And the confusion was palpable. They didn't know how to handle it. Their eyes were glued to the screen, bewildered. Why was Bono thrusting into the camera? Isn't that girl dancing too provocatively? What are we supposed to get from the song? I had no expectations and spent a good portion of the video watching my friends, and I enjoyed this part of the experience.
But I liked the song. And when the album was officially released, most of my friends bought the CD immediately. They played it for a couple weeks and then generally stopped trying. And I set it behind me for a while. At Bible camp, where I worked for five consecutive summers, U2 was a unifying point for many of the staff, and their derision of Pop also unified them. I would often hear people say "I love U2's music, but their latest stuff isn't inspiring." "I hope Bono finds his way back." "I'm so glad he's giving voice to his doubts." People sought spiritual inspiration from U2, but Pop didn't deliver. Friends who attended the tour felt spiritually fed by the concert, but the album, as is well-known, was a dud.
But it stuck with me.
It inspired me.
When I signed up for BMG/Columbia House in 1999 or 2000 or so, I ordered Pop as one of my free CDs.
And I revelled in it. After recording the video for the "Discoteque (Hexi-Decimal Mix)," I realized that "Discoteque" was a guitar-driven rock and roll song; I kept getting drawn into "Do You Feel Loved?" for its guitarwork and throbbing drums; I enjoyed the tabooness of "If You Wear That Velvet Dress" and "MOFO;" I loved the spiritual alienation exemplified in "Wake Up Dead Man;" I appreciated the arrangement in "Gone."
Musically, Pop showed me that drum loops were OK and that guitars could be used for sounds that were decidedly un-rock-and-roll. "Do You Feel Loved?" in particular moved me to play with my pedals more to make my guitar sound less and less familiar.
Spiritually, Pop gave me a distinction from my evangelical mean: where my fellow Christians were discouraged and confused by the album, I embraced it for its worldliness. I appreciated that my friends could not assimilate or appropriate Pop into their worldview: irony doesn't sit well with evangelicals, and Pop dripped with it.
Recently I heard this podcast which helped me put Pop into a bit more context for me:
In the podcast, the hosts reorder the tracks to make a better album. Although I don't agree with all of their ideas, some of them are totally legit: "Miami" and "The Playboy Mansion" can go; "North and South of the River" should come in. It's nice to hear some other people who have battled through the album as well.
I agree that Zooropa is probably a "better album," but Pop is a bigger, more moving influence for me. Its production is far more enduring and its messages are more disparate. And for a young man trying to battle through continuous religious identity politics, it was a beacon in the night that showed me that I was different from all those Joshua Tree-loving Christians.
Here's my two-take tribute to "Do You Feel Loved?" that I recorded this summer.
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