Say what you will about U2’s Pop, it’s an interesting album to say the least. It’s not quite an extension of their electronica-influenced albums Achtung Baby and Zooropa (or their foray into deliberate non-commercial territory under the Passengers moniker, Original Soundtracks 1) as it’s a deliberate side-step. It’s twitchy in places, barren in others. They freely admit that it was an unfinished album, a record they should have spent more time on, had they not had a major tour to prepare for.
It’s not their strongest, but I still enjoy it. It kind of reminds me of 1984’s The Unforgettable Fire in a way, as it sounds like a band in the middle of evolving. I remember when it was about to come out while I was at HMV; the PGD sales rep (back when U2 was distributed by PolyGram) was obviously trying to upsell it because hey — Big Name Band, right? But he knew he couldn’t quite pull it off. He was let down by it, having felt it was one of their weakest albums. Well…in the context of their career path, when you hit the stratosphere with The Joshua Tree and you keep getting more ridiculously popular, any move aside from UP seems like a step down. And to most critics, this one felt like a severe misstep.
To be honest, I felt the exact opposite about it. I was actually let down by Zooropa, having felt that album was more like Achtung Baby Outtakes Wot Weren’t B-Sides. Pop felt a lot stronger and more cohesive to me. It ended up being one of the first albums that received heavy rotation during my first round of writing sessions when I started The Phoenix Effect. I kind of liked its similarity to the Beatles’ White Album…it starts off pretty strong with “Discotheque” and “Do You Feel Loved”…and progressively gets stranger and darker as the album goes on. The final track, “Wake Up Dead Man” is the polar opposite of its opening track; one is dense and trippy, the other is wiry and exhausted. The whole flow of the album works perfectly for me.
This was precisely what I needed for my writing session soundtracks! I wanted to hear something that was a little left of commercial, something strong but not singles-oriented, something that had ambience. Something that inspired the tension that I’d need in the new novel I was writing.
My writing nook down in my parents’ basement (it wasn’t called the Belfry yet…that name wouldn’t come for another few years) was right near the bottom of the stairs, using one of my uncles’ old desks and one of my dad’s dusty rolling desk chairs. I had my Windows 3.1 PC that I’d bought with my own tax return money and a big heavy CRT monitor donated by my sister. I didn’t even have Word 97 at that time, as I don’t think it would have fit on the system…I wrote everything using the Write program instead, and that worked just fine for me.
When I brought my longhand work home from the Day Job, I’d sit down at the PC and start transcribing what I’d written. This is pretty much where I taught myself how to revise; I knew I’d have to flesh out a lot of what I’d written, so I figured that was the perfect time for it. I’d figure out what tone I was trying to capture with the prose and expand on it. And sometimes, the instant revision would give me an idea of what I’d need to write the following day.
It was a learning process the entire time, and I knew I’d want a writing soundtrack to go with it. Pop was one of the first, and pretty much stayed with me for a good number of years until the single novel morphed into the Bridgetown Trilogy.