ANDY GILL ON ALBUMS; U2 Pop Island 314 524-334-2

`An album primed to explode in the heartland of an America waking up to techno-inflected stadium rock'
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For a band at this stage of their development, Pop is little short of miraculous: post-ironic, poppy, pious, and not a little preposterous too. Well, it wouldn't be U2 otherwise, would it?

In terms of musical development, the major change for this album is the drafting-in of Howie B as co-producer or mixer alongside Flood, in an attempt to get a firmer grasp on the dancefloor Zeitgeist. The immediate results, as demonstrated in "Discotheque", aren't that much of a stretch on the classic U2 sound, with the Edge's choppy, echoing style adding an insistent, repetitive element akin to sequenced dance music, but with a muscular swagger providing a lingering memory of their stadium roots.

Further in, the dance influence increases: "MoFo" is a juddering techno maelstrom in Chemical Brothers style, Bono agitating about rock 'n' roll and his mother while the band effects a passable impression of a plummeting helicopter. Elsewhere, the snapshots of "Miami" surf over the kind of reversed drum track you rarely hear outside of the techno/ ambient diaspora. Not that Pop is an all-out rave experience: "Do You Feel Love" and "Last Night on Earth" are more in the typical U2 style, though the latter does leaven the approach by using samples of Brazilian percussionist Nana Vasconcelos to add a little exotic languor. Whichever way you look, ideas are bubbling up from inside these songs and disturbing their shiny surfaces.

Lyrically, however, the album involves a reversion from the self-conscious ironies of recent U2 works to a furrow-browed search for faith in the modern world. Bono's lyric to "The Playboy Mansion" may be styled in the ironic, knowing manner of Zooropa but it conveys with some conviction the spiritual desolation of an American Dream where all desires are anticipated and sated. Getting more specific in "If God Will Send His Angels", he castigates the debased piety of organised religion, and its effect on faith: "Jesus never let me down/Y' know, Jesus used to show me the score/ Then they put Jesus in show business/ Now it's hard to get in the door."

Perhaps mindful of his own contribution in this respect, Bono is, by the end of the record, wandering through the wilderness of "Wake Up Dead Man", an invocation for spiritual renewal directed at God and himself. Whatever its intended trajectory, it's a courageous conclusion to an album primed to explode in the heartland of an America just waking up to the appeal of techno-inflected stadium rock.