U2’s Pop Mart tour came through Prague on August 14, 1997. I was at Strahov Stadium for the garish spectacle of lemons, space ships and disco balls, frankly reveling in the pop culture excess, and contrasting it with the Czech Republic’s recovery from excesses of a different sort.
I’m an unapologetic U2 fan, and to me, Pop was the culmination of my most favored phase of the band’s existence. Achtung Baby, Zooropa and Pop make up a trilogy that continues to define the 1990s for me — not that there weren’t numerous other musical high points, some of which offer memories as cogent.
Pop capped a particularly tumultuous period in my life. I’m fortunate to have stuck with alcohol. My own career Pop came later, circa 2009, and I’ve yet to discover a professional follow-up mirroring All that You Can’t Leave Behind. Maybe metaphors need to be mixed, and I’m due for “Rockin’ in the Free World” instead.
I’ll be there at Papa John’s Capitalist Stadium in June for the complete 30th anniversary performance of The Joshua Tree, but if I had my druthers, it’d be the 20th birthday cycle of Pop songs.
In defense of Pop, U2’s most hated album, by Michael Brendan Dougherty (The Week)
Pop is a trashy, vulgar, spiritually insightful, heart-shattering record. It takes a vandal’s thrill in deploying the self-declared world’s greatest rock band to deface rock and roll. It shapes the echoing blips, tape distortions, and drum loops of electronic music into a political statement as substantial and tightly packed as a pipe bomb. It rummages through the refuse of modern pop culture and finds a God worth loving still. And its critical failure was a miscarriage of justice.
Review: U2 – Pop, by James Hunter (Spin)
This review first ran in the April 1997 issue of Spin. To mark the 20th anniversary of U2’s Pop—originally released March 3, 1997—we’re republishing it here.
Out of this uncertainty, out of this very tangle, U2 have reformed their music again. On 1991’s Achtung Baby, they immersed themselves in noise; on 1993’s Zooropa, no bets hedged, they upended the record-making process. Now, on Pop, they just let various unpolished, inconsistent elements zoom, traipse, and scatter through space. And, because they are U2, they hope. At album’s end, on “Wake Up Dead Man,” as a Bulgarian village soprano valiantly tries to cut through the muddy air, Bono guesses that there must be order somewhere amid all this disorder. And he asks if he can rewind everything, “just once more,” and listens for clues.
Pop Turns 20, by Ryan Leas (Stereogum)
All of that being said, here are the other things Pop is. Pop is the freakout and comedown at the end of their ’90s road, where they lost the battles of Zooropa and fully embraced rockstar trappings, the dirty glamor, the glitz and crassness. The album signaling U2’s last brush with unfettered and fearless experimentation. The album where the mingling of sex and religion from Acthung Baby continues, but is pushed into Pop Art overdrive while deepening the conversation: sin and materialism and indulgence are entangled with shaken faith. The album where they bred European textures with boom-times Americana, getting at something more real and immediate and sinister and shiny than those late ’80s ventures where they supposedly got closest to American themes. Almost written out of their narrative but pivotal to it, Pop is the album that remains most perplexing and fascinating and layered in a career of thoroughly analyzed classics.
U2’s ‘Pop’: A Look Back at Their Most Misunderstood Album, by Brian Ives (Radio)
As Bono said while discussing another underrated Pop gem, “Gone,” “‘Gone’ is a portrait of the young man as a rock star, trying to cut himself free from responsibilities and just enjoy the ride, the suit of lights, fame: ‘You change your name, well that’s ok, it’s necessary. And what you leave behind you don’t need anyway.’ But I think what this album tells you is that some things you can’t leave behind. That’s really it. It’s like the university professor who just can’t dance. Deep down we weren’t as shallow as we’d like.”