“A vampire or a victim? It depends on who’s around.”
I remember discovering "Zooropa" (1993), which is in many ways the cooler younger brother (or, probably more appropriately, sister) of "Achtung Baby" (1991). Here is an album recorded on tour, when U2 Mark II were at the very peak of their powers, a long, long way away from the earnest dust bowl melancholia of "The Joshua Tree" (1987). Here is album with a perfect pop song about watching porn in a hotel room. Here is an album with a track four to beat any track four of the 90s, in ‘Lemon’, Bono’s voice absurdly stretched beyond its normal range, straining for a gospel sound he can’t achieve – but that’s the point. Guiros and high hats counterpoint a neat bass and weird, processed keyboard stabs make it sound unique. Oakenfold remixed it and if possible made it better, or at least, he did what he did to ‘Even Better Than The Real Thing’ and took all the indie out of it so that people could drop E to it in nightclubs. "Achtung Baby" was all about turning the sound ‘inside out’, re-inventing the band (if that were possible), putting Adam Clayton’s manhood in the artwork and hanging Trabants from wire on stage. It was essentially a notice to their American audiences that they didn’t want to be responsible for Kings of Leon’s third and fourth albums, but it was too late at this point. Zooropa was probably one whole travelcard zone east of ‘Zoo Station’: this was much less posed, much less try hard, much more fun. "Daddy’s Gonna Pay For Your Crashed Car" is what most of "Pop" (1997) spent its time trying to recapture, but ultimately, it failed. That’s because "Zooropa" is probably U2’s best, least forced, most inventive album. Other albums are more consistent (although even "Achtung Baby" and "Joshua Tree" have points where the quality dips) but none of them sound anywhere near as confidently diffident and relaxed. Later albums saw U2 try to recapture a "commercial phase" that hadn’t seem to have gone away, and their remixing and rerecording of some of their hits for the silver Best Of was a real low point. (A revisionist best of? Please.) Tellingly, they never managed another minimal Bono confessional as good as ‘The First Time’: and on no other album would Johnny Cash have seamlessly blended in.