I rarely pass up an opportunity to make fun of U2. For a band that’s held in as high regard as U2, they don’t have a ton of albums that one could classify as truly great. The Joshua Tree might be one of the greatest rock albums of all time, but there’s a severe drop off in quality from there. War and The Unforgettable Fire have great songs on them, but neither one holds a candle to The Joshua Tree.
Zooropa stands apart from the rest of U2’s catalog because it’s one of the few that doesn’t sound like any of their other albums. I don’t mean to suggest that all their other albums sound the same, but it’s not so difficult to compare and contrast War and The Unforgettable Fire. Zooropa advanced U2’s sound that we caught a glimpse of in Achtung Baby and it’s successor, Pop, was sort of in the same spirit of Zooropa. The problem is that Pop was a pretty awful album.
What we have with Zooropa is an album that is both completely unique and also worth listening to. Songs like Lemon and Stay (Faraway, So Close!) showcase Bono’s musical range while songs like Numb and The Wanderer don’t even have Bono as the lead singer. The Wanderer features musical legend Johnny Cash in a collaboration that no one could’ve seen coming. The versatility of all four members of the band is on full display.
The best part about Zooropa is that there’s not a bad track on the album. There aren’t that many U2 albums that you can really say that about. There are plenty of mediocre tracks on their early albums and the bad songs tend to outnumber the good ones on their later works.
Zooropa might not have Sunday Blood Sunday, Where the Streets Have No Name, With Or Without You, One, or any of the other staples of their concerts. In fact, it’s pretty rare for them to play any Zooropa tracks live these days. But the absence of a radio friendly single doesn’t mean that an album is bad. Plenty of bands make successful careers without mainstream songs. U2’s popularity might cause one to write Zooropa off just by the track list, but that would be a foolish write off of a pretty great album.
U2 isn’t a band that generally needs defending and I wouldn’t even consider myself a huge fan. But I think Zooropa is an unfair casualty of a culture that favors individual songs over albums. I wouldn’t be surprised if Zooropa didn’t have a single representative on a U2 greatest hits collection (save for maybe The Wanderer, but that would likely be because of Cash’s name recognition), but it’s definitely one of the band’s most complete records.