U2 - Pop (1997) album cover

REVIEW: ‘Pop’ by U2 (CD, 1997)

Today’s POP RESCUE from a fate unknown, is the 1997 album Pop by U2, but is that how we’d wish our ears to go? Read on…

This 12 track album opens with the snarling electric guitars that fade in for the start of lead single Discothèque. The bass soon wanders in alongside Bono’s familiar vocal. The guitars have a great sound to them, as well as a catchy little riff. At times the song carries a techno sound that wouldn’t go a-stray on a Prodigy album from about the same time. I love this song, and it rightly landed them a #1 UK hit single.

Do You Feel Loved follows this, with light percussive intro and guitars, before throwing in a heavy bass, bass drum and haunting electric guitars. This song is somewhat drifting, and Bono’s vocals are weaker and more whiney here – partly duelling against the guitars.

Again sounding like something from The Prodigy’s The Fat Of The Land album, it’s Mofo. This song is fast, and really reeks of dance music. It is bass and drum heavy, with mumbling vocals from Bono, and screaming guitars. This song was released as the final single, but was a moderate hit in only Australia and Italy.

Wobbly guitars usher in If God Will Send His Angels. Bono’s vocals sit alongside it until a simple beat and synth join in. The song is pretty simple with a few sound effects play in the background, and for most of the time the main focus is on Bono (surprise, surprise) and the bass guitar. It feels almost like a left-over from previous album Zooropa. This plodding song was the fifth single, taking them to #12 in the UK.

Second single Staring At The Sun follows this, with strumming guitars and Bono’s brighter, stronger vocals soon up to the mic. This is far more catchy that the previous three tracks. This gave the group a #3 UK hit single, and it is a pretty strong song.

Next up is Last Night On Earth, which has a rockier feel to it, and perhaps a somewhat more vintage sound. It’s laden with snarling guitar, meandering bass, a good strong rock beat, and Bono gets to show off his vocals here. I guess that this song sounds pretty loyal to U2’s image, whereas other tracks here have strayed towards dance/techno. Released as the third single, it gave them a #10 UK hit.

Gone is next. Again, roaring guitars rule here, with some funky bass slouching along throughout. Bono’s vocals sit well here, as he’s joined by piano and spacey synths. It’s kind of a big electronic mess that is actually pretty tuneful.

Looped beats introduce next song Miami, and then Bono sings simple vocals over the top, sounding not a million miles away from something you’d expect from Beck. The bass and a synth control later in the track – with it remaining a pretty stripped simple song.

This is followed by The Playboy Mansion, which has some wonderful sounding guitars, but again, it’s slightly downbeat vintage slouchiness, makes me think of something you’d find on Beck’s 1996 Odelay album. The vocals are mellow here, with Bono softly singing and at times joined by warm backing vocal harmonies.

If You Wear That Velvet Dress is next, and it starts off quietly with a simple synth, gentle acoustic guitar and some humming. The humming gives way to some very low vocals, which at times are a little hard to hear. By about 1m 40s, a soft brushed beat and slinky bass joins in and Bono’s vocals lift with them. By 2m 30, some electric guitar wafts in and it almost feels like this is a different song thrown in as the vocals switch to ‘ta da da da’. Thankfully, it flips back to the slinky bass, but now the electric guitar conforms and adds to the mixture – making the song build nicely.

Penultimate track Please is up next, and this was the 4th single from the album – reaching #7 in the UK. This song fades in with organ, meandering bass and snares before Bono joins in. The song is pretty mellow to start with until the chorus. The chorus really lifts the song up. Strings join in for the post-chorus verse, again ensuring that the song builds up and up perfectly.

The album closes with Wake Up Dead Man, which is a bit of a downbeat guitar and bass heavy mid-tempo rock track. It reminds me of earlier work (it was actually held over from their Achtung Baby (1991) and Zooropa (1993) albums), and sits well here as the final song.

Over all, this album really is a mixed bag. There’s a scattering of really strong songs (Please, Discotheque, Staring At The Sun) and then there’s some weak – almost unfinished sounding songs too. Reading the back-story of this album – where U2 were running out of time to record this album, it kind of shows. Despite the hands of Howie B and Marius De Vries, and the rest of the accomplished skill of the rest of U2, this is a bit weak.

Where are U2 now?

U2 licked their wounds after the faltered step of their Pop album. Despite hitting #1, a string of hit singles, and an 11 month, 93 show international PopMart tour, the album was not deemed as commercially successful as their previous ones.

By 2000 they were back in a bid to reclaim their reputation, with their new 10th album All That You Can’t Leave Behind. This was a success, selling 12 million copies, and restored their reputation once more.

The group’s most recent album, Songs Of Innocence from 2014, was given away to 500 million iTunes users as part of an exclusivity deal between Apple and the band. It triggered a huge backlash of complaints via social media as the album often automatically downloaded to user’s accounts whether they wanted it or not. Apple intervened by instructing users how to avoid downloading the album, and Bono apologised.

As a result, when the album saw physically released, it’s commercial success was limited – it reached #6 in the UK. The group have failed to have a top 30 UK hit single since 2009. Their most recent single – Invisible stalled at #65 in 2014.

POP RESCUE RATING:

  • POP RESCUE 2016 RATING: 2 / 5
  • 1997 UK CHART PEAK: #1, certified Platinum.
  • POP RESCUE COST: £2.00 from a Co-operative bargain bin.

Post Author: Andrew Martin

Andrew Martin is lead reviewer for Pop Rescue and has been here since day one. He loves collecting vinyl, and can often be found in charity stores having a damn good rummage. He loves 80s and 90s pop and electronic music.

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