slated to be an EP, it was recorded between legs on the Zoo TV Tour and released in May 1993 by Island Records as a full-length
album.It was very much an "alternative rock" album in the climate of 1993. In
North America, grunge
was at its peak. While contemporaries R.E.M. latched onto this trend with their distortion-filled Monster, U2 released an
album without angst or even a single guitar solo. In Europe, BritPop was beginning to conquer the charts,
yet Zooropa owed more to the experimentation of David Bowie and Brian Eno than to the melodic pop of The Beatles and The Kinks.
was a successful release--perhaps riding the wave of popularity started by Achtung Baby and the Zoo TV Tour--winning a Grammy
Award for Best Alternative Music Album the year of its release and spending two weeks at #1 on the Billboard 200 despite lacking
a strong single. It has subsequently sold more than 7 million copies worldwide.
the title suggests, the album has a distinctly European texture (in contrast to the distinctly American roots of their late
eighties work), continuing the band's experimentation with electronica, techno, and other predominantly European forms of
music. Heavy on samples and irony, it also ties the "media overload" themes of the Zoo TV Tour into the context of a post-Berlin
Wall Europe. The lyrics seem fascinated with the way technology unites as well as separates us. The spacey title track, for
instance--laced with ad slogans like "Better by design" and "Vorsprung durch Technik"--paints a babel-filled vision of a single
Europe united by satellite television.
largely, the album's vision of technology is a cynical one. On the techno-rap "Numb", guitarist The Edge's drones a list of
"dos and don'ts," overwhelmed by a noisy backdrop of arcade sounds and "fat lady vocals." The Edge notes that the inspiration
for this song came from "that sense that you were getting bombarded with so much that you actually were finding yourself shutting
down and unable to respond because there was so much imagery and information being thrown at you."
dreamy German disco of "Lemon"--sung by Bono in a longing falsetto amidst waves of almost unrecognizably distorted guitar--documents
man's futile attempts to preserve time through technology:
A man makes a picture
A moving picture
Through the light projected
He can see himself up close
A man captures colour
A man likes to stare
He turns his money into light to look for her
songs conclude that we should not get so caught up in technology--and with it, the perceived need to know, keep, and broadcast
everything--that we lose sight of ourselves and each other. The closing track, "The Wanderer", features country music legend
Johnny Cash on lead vocals. It lays his haggard voice over a wobbly synth line, a bizarre juxtaposition in line with the album's
central irony: that the band's most synthesized and postmodern album would be a condemnation of technology. The song's narrator
wanders through a soulless world "in search of experience", ultimately finding meaning in the spiritual rather than the superficial.
was an unlikely choice for a first single, and was released in an even more unlikely format, being released exclusively on
VHS as a "video single". Though Madonna had already released "Justify My Love" as a video single in 1990 following the blacklisting
of that video by MTV, it was still quite a progressive move for the early 90s, anticipating the commonplace release of DVD
Singles by the best part of a decade. The single very much reflects the avant-gardism and obsession with multimedia that marked
both the album and the accompanying Zoo TV world tour.
band also released two more conventional singles from the album. "Lemon" received a limited release in North America,
Australia, and Japan,
and "Stay (Faraway, So Close)" was released worldwide.