The first few times I heard the Zooropa album, it didn’t really connect with me. As I think back, I can’t really come up with a reason why, except maybe that it was so different. Anyway, after buying the cassette tape and listening to it a few times, I put it away and didn’t revisit it for a while. Then one night, I woke up and found myself humming the title track. I must have been dreaming about it because it was firmly stuck in my head and I couldn’t get it out for days. Later that week, I had some free time, so I sat down to give the album another chance. It was like I was hearing it for the first time. That time, I got it. The ideas, the concepts, the lyrics and music, the mood of the album – all of it hit home with me on that listen. Since then, Zooropa has consistently been counted as one of my favorite U2 records, and a large part of the reason that I hold the album in such high regard is the title track.
When I listen to “Zooropa” now (the song, not the whole album) the song conjures really powerful images in my mind. Images of a cityscape at night. As the sun goes down, the city’s lights come up and overpower the stars above. Even it was released over twenty years ago, the song still feels strongly modern and state-of-the-art, maybe even futuristic. Like a city controlled by people who have defeated their human frailties by means of technological augmentation.
The multi-part song, by virtue of its unorthodox structure, is probably the closest that U2 have ever come to progressive rock. The opening of the song fades in subtly, with a threatening bass part (supposedly played by Larry) and chaotic sounding overlapping electronic chatter backed by keys courtesy of Brian Eno. The next section is typical U2, with a lot of features that we’ve discussed here before, like Adam’s bass part providing the melody and Edge’s guitar serving a more rhythmic purpose. I say “typical” but at the same time, it sounds otherworldly and completely unlike anything else U2 have recorded before or since. The final segment of the song explodes out of the comparative quietude of the first two segments like a powerful motorcycle jetting away from the starting line at a race. Listening to it right now as I type this, I am reminded that it as a perfect piece of euro-pop. Utterly flawless in its melodicism and catchiness. Bono’s soaring vocals carry a powerful message, too. Just like the music of the third and final piece of the song bursts out, so should the listener leave the cozy confines of what they find to be comfortable. Experiment. Go on adventures – even the little kind of commonplace adventures that we have time for in our busy everyday lives. Take your head out of the mud and “dream up the world (you) want to live in. Dream out loud.” I’ve always thought that in the Bible of U2, that phrase, “Dream out loud” is as close as we’ve got to a golden rule.
“Zooropa” has a curious history with live performances. Back in 1993, when the song was new, it was played a grand total of three times. In abbreviated form, at that, as those live performances consisted mostly of the third and final part of the complete song. It wasn’t until eighteen years later, during the 360 Tour, that the first and second portions of the song made their live debuts. On that tour, it received twenty-seven airings, one of which was preserved on the fan-club release U22. Now fast forward to today’s Innocence + Experience Tour, which just started its European leg. A brand-new arrangement, with downplayed instrumentation of swelling keyboards and throbbing bass. It segues into “Where the Streets Have No Name” in a dramatic, soul-stirring fashion that leaves me breathless every time I hear it. “Zooropa” is one of my absolute favorite songs of all time, and I’m thrilled and surprised that the band have chosen to perform it again. Hopefully it’ll stick around for the rest of the tour, wherever that may take the band.
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