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(Credit: Peter Neill)

Music | Opinion

In defence of U2 and 'Pop'

There are so many indie rock bands that change direction from subtle and cerebral, headfirst into the realm of the esoteric and idiosyncratic, laced by a selection of thriving dance hooks. What’s endearing about these the bands producing these songs is how they try to distance themselves from the harder-edged hooks of their past.

On a technical and intellectual level, it makes sense as it shows a progression from one genre of music to a more contemporary one, particularly as it creates a more yearning sensibility for change in the world. And that’s where U2 comes in, creating a more turbo-charged outlet, bolstered by a collection of hummable guitar hooks, that serves as the band’s way of expressing themselves to a trendier, more suburban market.

Pop is the ultimate extension of this movement, recreating a new sound while gravitating towards a grittier, more grounded image in the hope of becoming something more interesting and inventive. It also demonstrated The Edge’s importance to the band, so his vocals on ‘Discotheque’ were not only tidy decoration but proof of his importance to the band as an orbit.

The Edge was pushing for the band to embrace dance music, and although it came at some resistance from percussionist Larry Mullen Jr., the combination of riff and beat made it one of the band’s more interesting hybrids to listen to.

Due to a back injury, Mullen Jr. missed out on some of the early sessions, but he flitted back into the recording sessions: “When he ”came back, it was a case of me saying to him,” Howie B recalled, “‘OK, have a listen to this,’ and he picked up his sticks and said, ‘yeah, I get that’. – Bang! And off he went. It was a dream for me. There is a beautiful thing when a real drummer plays a groove right. You can sample forever, but once you put it into the hands of a drummer who can play and has a groove, then it takes off into another world. Then it was time for me to step back and start producing. I was mixing and remixing stuff that Flood (Mark Ellis) and Steve Osborne was doing and taking it and giving a different slant to music that we had recorded. It was incredibly productive.”

The drums are crisp and tight. The guitars are punchy and atmospheric. And then there are the vocals, warm, and bolstered by a glow. Pop ranks as one of the band’s crispest ventures into sound, but that’s not to say it’s a dumb album. ‘Please’ stands for a yearning for the cessation of war in Belfast, much as ‘MOFO’ recalled the tears Bono shed when he laid his mother to rest.

And although they were prepared to abandon some of their lo-fi leanings, they weren’t really willing to cast off all the tricks they had furnished in Dublin, especially when it meant pandering to the American charts at large. From their disembodied yelps to the thunderous hooks that cascade the album, the album also pointed to the next stage of their journey with the deeply lyrical ‘If God Will Send His Angels’, showing that the band were willing to jump headfirst into the painting that surrounded them. Pop is an impressive collection of the expanding U2 exhibition.

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