Out There

Mothers of re-invention

Pop
U2
Island Records

They probably never thought of themselves as an ordinary outfit, but ever since 1990 and Achtung Baby, it's been obvious that U2 have aspirations (far) beyond that of your standard rawkenroll band, pushing themselves toward something more reflective of the life around them, something more like capital-A Art. With Pop they continue to grow with savvy, changing believably.

Pop (especially on the disc-opening "Discoteque") is an announcement of a new era, a tribal call to arms, and a fanfare for an aesthetic in which one of the most important rock bands of the last 15 years can embrace the industry--and the culture it signifies--that it rode to prominence upon. The overall sound of Pop has a lot to do with band pal and influential British electronic/ambient DJ Howie B., for whom credits pop up all over the album. Pop is a trip out late to the clubs--full of disorienting lights strobing across shadow and the horizon-removing effects of skull-popping rhythms, impressive and scary at the same time.

But the techno ambience fades in and out. The band's signature skyrocket sound is still present, thanks to longtime producer Flood; likewise the Christlike imagery and spiritual energy. US has by no means abandoned asking the "big questions"--about love, sex, power--but they make more clear than ever that the big continuum for rock ranges from exhorting people to do the Locomotion all the way to being Leonard Cohen, and that the challenge to any band is to fall at the proper spot along that line according to the times, whether measured by the minute or the year.

From the melancholy doubt of "If God Will Send His Angels" to the acknowledgment of need behind "If You Wear That Velvet Dress," Pop dances with questions of delusion, either by self or by surroundings (see also "Miami" and "The Playboy Mansion"). The answer still lies in filling for yourself that "GOD shaped hole" ("Mofo") that U2 have contemplated since they started; no other option--be it earthly nihilism or praying for divine intervention--is likely to succeed.

On Pop, U2 continues to mature along a very human arc: Gone is the preachiness of youth, the rattle and hum of self-fascination, replaced with an ever-widening view of the complexity of existence, in which everybody and nobody may be right, often at the same time. To handle well the impulses and feelings universal and important enough to emerge in "pop" culture is a band's highest calling. U2 have once again proven themselves worthy of the reward of our attention.

--Matt Weitz

 
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