I'm still unable to point to something U2 did wrong (and don't want to, as I said in an earlier rant for which I apologized). I'm not saying they were perfect and always made perfect choices. They didn't. But, taking into account who they are and what were their options at the time, U2's history makes sense. And it all contributed to what they are now, and I'm a fan of the 2017 U2.
That being said, with all the recent talk about Joshua Tree Vs Pop, I came to rethink about what happened with the latter, from a European point of view.
Achtung baby and Zooropa were acclaimed as a brilliant re-invention of the band. The Zoo TV tour was highly successful and set the bar for all the other shows at the time. Every stadium act started using screens and tried to re-invent the B-stage and the acoustic set.
Then Passengers came out, and it was very well received by the elite, while the masses enjoyed Miss Sarajevo. When Pop came out, it was the first time in France U2 made the covers of both Telerama and Les Inrockuptibles, which are the most kind of élite" magazines for music. They absolutely loved the album.
What changed the perception of the band is the PopMart Tour. Not because it was bad, because by the time it reached Europe, the show was ok, but the artistic choice of 100% all around irony. Edge's hat, Adam's outfit, Bono's muscles shirt... It made sense as a show, but I really think it did not go well with the album. There are some very personal, very dark places on "Pop", and I love that. But that side of the album didn't appear at all on stage. Maybe just during "Please". But then again, you can't have Edge as a 70's italian cowboy and take the song seriously. It really didn't serve the album well.
I don't know if U2 made that choice because they were not confident about the album or because they got carried away with the whole "supermarket roadshow" concept, but I think it didn't work. In fact, in Les Inrockuptibles they went to see PopMart with Oasis in the US and said "between the humble, broken and fragile Bono that made us listen to "Pop" earlier this year in Dublin and the shiny showman entertaining the crowds of PopMart, there is a lie". I think they were right.
I think this and the fact that PopMart could not possibly top Zoo TV (rightly or wrongly) made things look bad.
One other thing that occured is that, while in 1991 U2 were breaking new ground with Achtung Baby, by 1997 it sounded as if they were trying to keep up with the new scene : Radiohead, Björk, RATM, Chemical Brothers, Prodigy, Massive Attack... When you look at the "Tibetan Freedom" concert that occured in june, U2 seem terribly out of place and unable to lift the crowds.
See, An Tha ? That's my contribution to the conversation ;-)