Zoo Station – U2

Surely the tipping point for all of this type of thing. Achtung Baby! is one of the most important records in my personal musical journey and as such is the key plot point in BOSBBFFABRSWSSSABAW808TSR (you might have to go back a couple of posts to get to the bottom of that keyboard-mash-cronym).

OK. Sure. I liked U2 before Achtung Baby! They were omnipresent and po-faced and revered and acceptable and yet I couldn’t help but like them. They were good at what they did. Rattle and Hum was everywhere. As was The Joshua Tree. It was hard to deny the sheer brilliance of Under a Blood Red Sky. Those earlier albums War and Boy and October had fed that amazing performance it’s very best songs and the whole thing looked amazing. Red Rocks lit like something from a Mad Max movie and fed through the filter grain of TV tube lines. Modern rock needed U2.

If videos were going to be important (and they were SO important) We needed U2 because they understood that. So we all liked them. And yet I kept them at arms-length.

“I’m ready, I’m ready for the laughing gas, I’m ready, I’m ready for what’s next”

Then this happened. Sure, we heard The Fly first as it was the lead single. And it got attention. Buckets of attention. I bought it first chance I could get. That spray paint artwork and the ambient A Clockwork Orange inspired flip side just added to the allure. This band not only didn’t sound like themselves, they didn’t sound like anything else on the air at the time either. U2 were (suddenly) all new.

“I’m ready to duck, I’m ready to dive, I’m ready to say ‘I’m glad to be alive’, I’m ready, ready for the push”

By the time the album dropped I was desperate to hear it. This was multimedia rock music before the internet. The visuals dealt with everything from satellite TV and abstract impressionism to pornography and advertising. The whole tour was an art installation. Different every night but we all knew what to expect.

“I’m ready for the shuffle, ready for the deal, ready to let go of the steering wheel I’m ready, ready for the crush”

Achtung Baby made U2 the most relevant band in the world for the whole of the Zoo TV tour. They melded Ridley Scott’s Bladerunner to David Bowie’s Low and got Charles Bukowski to read the headlines while they played with the future. Their tour was a fan theory website made flesh. I still get goose bumps when I hear it.

“Time is a train, to the future from the past, I’m standing in the station, my face pressed up against the glass”

Nothing they ever did again lived up to the promise of Achtung Baby! And the Zoo TV Tour. How could it? Zooropa complimented it well. But I count the two records as too intrinsically linked to view as separate entities. Zooropa was just a scene report from under the stage while the band swapped instruments. I kind of mean that as one of the highest compliments I can pay a record.

From there the fall from such giddy heights shouldn’t be seen as a failure. No band could have maintained such a peak. No band has. Of course it all looks sort of quaint and retro now. Dullards like Coldplay have shows that make Zoo TV look unambitious. There was a time though. The Future ain’t what it used to be.

6 thoughts on “Zoo Station – U2

  1. Great post, Steve. Great to hear that tune again, too… I’ve never been much of a U2 fan, but they had their moments and I’m with you all the way on Joshua Tree, Achtung Baby, and, to an extent, Zooropa. Since then it’s been diminishing returns and ‘going back to our roots’ with each release. Doesn’t help that Bono is a bit of a tadger.

    Liked by 1 person

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