 [4 favorites]

because it was the first. Kmart, or big chain really in NYC.It was on Astor Square

You mean two blocks from the giant 3 story Barnes and Noble that was there and one block from the giant Starbucks at the beginning of St. Marks?? I think you are thinking of 1987, not 1997.
posted by spicynuts at 7:50 PM on March 2, 2012

Not sure if Barnes and Noble counts, since it originated in New York.
posted by swift at 7:52 PM on March 2, 2012

What a fantastic post. Thank you.

I still like Pop, and it marks the point after which I stopped giving any kind of crap about the band.
posted by Sebmojo at 7:56 PM on March 2, 2012 [2 favorites]

I used to be really in love with U2, round about the Boy/October period, when I was young and stupid. Then I fell out of love with them for a long time. Recently I needed to find a few covers to play live, and STUCK IN A MOMENT jumped out at me. So I've been learning that. It's a well constructed song musically, but it has the classic U2 problems of just vaguing out lyrically, and verging into preaching, plus going on too long and trying to wrap things up way too neatly at the end. So I'm left with lots of respect for the musicianship but a wish for less indulgence and self-satisfactioin.
posted by unSane at 7:56 PM on March 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

Incidentally, Pop always sounds to me like a Radiohead recording session that Bono and the Edge stumbled into, and totally fucked up.
posted by unSane at 7:57 PM on March 2, 2012 [7 favorites]

POP was an odd album because to the uninitiated (of which I was one at the time), it looked like U2 was jumping on the electronica bandwagon with relish, even more so than David Bowie did with Earthling. But if I'd bothered to look back even one album, I'd have known about the oddity that was Zooropa, and so wouldn't have been able to accuse them of bandwagon-hopping.

With a little time, it became clear U2 was trying to create Something Popular, Something Important and Something Experimental all at once—a goal you see few mainstream artists even bothering with nowadays. A lot of people at my high school connected with POP, including the guy who you'd normally find listening to Nine Inch Nails. POP was also the last album from U2 that felt relevant. This was a band that tried its hand with blues, dance music and orchestral music (as The Passengers) before it put out POP; everything since sounds like U2 doing U2. Somewhere along the way, they lost the ability to surprise people; the fact that every album since POP have been huge successes I guess says that people don't like being surprised.
posted by chrominance at 8:01 PM on March 2, 2012 [11 favorites]

(well, on second thought, "orchestral music" is perhaps the wrong phrase, but it's definitely not every day you have Luciano Pavarotti sing on your album.)
posted by chrominance at 8:03 PM on March 2, 2012

I decided to wear my old PopMart tour t-shirt today, completely unaware of the significance of the date. Bloody awesome!!
posted by Elly Vortex at 8:04 PM on March 2, 2012

I decided to wear my old PopMart tour t-shirt today

That's cool. Which shirt do you have? I have the album cover shirt, the Smoking Bono / Kicking Edge shirt, and the three symbols shirt. (Actually, I have a full set of the three symbols shirts, all purchased at shows. Quite a nice set, actually.) [none of these are my photos]
posted by hippybear at 8:09 PM on March 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

Wait... Bono's in a band?
posted by CarlRossi at 8:09 PM on March 2, 2012 [4 favorites]

Aw, "Staring at the Sun." It's literally the last U2 song I liked. Thanks for all this.
posted by scody at 8:15 PM on March 2, 2012

hippybear, the awesome post contest is in December but my birthday is in March so I am taking this is a present! ;)
posted by pointystick at 8:16 PM on March 2, 2012

U2? Really?

Phil Lynott.
posted by alex_skazat at 8:19 PM on March 2, 2012 [2 favorites]

Uncanny. As I dug into my music at work today earlier, I decided that I'd play an album I haven't listened to in about a year or two and I blasted it as loud as I could through the headphones (at one point asked to turn it down).

The album is simultaneously an unfinished, broken, half-done piece of work... and a masterpiece as well. It's full of assholery but I think that's the point. It has utter cash grab elements, but, that's the point as well, to the point of making Mullen sit back and program a drum machine rather than actually playing (which results in one of my all time favorite beginnings to a U2 song, Do You Feel Loved).

It remains my favorite U2 album just because it's so gritty and filthy and the very opposite of evangelical Jebus rock if you actually dig into it. It's very human. It lacks the Lillywhite and Eno and to me that's kind of nice (though they have their moments too).
posted by Old Man McKay at 8:24 PM on March 2, 2012 [4 favorites]

I go on record that both Pop and Zooropa were absolute crap. The only good things about them was that their poor sales and poor reception woke them up to do All That You Can't Leave Behind, their best work since The Joshua Tree.

You want an underrated U2 album? Go listen to The Unforgettable Fire. The title track has the most hauntingly beautiful guitar hooks ever along with an incredible string interlude.
posted by Talez at 8:29 PM on March 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

You want an underrated U2 album? Go listen to The Unforgettable Fire.

Who underrates The Unforgettable Fire? It was massive (triple platinum in the U.S. alone), and near universally acclaimed.
posted by scody at 8:36 PM on March 2, 2012 [11 favorites]

POP was also the last album from U2 that felt relevant.

I am stealing this line and using it in general conversation.

I mean, I love the newer albums quite a bit, but -- relevant? Not at all.
posted by incessant at 8:44 PM on March 2, 2012

God damn thanks! Zooropa is the only U2 album I own and I had honestly forgotten about POP. I think I had merged the ZooTV and POP tours into one in my mind.
posted by nutate at 8:45 PM on March 2, 2012

I was a U2 early adapter, saw them live in 1981, LOVED them until Joshua Tree at which point they'd grown beyond a band I could see in a suitable size venue without paying a fortune for the ticket. So I moved on to other things.

But I've never NOT liked them. I certainly thought Achtung Baby made the world a better place, but by then I was more interested in the younger, fresher bands that were erupting all over in the early 90s (Stone Roses, Stereo MCs, My Bloody Valentine anyone?).

You want an underrated U2 album? Go listen to The Unforgettable Fire.

I'm with scody. I don't think U2 have ANY underrated albums, except maybe October. They're a band who, once they struck the mainstream with WAR have never really been out of it, which is a good thing ultimately, a U2 song pretty much always sounding better than most of the other commercial bilge you tend to run into the kinds of places that play commercial bilge.

As for POP, well it did give us that cover of M's Pop Muzik. To this day, the Pop Mart Remix is one of my fave dance floor erupters, particularly the first couple of minutes. That shit's masterful.
posted by philip-random at 8:48 PM on March 2, 2012

The last song I liked by U2

After that, it just became an insufferable urge to want to strangle Bono for his millionaire world view, and his holier than thou attitude about everything.

They went from angry young men, to comfortable rich pricks.

Never even heard of the POP album. Seriously. I mean, you couldnt get away from Achtung, but I never even knew there was a follow up to it.

I think I heard the song Kinky Boots, or whatever the single off that album was.
posted by timsteil at 8:51 PM on March 2, 2012 [2 favorites]

This is the first post on this site I am able to forward to my mom (who introduced me to u2 circa achtung baby)

Thank you! This post is now the definitive text written in any medium about the POP album.
posted by sleslie at 8:54 PM on March 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

I was a U2 fan going way back. My feelings about Pop haven't changed since its release 15 (what?? 15 frickin' years) ago: while there were a couple of solid tracks (i.e., Do you feel loved, and Last night on Earth) Discothèque killed any chance of me accepting this record seriously. It was if they were trying to see just how half-assed they could be and still sell records. They stopped giving a damn and so did I.
posted by runningdogofcapitalism at 8:54 PM on March 2, 2012

met with an indifferent shrug by the general public....went instantly to number one in 35 countries.

That doesn't really compute. That nit-picked, this is a well-done post on record I've never had any use for.
posted by jeffen at 9:01 PM on March 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

A lot of people can purchase a record they don't really care much for... Just ask Jethro Tull about the sales numbers in the US of Thick As A Brick.
posted by hippybear at 9:03 PM on March 2, 2012 [3 favorites]

Pop was the last album U2 made before they became Dad Rock. It ranks at #2 just below Joshua Tree for me.

I loved the documentary about the POPMart tour, so thank you for a great post, Hippybear. The ambition of that tour was pretty amazing.
posted by drklahn at 9:21 PM on March 2, 2012

...or everybody who ever bought an Enya CD.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 9:21 PM on March 2, 2012

posted by obiwanwasabi at 9:21 PM on March 2, 2012

I don't think U2 have ANY underrated albums, except maybe October.

October's an interesting case. It's a unformed and all over the place to a degree, because -- beyond suffering from the not-uncommon sophomore slump phenomenon -- it was recorded in such a hurry because Bono had lost the lyrics he'd written for the album (or they were stolen? I can't remember the story now), and so it feels incomplete in a way that's obviously pretty different from Boy and War. And yet, it opens with one of the hands-down greatest songs of the decade (bonus: it is possible to glimpse a young scody around 2:39 in the audience during this notable performance of the same song, having her young rock'n'roll mind blown at her first concert ever). So I have great fondness for it, for all its odd weaknesses.
posted by scody at 9:25 PM on March 2, 2012 [6 favorites]

POPMart was the only time I got to see U2 (Pittsburgh. I had tickets on the field thanks to the fan club). I agree with others that this seems like the last time they were relevant. I'll have to see if I still have that album cover shirt I got (a disturbingly large number of my concert shirts disappeared during that period when I had to use a laundromat to wash my clothes).
posted by dirigibleman at 9:32 PM on March 2, 2012

A lot of people can purchase a record they don't really care much for.

Millions of people paying $15.00 a Pop hardly seems like indifference. I'll grant you that, as with R.E.M.'s Monster, a lot of those same people sold their copies at those once-ubiquitous used CD stores.
posted by jeffen at 9:36 PM on March 2, 2012

I guess one measure of indifference is the fact that, even though I bought it and so did most of my friends, I don't think I've listened to or even thought about a single one of those songs in years. And nobody's had occasion to remind me of it, not even U2 fans. I think it's fair to call that "indifference."

It's crazy to think back on those times, though - a year before I finished high school, and the wide world was just opening up. I mostly bought that album because I was dating a girl that loved U2, but I will cop to listening to "Staring At The Sun" on repeat.

Thanks for the post, hippybear.
posted by koeselitz at 9:44 PM on March 2, 2012

Although I hesitate to go all NME on y'all, I don't see anything relevant about the band since Boy. Sales and popularity be damned - onoB is probably Ireland's third worst poet.
posted by onesidys at 10:24 PM on March 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

Although I hesitate to go all NME on y'all

NME's March 1 1997 review of POP
posted by hippybear at 10:33 PM on March 2, 2012

Thanks! POP remains my favorite U2 album overall. The standout singles from The Joshua Tree may be greater individually, but POP just has some kind of vibe and energy that I can't get enough of. I would say that it is their most underrated album. Do You Feel Loved has got to be one of my all time favorites. I think the earlier comment that after POP, U2 has just been doing U2 exactly sums up the band. They also have great tracks since POP, but they always feel too self consiously formulaic, never quiet fufilling their promise. Partly that is poor production or over overproduction (exhibit: No Line On The Horizon), but yeah, it does feel like they stopped trying/caring (especially Bono).
posted by blue shadows at 10:37 PM on March 2, 2012

I was about 16 or 17 and completely contemptuous of any music that anyone else liked around the time this tour went down. My girlfriend at the time worked at a liquor store across the street from a Tower Records, and struck up a friendly relationship with a couple of them.

One Tower Records employee in particular told her that he had gotten tickets to the pop mart tour and let her know that he had them. I assume when he told her, the implication is that she would go with him as some sort of date, but instead she said something like "Awesome! I'll go with my boyfriend!" and the guy was too caught off guard to tell her they were meant for the two of them. Not for my girlfriend and me.

At the time, since hated all music anyone had ever heard of, the only bands I saw live were my friends' bands. So I could pass off going to something like this as "participating in the spectacle," and not lose any street cred. So I agreed to go.

They played a lot of hits and a lot of songs that were lost on me as a casual listener. I was putting equal parts effort into trying to really "grok" their message with the tour's aesthetic, and to not enjoy myself to much, lest I look like a poser. But then they emerged out of a giant discoball lemon dressed as the village people, and I was completely won over. By the time they were playing (Pride) In the Name of Love, I was chanting along with the rest of the crowd.
posted by to sir with millipedes at 10:55 PM on March 2, 2012 [6 favorites]

I became a U2 fan just after ZOO TV wrapped up. Waited anxiously for the new album, and then in Ocotber 1997, saw my first show in Toronto. This summer saw me attending show #30, the last on the 360 Tour in Moncton. To paraphrase Douglas Adams, my 20s were what happened when I was trying to see U2 live.

As for POP, listening to Joshua Tree was what got me hooked so the new album took a while to wrap my head around at the time. But I came to see it as quite enjoyably original. And in particular, I believe POP represented the apex of Bono's lyric writing. Please and Wake Up Dead Man are basically flawless lyrically. WUDM has been referred to as a Psalm.

Listen as hope and peace try to rhyme/listen over marching bands playing out their time

Love it. And the drum part in the bridge from the live version of Please (one of their most underrated songs both live and as an album track) is basically a call back to Sunday Bloody Sunday, which works as both songs are about The Troubles.

Minor quibble with the FPP: the lemon wasn't inflatable; it was a constructed set piece that doubled as a mirrorball after the band emerged from it to start the encore. Actually made for a great effect in a domed stadium.

The band acknowledged that their key error was booking the tour before they finished the album, which resulted in neither being properly ready. U2 tours are a high risk proposition at best anyway because of the spectacle they put on. ZOO TV barely broke even (it only made a profit because of the merchandise).

While I've enjoyed U2 the past decade, it's hard to quibble with people who say POP was the last time they were relevant. Though I'd submit that their Fall 2001 Elevation tour of the US after 9/11 hit exactly the right note of earnestness.

Oh, one last thing. Gone. I fucking love Gone. It's Bono at his most self-effacing. The four band members sound just about perfect. In the album version and the new mix. For all the techno and dance loops, Gone is pure rock in a way U2 have rarely done.

Awesome post.
posted by dry white toast at 11:00 PM on March 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

Minor quibble with the FPP: the lemon wasn't inflatable

No, the lemon which was sold at the merch tables was inflatable. Click through on the link which I've provided to see one.

I know the actual Lemon wasn't inflatable. But read more carefully and you'll see that I'm not talking about the MirrorballLemon when I mention the inflatable nature of the object.

And yes... Gone is fucking amazing. It's the song which made me realize exactly how far U2 was pushing the music on POP. I really didn't have any clue what I was listening to the first 20 times I heard that song, until I put it on repeat and listened until my ears detangled all the noises and made it into glorious music for me. It remains a highlight song for me across their entire career.
posted by hippybear at 11:07 PM on March 2, 2012

Holy shIt is this an FPP!!!

Bravo. And yes this is my favorite U2 record.
posted by Senor Cardgage at 11:11 PM on March 2, 2012

I still regret so much that I was just barely getting into modern music when Popmart came through Texas. I remember seeing ads for the San Antonio show in the papers and thinking, "huh, I've heard of U2, I guess." This was a few months before I bought Achtung Baby on a whim and got my brain melted.

Pop is definitely underrated, though I generally prefer a lot of the live versions to the album cuts. There's one or two tracks I don't care for too much, but the rest are all great.

"If You Wear That Velvet Dress" has got to be one of the goddamn sexiest songs ever (along with "Your Blue Room"). Even though like all U2 love songs it's about a love tinged with unfulfilled longing and sadness.

"Please" is another great U2 song about the Troubles, and they've had a bunch. "Sunday Bloody Sunday", of course, but there's also "Love is Blindness", "North and South of the River", and "Peace on Earth" (which is deceptively perhaps their angriest song).

I still imagine AB, Zooropa, and Pop as one mega-album sometimes. Each album has its own thematic journey, but I think they also work as a trilogy.

Man, I love their 80s and 21st century stuff too, but that 90s period is just unbelievable. Those three albums (and Passengers' OST1, which goes off the rail a few times but has its gems too) are just too fucking good.
posted by kmz at 11:24 PM on March 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'm a huge u2 fan, but I was on hiatus for Zooropa and Pop. Husband and I saw five minutes of MacPhisto on tv and we were pretty much done for ten years. I hate that kind of oh-look-how-excessive-and-ironic-it-all-is posturing. I regard All That You Can't as a gigantic comeback, and the only reason we didn't see them that tour was because we'd been so put off that we barely registered that they had an album and were touring. It was some months later that I said "Hey, I heard the new u2 album is pretty good; we should get it."

That said, I'm a passionately devoted U2 fan who gets in line for shows before dawn - and learned things I didn't know about Pop before even clicking through. Thank you this is great.

I've come to see Pop as an album with some songs that would be great if they were for the live of god written and mixed differently. I think there's one moderately decent album between Zooropa and Pop together.
posted by Occula at 11:32 PM on March 2, 2012

Ah, yes. Pop. Haven't listened to that album in awhile but I remember enjoying many of the songs. The only real stinker is If God Will Send His Angles, which is undoubtedly the brainchild of Bono. I think what put me off about Pop, and diminished my interest in U2, was their decision to make the spectacle of the tour more important than the music itself. And I didn't see those antics of excess as being particularly creative or groundbreaking. Stylistically it was a natural follow-up to Zooropa but it lacked that album's inhibition and lack of seriousness. But hey, few bands can even hope to make something as incredible as Achtung Baby, which probably set my expectations too high for Pop. There's some great moments this album. Thanks for the post.
posted by quadog at 12:15 AM on March 3, 2012

'Do You Feel Loved' is my phone ringtone - love hearing the beginning of that song whenever someone calls.

Pop and Zooropa vie for the title of my favourite U2 album.

I enjoy all of Pop. What an amazing album. I often feel unhappy when I think of what U2 have become since ATYCLB. When I think of the path they followed from Achtung Baby through Zooropa and Passengers to Pop, it maddens me that they quit pushing the envelope after that.

The 'Staring at the Sun' video has some nice effects, and the 'If God Will Send His Angels' video is amusing to watch.

The single 'b-sides' from Pop I felt were mostly forgettable - they'd just gotten lazy and commissioned by-the-numbers remixes by that point - with the exception of the 'Discotheque' remixes, the Garage mix of 'Holy Joe' and their version of 'Pop Muzik'. But the PopHeart live EP is a thing of beauty: a transcendent 'Please' that segues into an out-of-this-world 'Where the Streets Have No Name', followed by a meditative 'With or Without You', and then an acoustic 'Staring at the the Sun' - chill out bliss.

There's a good live version of PopMart-era 'Discotheque' on one of the Beautiful Day singles, too.

Ah, U2, why? Why did you have to go all mediocre?

Eh, I should have known. It happens to all the artists in their forties. Look at what happened to all the sixties heroes in the eighties when they were all in their forties. Sure, there are moments here and there, but it seems that rock stars just lose it in their forties. They think they're still young and it's just embarrassing.

Now U2 are entering their fifties, I'm hoping they'll get over what it is they've been doing for the past ten years, and start releasing mature, meditative works.
posted by paleyellowwithorange at 2:12 AM on March 3, 2012 [2 favorites]

Another first rate music post, Mr. Bear. I love "Do You Feel Loved" and in my alternate universe where Pop was the success it should have been, that pointed the way to several daring later albums.
posted by Joey Michaels at 3:06 AM on March 3, 2012 [2 favorites]

I do like Pop a lot, and around that time I ended up giving their earlier albums a try - Actung Baby, the Passengers stuff (a song that namechecks East 17 and has a spine tingling Pavarotti solo? I'm in) and even some of the stuff that they put out before they stopped being SRS ROCK BAND and discovered Daniel Lanois and post-consumer gloom. I've been listenign to a 90s song recently, and realised how great Faraway, So Close was.

However, the fact that Bono is a colossal arse really taints my enjoyment of their music, and that's a shame. I can live with the sending a plane to pick up your sunglasses thing, because that's rock-star behaviour and even Cat Stevens flew a curry over to the US when he was touring, for Jimi's sake. If I were as rich as Bono I'd probably get my sunglasses sent over on a diamond elephant or something. It's more the hypocrisy that I find tricky to stomach. I think tax exiles are morally dubious at the best of times, but if you're asking your fans to put their hands in their pockets for poverty when you aren't paying taxes in a home country that's near bankrupt, that's a special kind of arsery.
posted by mippy at 3:37 AM on March 3, 2012 [2 favorites]

How big was Pop in the US, btw? I think over here it was overshadowed a bit by OK Computer and Urban Hymns, and that enormously dirgey Oasis album, and the new bands which would go on to fill stadia a couple of years later (Muse, Stereophonics, even Travis) which is probably why you'll see it called under-rated.
posted by mippy at 3:41 AM on March 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

unSane: "but it has the classic U2 problems of just vaguing out lyrically, and verging into preaching, plus going on too long and trying to wrap things up way too neatly at the end. "

Would it help if you knew the song was written about, and for, Michael Hutchence?
posted by benzo8 at 3:59 AM on March 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

Thanks for this. I love POP and loved the POPMART tour. There are some really shitty moments on POP ("Miami" and "The Playboy Mansion") but I tend to forgive them when they're really full of shit because that willingness to be really full of shit allows them to make some really gorgeous songs ("Gone," "If You Wear That Velvet Dress," "Please").
posted by eustacescrubb at 4:59 AM on March 3, 2012

I'm gonna stand up here for "Discotheque," which I really enjoyed because a song named "Discotheque" tells you ahead of time to abandon your brain before you enter it, and after that point its all about the hopping about in time. As someone who enjoyed both electronic dance music and U2, I was perfectly good with the band trying out that direction of things. Pop isn't my favorite album of theirs, but it's sure the hell not the worst either (that award goes to No Line on the Horizon, aka "The Album Where U2 Becomes its Own Mediocre Cover Band").
posted by jscalzi at 5:34 AM on March 3, 2012 [2 favorites]

a song named "Discotheque" tells you ahead of time to abandon your brain before you enter it


"You know you're chewing bubblegum
You know what that is but you still want some"

But this being U2, it still gets heavy...

"But you take what you can get
Cos it's all that you can find
But you know there's something more"

I remember the Q magazine review of the album beginning something like this: "God gets props and thanks in liner notes and at award ceremonies with regularity, but he rarely gets a starring role in an album such as he has on Pop."

The whole presentation of the album is pure diversion. As Bono said about Achtung Baby, it was a throwaway title to disguise the fact that the content was a "heavy mother". Same with Pop.

"Lookin' for to fill that God-shaped hole."
"White dopes on punk staring into the flash."
"Lookin' for baby Jesus under the trash."
"God's got his phone off the hook."
"God is good, but will he listen?"
"You get to feel so guilty, got so much for so little."
"Though I can't say why, I know I've got to believe."
"Jesus help me, I'm alone in this world, and a fucked-up world it is, too."
posted by paleyellowwithorange at 5:54 AM on March 3, 2012 [7 favorites]

I've always seen the bubblegum line as referring to Ecstasy and Bono and Edge's fascination with club culture during this period. You see a lot of tripping kids chewing gum to give their jaws something to clench other than their teeth. (This was before pacifiers became vogue.)

As for If God Will Send His Angels, it has one of my favorite lyrics:
God's got his phone off the hook, babe
Would he even pick up if he could?
It's been a while since we saw that child
Hangin' round this neighbourhood.

See his mother dealing in a doorway
See Father Christmas with a begging bowl.
And Jesus' sister's eyes are a blister
The High Street never looked so low.

It's the blind leading the blond
It's the cops collecting for the cons.
So where is the hope and
Where is the faith and the love?
What's that you say to me
Does love light up your Christmas tree?
The next minute you're blowing a fuse
And the cartoon network turns into the news.
And The Playboy Mansion cracked me up the first time I heard it, and it continues to amuse me deeply. It's a gospel song written about materialism, with the yearning to enter the Pearly Gates replaced with the supposed ultimate consumer culture "heaven". I'd love to hear a remake of it done in full gospel style, complete with choir and hammond organ. It's perhaps the most irony-laden thing U2 has ever recorded, but it's so tongue-in-cheek that it crosses over into something else entirely.
posted by hippybear at 7:05 AM on March 3, 2012 [2 favorites]

Would it help if you knew the song was written about, and for, Michael Hutchence?

Dear God, no. Really? Telling a suicide they should just 'stand up straight and carry your own weight'. What a colossal prick Bono is.
posted by unSane at 7:34 AM on March 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

Dear God, no. Really? Telling a suicide they should just 'stand up straight and carry your own weight'. What a colossal prick Bono is.

That's an odd reaction.
posted by amorphatist at 7:53 AM on March 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

It's a fancy way of saying 'pull yourself together'
posted by unSane at 8:36 AM on March 3, 2012

amorphatist: “That's an odd reaction.”

It's Bono preaching to a dead person about the evil of their ways and telling them to pull themselves together. Is there a sense in which that's not execrable?

Ugh. I had no idea about that song, but now... U2 is one of those bands I find I'm increasingly embarrassed that I liked them when I was young.
posted by koeselitz at 8:58 AM on March 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

It's Bono preaching to a dead person about the evil of their ways and telling them to pull themselves together.

Um... no it isn't.

It's Bono writing a song depicting the conversation he wished he had had with Hutchence about his despair before he died. There's a big difference there.

And it isn't about the evil of anyone's ways. It's pointing out that moments in life pass, that despair isn't forever, and that bad choices from the past don't have to determine the future.

Don't be embarrassed by liking U2 when you were young. Be frustrated that you're not actually reading the lyrics closely enough to understand what is actually being said.
posted by hippybear at 9:10 AM on March 3, 2012 [3 favorites]

There was discussion among U2 fans in the 80s and 90s that U2's albums come in sets of three. Boy, October, and War fit together, as do The Unforgettable Fire, Joshua Tree, and Rattle and Hum. So when POP came out, it perpetuated that pattern - it definitely fits with Achtung Baby and Zooropa.*

I loved everything they'd done up to that point, but Achtung Baby and Zooropa were particular favorites of mine, and I love POP, not only for what it is, but for what it isn't. It put so many people off by taking risks, but that's what I love about it. "Gone" is absolute genius and remains among my favorite U2 tracks.

el_lupino and I had just gotten together when the album came out, and part of what made me fall in love with him was that pile of U2 cassingles on his bookshelf, and that he had all the lyrics down shortly after the album came out. (Never mind that U2 is just about our only musical common ground, he being a free jazz/metal/noise fan and me being solidly in power pop/folk rock territory.)

Having been fans for 10+ years when POP came out, there was no doubt that we'd get tickets when they came through D.C. I saw more than a dozen U2 shows between 1992 and 2005 (I've been sidelined by illness since then) and this was far and away the worst, terrible in a way I've never seen them before or since. The band was under-rehearsed in terms of the technology they were using, and much of the time the sound was out of sync with the on-screen visuals. Additionally, there had been a massive spring storm that had swept through the area and damaged a big jagged chunk of that massive screen, resulting in it being bright green all the way through the show. el_lupino and I left the show shaking our heads about the sound and video problems and remarking on how embarrassing it was to take something of this magnitude out on the road without getting the kinks well worked out.

I have tons of U2 fan friends because of the 90s newsgroup scene, and POP was always the most fun thing to fight about. I don't know what percentage of die-hard U2 fans are die-hard fans of POP - I would not guess it was a majority - but those of us who are certainly adore this album.

*Over the years, this pattern has continued. All That You Can't Leave Behind, How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb, and No Line on the Horizon fit together as well. The last of the three was what caused my 20+ years of rabid fandom to trail off. I keep hoping that one of these days they'll put out something as interesting and inventive as the AB/Zooropa/POP trilogy, but they've been going in the wrong direction from that in my mind for 10 years now, with the music getting duller and duller and the lyrics getting more cringeworthy and insipid. A big part of what I loved about U2 was their propensity for reinvention, and I miss that since what seems in my mind like ten years of coasting.
posted by jocelmeow at 9:21 AM on March 3, 2012 [4 favorites]

I've never liked U2, for all sorts of reasons but probably starting with when at a city-wide dance in 1985 this teenage psycho from the suburbs in a U2 War shirt tried to pick a fight with me, but I have to admit that, in terms of their career and artistic choices they are probably the most interesting band of the last few decades.
posted by Flashman at 9:29 AM on March 3, 2012

U2 was relevant to me pre Joshua Tree. I can understand the popularity of Joshua Tree, but for me it was a little too polished and somewhat predictable. After that U2 became caricatures of themselves if that makes any sense. Before Joshua Tree they were a band that was young and raw and unpredictable in an era of really bad popular music. They were a shining spot in popular music for me along with bands like the Clash before the so-called "alternative" era came about and bands like REM and The Replacements gained some notoriety. After Joshua Tree they assimilated the bad popular music that they were the bastard child of, and grew up to be it's representative. The last time I saw them live was after the whole kerfuffle involving spray painting the Vaillancourt sculpture at the embarcadero center in San Francisco. Bono had totally become the insufferable boob that he is now, and wouldn't shut the fuck up and just sing. That was the experience that let me know I was totally done with the band U2.

Of course The Letter U and the numeral 2 didn't help any...
posted by Eekacat at 9:47 AM on March 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

Be frustrated that you're not actually reading the lyrics closely enough to understand what is actually being said.

OK, let's do this. As I mentioned, I've just been learning to play this song so I know the words inside out and have been trying to find meaning in them so I can sing it properly. Let's stipulate that it is indeed about Hutchence and that Bono knew he had committed suicide when he wrote it.

I'm not afraid of anything in this world
There's nothing you can throw at me that I haven't already heard
I'm just trying to find a decent melody
A song that I can sing in my own company

Rought translation: "You can tell me anything you like. I've not got an axe to grind here."

I never thought you were a fool
But darling, look at you
You gotta stand up straight, carry your own weight
These tears are going nowhere, baby

Translation: "Pull yourself together and stop feeling sorry for yourself."

You've got to get yourself together
You've got stuck in a moment and now you can't get out of it
Don't say that later will be better now you're stuck in a moment
And you can't get out of it

Translation: "Come on, snap out of it!"

I will not forsake, the colours that you bring
But the nights you filled with fireworks
They left you with nothing
I am still enchanted by the light you brought to me
I still listen through your ears, and through your eyes I can see

Translation: "I am bloviating with grand sounding emptiness to fill up the seond verse"

And you are such a fool
To worry like you do
I know it's tough, and you can never get enough
Of what you don't really need now... my oh my

Translation: "You are a fool. Your concerns are not valid. You're an addict."

You've got to get yourself together
You've got stuck in a moment and now you can't get out of it
Oh love look at you now
You've got yourself stuck in a moment and now you can't get out of it

Translation: "Seriously, pull yourself together."

I was unconscious, half asleep
The water is warm till you discover how deep...
I wasn't jumping... for me it was a fall
It's a long way down to nothing at all

Translation: "I got nothin' for the bridge, better bloviate some more".

And if the night runs over
And if the day won't last
And if our way should falter
Along the stony pass
And if the night runs over
And if the day won't last
And if your way should falter
Along the stony pass
It's just a moment
This time will pass

Translation: "It's just a phase you're going through"

Anyone who's had any experience at all of suicide or depression will know just how helpful these kinds of sentiments are.
posted by unSane at 10:03 AM on March 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

I will not forsake, the colours that you bring
But the nights you filled with fireworks
They left you with nothing
I am still enchanted by the light you brought to me
I still listen through your ears, and through your eyes I can see

Translation: "I am bloviating with grand sounding emptiness to fill up the seond verse"

I've got no horse in this fight. I never even consciously heard the song until this morning. But that, unSane, though funny, feels rather disingenuous. My read of this chunk of lyric is that it's very much on theme -- referring rather obviously to Bono's impression of Hutchence's work as an artist, and the positive effect it had on him. And how, in spite of current circumstances (Hutchence's junkiedom, despair) Bono won't deny this impression.
posted by philip-random at 10:22 AM on March 3, 2012

but this is funny.
posted by philip-random at 10:23 AM on March 3, 2012 [2 favorites]

Fair enough, philip-random, but the grandiloquence makes it ridiculous for me.
posted by unSane at 10:32 AM on March 3, 2012

Wow 15 years ago last night I was at Scarborough Town Centre (just a couple minutes before it closed at 9pm, since I worked in that mall) picking up Pop on cd. I had a tape of the album since the beginning of February from a close friend that got a leaked copy somewhere. I played that tape multiple times a day that month. Fantastic album and extremely underrated IMO.

Popmart was my first U2 live experience and it was really epic. I think the band has scaled back a bit since then even with the greatness of the 360 tour. They kind of lost their movement forward in a crazy/sense of self discovery that they had during Popmart and Zoo TV/Achtung baby. I think that they are finally starting to get it back with the latest album NLOTH.

Hippybear, I was at Moncton from Toronto as well this past summer. Who are you? I was number 130 in line out of 80,000. Show number 20 for me.
posted by boomcha76 at 10:43 AM on March 3, 2012

Hippybear, I was at Moncton from Toronto as well this past summer.

I believe it was dry white toast who was at Moncton this past summer. I saw 360 in Phoenix in 2009 and in Seattle in 2011. (Before that I saw Vertigo three times, culminating with the show closer in Honolulu with Pearl Jam opening for them, and various other shows on all tours since my first show during Joshua Tree in Ft. Worth when BB King opened for them and they debuted When Love Comes To Town.)
posted by hippybear at 11:22 AM on March 3, 2012

unSane: "Anyone who's had any experience at all of suicide or depression will know just how helpful these kinds of sentiments are."

I wish people would not presume to speak for others this way. I see it a lot and it really bothers me. Anyone who's ever had someone else put words in their mouth for them must feel exactly as I do at this moment.
posted by secretseasons at 11:23 AM on March 3, 2012 [4 favorites]

chrominance: " on second thought, "orchestral music" is perhaps the wrong phrase"

I think the phrase you are looking for is "art music".
posted by idiopath at 11:35 AM on March 3, 2012

secretseasons: “I wish people would not presume to speak for others this way.”

Why would you assume that he wasn't speaking for himself?
posted by koeselitz at 11:36 AM on March 3, 2012

Let's stipulate that it is indeed about Hutchence and that Bono knew he had committed suicide when he wrote it.

I don't think there's any need to stipulate anything. Hutchence had discussed suicide with Bono before he died.

I do think your summary of the lyrics indicates that perhaps you need to pick another song to learn. There's no point is trying to do a good performance of a tune in which you think most of the lyrics are bloviating.
posted by hippybear at 11:39 AM on March 3, 2012

I think the trouble some of us have with Bono – what unSane calls his "bloviating" – is the fact that he sometimes just seems so condescending. Maybe that's not fair, but it's hard for me to avoid the impression considering the way his embrace of the "rock star" image combines with his social activist bent to induce him to spend a lot of time explaining to people what the right thing is to do and exactly how they ought to be doing it.

Maybe that's not fair; I don't seem to be the only one that feels that way, though.
posted by koeselitz at 12:26 PM on March 3, 2012

I understand that. Although I'd say, many many people spend a lot of time explaining what the right thing is to do and exactly how they ought to be doing it. Like here on MetaFilter. No shortage of it here at all, myself included.

I do have to say, the earlier comment about "just shut up and sing" brought to mind the Dixie Chicks, which is unreleated to this thread aside from that combination of words getting my hackles up a bit because of that association.
posted by hippybear at 12:37 PM on March 3, 2012 [2 favorites]

There's no point is trying to do a good performance of a tune in which you think most of the lyrics are bloviating.

On the contrary, I can make the lyrics mean something for myself by having it be about a different situation entirely. It's a good song but I won't be singing it about Michael Hutchence.
posted by unSane at 12:42 PM on March 3, 2012

(also, musically, the gospel feel is really wonderful and ithe lyrics kind of slide past you because of the music)
posted by unSane at 12:44 PM on March 3, 2012

Hippybear, I was actually at that same Phoenix show in 2009. By chance when tickets went on sale they were a bit slow to move the GA's and was able to pick up a couple at 9pm that day (midnight Toronto time). My wife had a friend getting married in Vegas about a week before the show so we flew into Vegas, there for a few days, checked the Grand Canyon, drove to Joshua Tree National Park, stayed at the Harmony Motel where U2 stayed during the recording of the Joshua Tree. Drove to Death Valley and went to where the actual JT from the album cover was and had a fantastic trip. Anyhow I'm rambling but it was a fantastic trip and recommended to any hardcore U2 nerds out there.

Dry White Toast.. who are you?
posted by boomcha76 at 6:26 PM on March 3, 2012

That was a really great show. Bono wasn't in the best voice that night, but the show was awe-inspiring. We got in line for GA around 2pm, and ended up getting spots about 5 people back from the rail on the outside of the circle ramp which surrounded those inside the circle. The spot was amazing. It was hard to see the big picture of the show, but we were right in front of where the moving bridge would stop to bring The Edge across the people-filled circle, and ended up getting a lot of really close-up views of the band and feeling the much more intimate version of the show.

Plus, hearing 90,000+ people singing I still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For at the mere gesture of Bono is spine-tingling to even think about.

The show I saw in Seattle, I had seats "behind" the stage, up in the stands, and had a different view entirely of the production. Plus, that second (much delayed) US leg of the tour was hugely revamped and might as well have been a different concert tour entirely.

I was sad that they eliminated Breathe as an opening song from the later shows. Such a great song to use to open a show:
Walk out into the street
Sing your heart out
The people we meet
Will not be drowned out
There's nothing you have that I need
I can breathe
Breathe now
Yeah, yeah

We are people borne of sound
The songs are in our eyes
Gonna wear them like a crown

Walk out, into the sunburst street
Sing your heart out, sing my heart out
I've found grace inside a sound
I found grace, it's all that I found
And I can breathe
Breathe now
But then, in Seattle they did this amazing section of the show which was All I Want Is You -> Stay (Faraway, So Close) -> Beautiful Day, with the Mark Kelly introduction from the ISS between the last two songs, following the closing lyrics of Stay "Just a bang and a clatter as an angel hits the ground", and I had this HUGE FUCKING EMOTIONAL MOMENT which lasted well through the third song.

I didn't care that people around me were looking and wondering what kind of hippie freak I was with tears of joy running down my face as I jumped and sang/shouted along with Beautiful Day... I just know that I had once again achieved what I go to a U2 show for -- that moment of secular religious ecstasy which only happens during specific rock shows, which is why I keep going to them and giving myself over to the performance willingly.

There are reasons why William Burroughs said that rock-and-roll is one of the most dangerous things man has ever invented.
posted by hippybear at 6:56 PM on March 3, 2012 [5 favorites]

Oops. Forgot to link the Mark Kelly introduction video.
posted by hippybear at 7:26 PM on March 3, 2012

And whoever was reading this article on their phone at the gig in the Victortia, Hackney, last night, I've got to say you should've been watching Shrag play rather than reading an article about music. You would have had a much better time I'm sure.
posted by ciderwoman at 2:57 AM on March 4, 2012

I've been a U2 fan for as long as I can remember, but seeing the band walk out of a giant mirrorball lemon on stage elevated my fandom to new, stratospheric heights. Thanks for the post. Pop remains in my top 3 favourite U2 albums, and is my favourite of their tours.
posted by likorish at 11:25 AM on March 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

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