Zooropa is a plugged-in, spaced-out dispatch from the blinking LED eye of the multimedia storm....
How do you wind down from one of the most electrifying rock shows ever staged? If you're U2, the indefatigable Irish quartet, the answer is you don't. Riding the wave of its audacious 1991 album, Achtung Baby, the group has spent the past 15 months hop-scotching the globe with the Zoo TV tour, a futuristic, high-voltage extravaganza that has packed stadiums from Berlin to Los Angeles, and is scheduled to end in Australia next November. But just when most bands would be lurching for the finish line, U2 has struck while the muse is hot and re-energized itself by releasing an album of fresh material.
As its title suggests, Zooropa is both a reflection of and a reaction to Zoo TV, which uses giant video screens, satellite technology and automobiles swinging from cranes to evoke the surrealist, fast-forward distortion of the digitalized global village. In the title track, garbled voices, piano and a pulsing bass emerge from a haze of static like a radio receiver tuning in to a distant signal.
The atmospheric influence of co-producer Brian Eno, who also lends a hand on synthesizers, is audible throughout. Bono's vocals are electronically warped, the Edge's guitars chomp and snarl or dissolve into wavering pools of reverb. In Daddy's Gonna Pay for Your Crashed Car, a self-mockingly pompous classical overture gives way to a jittery, high-octane beat, frayed guitar riffs and ominously echoing pings that sound like sonar from a distressed nuclear sub.
Yet despite the future-shock flourishes, most of Zooropa flies beneath the radar, mapping a personal terrain of reflection and emotional catharsis. The sensory overload of superstardom is chillingly conveyed in Numb as the Edge's monotonic vocal is underscored by a lacerating guitar lick. Other songs are suffused with a sense of fleeting time. In Some Days Are Better than Others, Bono observes, "Some days take less but most days take more/ Some days slip through your fingers and onto the floor." And in the hymnlike Dirty Day, he seems to glimpse his own mortality as he sings, "These days, days, days run away like horses over the hill."
The album ends with The Wanderer, a haunting litany of discontent performed by guest singer Johnny Cash that pushes the album into the numinous region of The Joshua Tree. Bono still hasn't found what he's looking for, but the search continues to redefine the boundaries of modern rock. Like a memoir written while the applause is still thundering, Zooropa is a plugged-in, spaced-out dispatch from the blinking LED eye of the multimedia storm.