U2 - Pop (1997)

Alternative Rock


U2 in the ‘90s were a lab experiment, constantly iterating their sound to see how far they could push the envelope while continuing to fill stadiums for their larger-their-life world tours. They had already begun tinkering with a more electronic sound on Zooropa (1993), as evidenced by the Paul Oakenfold-inspired techno of “Numb” and “Lemon”. Lead guitarist The Edge had spent a lot of time at Berlin nightclubs, discovering new industrial/dance rock groups like KMFDM and Nine Inch Nails. This looked set to continue on Pop with the booming beats of lead single “Discotheque” and “Mofo”. But despite the former hitting #1, the album itself quickly slipped out of the charts.

‘Discotheque’s’ satirical video gave U2 the cadence of a band that wasn’t taking itself too seriously. But beyond Pop’s glittery facade lay multiple dour, glacial ballads about isolation, faithlessness and heartbreak that killed much of its momentum. Even the hard-hitting processed beats of “Mofo” couldn’t overshadow its deeply personal lyrics about the loss of a parent. Apparently there is an Underworld remix of it that never saw the light of day. ‘Mofo’ would have been a Bono guest feature on a Chemical Brothers album, but always felt very out of place on a U2 record.

Bono claimed that the studio recordings were rushed and the live renditions were superior. And to his credit, the gaudy spectacle of the '97/98 Popmart tour, with its 50-foot video screens, dance-friendly atmosphere and decadent rock star vamping, was a lot more fun than the album it was supporting. While Pop flopped, it was still a courageous effort on the band’s part to evolve their sound. It would also be the last time they did so, as their future albums wouldn’t veer far from safe, elder-statesmen dad rock.