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Guilty Pleasure: U2 – Pop

on May 09, 2009, 11:00am

In 1997, U2 released its ninth studio album, Pop. While it had strong sales at first, fans quickly realized that the album didn’t live up to the hype surrounding it. The hit singles weren’t there. The tour had many unsold tickets. Overall, the entire period became a giant mess for U2, which the band doesn’t look back on fondly. To put it simply, Pop well … popped U2’s experimental balloon after the success of 1991’s Achtung Baby.

So what went wrong? Well, for starters, U2 booked its massive, stadium-only PopMart Tour before they had even finished recording the album. The band was left with no choice but to release it in its incomplete form so they would have some time to rehearse. Both the album and tour suffered because of this, while attempts at irony over corporate sponsorship fell flat as well.

Why am I telling you all this? Well, in spite of all these problems, I still rank Pop within the top half of U2’s catalogue. Before I incur the wrath of some hardcore U2 fans, you should know that I don’t find this album to be perfect. There are a large number of flaws on the record, but there are also a lot of great points to be found. If you want, stream the album and listen along as I list the good, the bad and the clunkiest lyric of each song – this album’s full of them.

“Discotheque”

Good – It has an incredibly funkadelic riff. Bono flows in and out of falsetto at the bridge.

Bad – Bono takes the moaning a little too far around 4:23. The music video (see below) is terrible. Why did U2 dress as the Village People? Did they lose a bet with someone?

Clunkiest Lyric – “You know you’re chewing bubble gum You know what it is but you still want some/You just can’t get enough of that lovie dovie stuff.”

“Do You Feel Loved”

Good – It has a great dance groove. I love when everything but the drums drop out at 2:05 for a few seconds, leaving Bono’s voice to glide over the beat.

Bad – Edge’s shrill guitar part seems to work against the bass and drum rhythm. The chorus could have also done with some more lyrics than just, “Do you feel loved?” over and over.

Clunkiest Lyric – “And it looks like the sun, but it feels like rain/And there’s heat in the sun to see us through the rain.”

“Mofo”

Good – The baseman Cometh! This is one of Adam Clayton’s best bass lines. The Edge’s guitar sounds like an airplane turbine. I love his distorted backing vocals in the verses too. One of the few tracks where the entire band is at the top of the game.

Bad – The repeating lyrics at the end block Edge’s mini-solo from being heard clearly. The single version of “Mofo” was a horrible and generic dance remix.

Clunkiest Lyric – “Holy dunc, spacejunk comin’ in for the splash.”

“If God Will Send His Angels”

Good – Bono’s singing halfway through the second verse into the chorus is perfect as he steadily moves up his range from lower to high to falsetto.

Bad – Who in U2 thought it would be a good idea to have this extremely slow ballad follow the fast-paced beat of “Mofo”? It’s like moving from speed to Ritalin in a matter of seconds.

Clunkiest Lyric – “It’s the blind leading the blond/It’s the stuff, it’s the stuff of country songs.”

“Staring At The Sun”

Good – I like the distorted echo of Edge’s guitar and the chorus is catchy.

Bad – Almost everything else. The electric guitar is drowned out by the acoustic one. The music video consists of U2 playing/standing around while light hits them at different angles. It is quite dull.

Clunkiest Lyric – “There’s an insect in your ear/If you scratch it won’t disappear.”

“Last Night on Earth”

Good – Nice rocking tune with a crunchy riff. The chorus is very memorable. Bono’s falsetto overlapping his semi-speaking during the bridge works well here.

Bad – The opening of the song sounds awkward, from Bono’s mumbling to the synthesizer in the first 30 seconds. Bono’s vocals sound shredded in the chorus.

Clunkiest Lyric – “When the fuel goes down she stops her car/Says it feels like freedom/She’s back on the street where the sweet smells are.” This is said in Bono’s opening mumble.

“Gone”

Good – Edge’s turbine guitar is back and in a much more dominant position. The entire chorus is a superb combination of the turbine guitar, piano and Bono’s strong vocal performance.

Bad – All the strength leaves Bono’s voice in the verse after the bridge.

Clunkiest Lyric – “Gone/Sun/Done.” This is repeated in falsetto at the end.

“Miami”

Good – Um, it’s an interesting . . . experiment?

Bad – Alright, I can’t lie. I don’t like this song at all.  Bono shouldn’t rap. Edge should never say, “Ba ba ba” again. The track hardly changes throughout its full five minutes and when it does, nothing gets better.  It sounds really half-baked.

Clunkiest Lyric – The entire song! But I’ll go with, “Miami/My mammy” for now.

“The Playboy Mansion”

Good – From about 2:40 onward, it’s amazing with a powerful delivery from Bono. The song really takes off musically and lyrically.

Bad – The first half sounds like a porno soundtrack from the 1970s, with its outdated lyrics.

Clunkiest Lyric – It’s a tie between, “If Coke is a mystery/And Michael Jackson, history” and, “If O.J. is more than a drink/And a Big Mac bigger than we think.”

“If You Wear That Velvet Dress”

Good – It sounds like a lounge song, which is different for U2. Edge’s guitar solo near the middle has a very relaxed, floating feel to it.

Bad – Bono spends half the track in a low register. It’s supposed to make him sound seductive, but it actually makes him sound creepy.

Clunkiest Lyric – “The moon was naked and cold/I was like a two year old/Who just wanted more.”

“Please”

Good – It’s one of the most political songs U2 has ever written. The band gives everything to this balled about the Irish Troubles, with an amazing vocal and lyrical performance from Bono. The bridge and final chorus are one of the most emotionally charged moments in U2’s history.

Bad – It takes a while for the band to get to the emotional impact of the song.

Clunkiest Lyric – This song doesn’t have any.

“Wake Up Dead Man”

Good – This is a very fitting ending for Pop, especially after “Please”. It’s the darkest song on this album, and perhaps ever for U2. Fun fact: If you listen to it backwards, you can hear some of  “Van Diemen’s Land” from Rattle and Hum.

Bad – It goes on a little too long, and not much happens musically.

Clunkiest Lyric – “Your father, he made the world in seven/He’s in charge of Heaven/Will you put a word in for me.”

There you have it. Hopefully, some of you have listened to Pop along with me and have seen its value. While it’s true the album isn’t perfect, there are a lot of great songs on it. So, if you haven’t listened to it yet, you might want to check it out. You’ll see that U2’s so-called “failure” is more successful than many would think.


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