I am not going to 'convince you my favourite u2 album is their best' - 1. Because I am not sure my favourite u2 album is actually their 'best' anyway (more to come on that point) 2. To quote the opening post I am not going to 'tell you that you are wrong' by telling you what I love about my favourite u2 album, because what I love about it does not make me 'right' and therefore you 'wrong' my opinion is mine, yours is yours - neither of us are right or wrong.
I will however share with the forum why my favourite u2 album is my favourite u2 album.
AB, TJT....they are the 'big two' that slug it out at the top of the critics polls, the polls in here and in my experience in Joe Public's general view when the question is asked 'What is u2's best album' or 'What is your favourite u2 album'.....I also believe (could be wrong) that they are also the bands top 2 selling albums...
Now I am very much of the view that TJT is overrated, the bands most overrated album for me and one of the most overrated ever made by anybody - it isn't bad at all and I can see why people like it, but for my money it is massively overrated....AB is an album I love - u2's strongest collection of songs, their 'best' album for me if you go song by song it is the album that is the strongest collection of songs - BUT it isn't my favourite, it just does not quite hold a place in my affections the way my favourite does - it just does not quite engage me in the same way that my favourite does.....
My current car is the 'best' I have ever owned but it isn't my favourite...it is that kind of analogy that hopefully explains what I mean and why AB has to settle for the runners up spot in the favourite u2 album stakes to the one, the only, the hated, adored but never ignored (except in concerts by its creators) POP.
U2's most divisive album is my favourite...it is a complex beast, but a beast that finds u2 at their sonic and lyrical peak in my book.
Pop is a record that manages to look and act trashy and shallow but yet be insightful, heart-breakingly beautiful, sexy, angry, contemplative and deep and even spiritual whilst still being cool - a trick u2 had never pulled off before or have never pulled off since....a difficult trick to be fair and manages to walk all those diverse lines and other emotions and feelings whilst exploring sonic ground the band was treading on for the first time in such depth.
Has Bono ever bared his soul more than in these lines?
"Mother, am I still your son
You know I'm waiting for so long to hear you say so
Mother, you left and made me someone
Now I'm still a child but no one tells me no"....
If those words were set to 'normal' edge guitar or even piano and sung in Bono's most earnest sounding voice I reckon they'd be loved a lot more - set to burbling electronic beats and delivered in a relatively understated manner their sheer heart breaking nature seem to not be appreciated as much....For me the sonic landscape makes the lyrics feel more powerful - there is a claustrophobic intensity present that just hits me so hard and adds weight to the words.
The fact that so many reviews and reactions were and still are 'oh u2 have gone dance' 'shallow' 'electronic' 'where is the deep u2 of old' etc. makes me laugh and I love that u2 had made such a deep, dark, complex record as heavy as hell and wrapped it up in such a way that it confused people...Bono talked about 'f****** up the mainstream' in the early 90's - this was the last time they actually did it.
The album is 60 minutes long - the longest of the bands career, they had so much to say and didn't care about clipping songs down, this was a record that pandered to nobody that stood as a long, complex, complicated, heavy as hell monster of a record that smiled and winked and laughed at you whilst it bared its soul at you. Darkness wrapped up in fluorescent shiny paper!
The songs that make it my favourite....Discotheque - Edge REALLY was on fire here - The music that accompanies the 'it's not a trick, cos you can't learn it' part is the most exhilarating sound that the 4 men had ever crafted in my view up to that point - they were soon to top it though.
Do You Feel Loved - The first time u2 sounded like sex - but this is Pop and this is sex with an undercurrent 'It looks like the sun, but it feels like the rain'....
And it looks like the sun
But it feels like rain
And there's heat in the sun
To see us through the rain.
The situation looks and superficially feels good - full of 'gear' feeling hot and up for it and liking what you see but it’s actually empty and does not feel all that good deep down.....but raw animal needs/passion and the high has just about enough 'heat' to help us switch off and feel a high that covers/makes us forget the real deeper empty feeling...
We've all been there....
Mofo - The heaviest u2 song ever - the fact it is the song that is the most overtly 'dance' in the eyes of those who can't or won't look deep enough makes that fact the absolute perfect example of what u2 and Pop were all about at that time....as previously mentioned Bono has for me never been more raw and showed his soul more than in this tour de force for me. The most exhilarating sound u2 have ever conjured up just two songs after the previous most exhilarating sound they had ever conjured up! We are onto a winner here, aren't we.
Gone - The last time for me u2 went all out 'rawk' and didn't sound clumsy - actually sounded heavy effortlessly rocking rather than wearing a leather jacket and throwing rock shapes but sounding about as rock n roll as a day in the office.
Miami - 'u2 wrote Miami'....yes they f****** did and I love it.
If You Wear That Velvet Dress – They are doing sexy again – u2 don’t do sexy! Well they do now and this song crackles with it.
Please – a masterpiece – lyrically it is as angry as u2 have ever been – but instead of bombast and being captain obvious ala SBS, they set it to an understated sonic landscape and Bono whispers rather than shouts – it adds to the intensity…..subtlety is something u2 were just masters of on this record. The brooding intensity of this song is unmatched in their catalogue.
Wake Up Dead Man – Bono directly talking to Jesus in a song is potentially the stuff of nightmares – but he pulls it off here beautifully…once again it is the sonic landscape and the delivery that makes what could have been a clunker just a stunner.
The rest of the album has the odd miss step or two – the chiming guitar that for me ruins IGWSHA (could have been a stunner if they had held back on that) being the most obvious miss step. Those miss steps though are forgiveable within the overall landscape of the record.
The 90’s is easily my favourite era for music generally and Pop sits up there with the likes of Is This Desire by PJ Harvey as great records from artists pushing themselves and their listeners to their limits, dividing opinion more than any other record in their cannon/s but as time has worn on becoming ever more appreciated and standing the test of time better than more lauded works – u2 had never sounded so interesting and have never sounded so interesting since to me.
Pop is my favourite u2 record – if I was only allowed to own one u2 record it would be this one.
I always feel a little sad that the band as I loved them at that time died after Pop - but what a way to go out.....at the funeral the pall bearers are dressed up as the Village People before going on to deliver the most beautiful epitah that leaves not a dry eye in the house and then smiling, no actually smirking.... laughing and playing "feeling hot, hot, hot" and doing a conga down the church aisle".....
Very good argument for Pop here, a great read.
However, I think you’re unfair on TJT. When it came out TJT was an original and groundbreaking album for the band. It definitely sounded like progression on TUF, even though I prefer the more impressionistic and starry-eyed nature of the earlier album. The fact that a song like WOWY did so well was not because it was designed to appeal to Joe Public, but because it was an original and compelling recording. Nothing else coming out at the time sounded like TJT – it was an era when the rock dinosaurs were peddling their wares following Live Aid (Genesis, Queen, etc.), and synth pop dominated the airwaves. TJT was so successful because it was a great album, not because it was designed to appeal to the masses.
Agree with you that AB is their best and more interesting collection of songs. I really don’t think the quality of the songs on Pop is as good as on AB, though there’s some very good stuff on it (Mofo, Please, Velvet Dress, Miami). Lyrically Bono was on a high at the time of Pop. However, it feels forced in places (Discotheque springs to mind), as if U2 are trying to sound contemporary in terms of what the youth were putting out at the time. It didn’t convince me and I don’t think they felt comfortable in the clothes, or they’d still be playing songs off the record. Call me a puritan, but seeing 30-something-men trying to act sexy and trashy doesn't really turn me on. And when we peel back the surface and find so much depth in the lyrics, we also find so much despair. I came to U2 as they made me feel better and more hopeful about life. Pop always made me feel a greater sense of resignation about how sh**e things are.
Mofo is a masterpiece, and probably the best concert-opener I’ve ever seen U2 perform. The lyrics are great, like you say – and the section you quote is perfectly placed at a dramatic point in the song. He’s done some great lyrics about his mother: Tomorrow, Lemon, Iris, etc. and I would not like to place them in a hierarchy. I don’t think that Mofo would’ve been more successful had it sounded like a more standard U2 song.
I don’t recall anyone bemoaning a lack of depth to Pop, or calling it shallow. If anything, the reception was muted because it was too deep and dark. It is a complex and heavy record like you say, and I thought the irony of calling it Pop was not becoming. Why detract from the profound things you have to say? What is the purpose of wrapping up darkness in shiny fluorescent paper? Would Dylan’s Blood on the Tracks or the Manics’ The Holy Bible been stronger had they laid on a bit more irony in the presentation? I don’t think so.
You raise a very good point about the length of the album. I hadn’t noticed just how long it is. They clearly had a lot to give. My problem with Zooropa is it feels so short a record following on from Achtung Baby, but it is a beautiful if slighter record. That said, I can’t help thinking it’d have been better if they’d tried to condense it into an EP as was the original idea.
Your analysis of the individual songs on Pop is strong and enlightening. Having said that, I’m not a big fan of Discotheque, nor Gone for that matter. I felt Gone didn’t really fit the record as it is too much of a conventional rock song. Miami is brilliant.
Of course Pop marked the end of an era for U2, and many diehard fans were disappointed with what came next. However, I like ATYCLB a great deal, it’s a joyous album full of strong songs. Sadly they’ve tried to emulate it too often since, and with diminishing returns. I expect it is only a matter of time until they realise their days of creating big commercial hits like Vertigo are over, and they instead really focus on making something musically true to themselves, and I am hoping that is going to be very special indeed.