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'ZOOROPA' Latest U2 album isn't 'bigger' and maybe that's better

SOUNDS ADVICE

July 04, 1993|By J.D. Considine | J.D. Considine,Pop Music Critic

Another hidden meaning can be found in "Daddy's Gonna Pay," where the father figure isn't some paterfamilias but the Pater Noster -- God himself, portrayed in typical Christian fashion as all-powerful and all-forgiving. Nor is that the only religious reference on "Zooropa," as the band indulges in everything from subtle digs at secularism in the title tune to overt evangelism in the album-closing "The Wanderer."

Of course, what's more likely to strike listeners about "The Wanderer" isn't its Christian content, but the fact that it's sung by Johnny Cash. And while it may appear to be something of a novelty, not unlike B. B. King's contribution to "When Love Comes to Town" from "Rattle and Hum," the cameo is perfectly in character, as "The Wanderer" sounds and feels like a classic Johnny Cash song -- albeit with a feistier-than-normal rhythm section.

Imitation is another of the themes here. "Babyface," for instance, comes off like U2's attempt to write its own "Satellite of Love" (though it's doubtful Lou Reed would ever pen a line as gushingly enthusiastic as "How could beauty be so kind/To an ordinary guy?"). And then there's "Lemon," where the vocals alternate between Bono's Mick Jagger-style falsetto and an Edge-sung chorus that's a dead-ringer for early-'80s Talking Heads.

Still, the album's greatest strength is the depth each of these features -- the rich textures, the dramatic pacing, the sly symbolism -- lend the music. It's almost as if new layers are unveiled and new resonances found with each playing. And if that doesn't quite make "Zooropa" bigger than its predecessors it goes a long way toward making it better.

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