U2, the most visible rock band on this planet, has just released their latest album, "Zooropa." The group pressed it out at home in Dublin, during a spring break from "ZOO TV" - their multimedia, worldwide tour.
"Zooropa" follows in the shadows of "Achtung Baby," the 1991 breakthrough album that restyled the group for the '90s. Both LPs shed the band's former earnest and high-minded image for one that is more aloof and high-tech.
The latest album, however, delivers little of the intensity and passion of the best U2. Instead, it's a splatter of the glossiest and most insipid songs of the worst U2. Unlike the tempered restraint found on "Achtung Baby" - a string of intimate love songs that are layered with noisy mixes but still take you places - the 10 tracks on "Zooropa" come together randomly and coarsely. Programmed layers of wah-wahs, gurgles, loops, and samplings abound, which makes for a detached feeling.
On top of such mixes that do more to push us away than pull us in, "Zooropa" delivers a dose of empty-headed lyrics. Liquid, spiraling Bono-esque landscapes are glaringly missing. Any attempt to bore into his repetitive ramblings in search of an emotional and intimate world should be abandoned: It will make you go gaga.
An example: In the simpleminded "Some Days are Better Than Others," lead singer Bono manages to wander into even shallower waters: "Some days are slippy, other days sloppy/Some days you can't stand the sight of a puppy."
The title track, on the other hand, is a little more complex. It both sweetly and disturbingly seduces us into an information-age spin. Haunting chords are layered with a foreboding piano melody and a garble of voices from advertisements, which turn into white noise. Bono steps in and takes off, offering us jaded pleasures and instant gratification: "Zooropa... better by design/Zooropa... fly the friendly skies/Through appliance of science/We've got that ring of confidence...."
The group makes its point best about sensory overload in a track titled, "Numb," sung by guitarist The Edge. To the backdrop of hypnotic rhythm and industrial screeches, the singer blankly intones a list of disconnected injunctions: "Don't move/Don't talk out of time/Don't think/Don't worry everything's just fine/Just fine." Bono, in a falsetto he calls "the fat lady," coos faintly: "I feel numb/Too much is not enough."
The music in a few of the sparser, slow-building tracks - "Stay (Faraway, So Close)," "Dirty Day" - are weightier in emotion, though they obviously fit U2's tried-and-true love song template.
From a larger perspective, it shouldn't be surprising that U2 has released an unrestrained album: They are following urges to break free from the deliberateness of their MTV-sponsored behemoth spectacle tour.