u2 U2
Pop
(Island)

The Joshua Tree: Original Master Recording
(Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab)


The U2 Pop Mart tour hits Chicago for an amazing three-day run at Soldiers Field June 27-29. That phenomenal ticket pull (the last show just went on sale last Saturday) has more to do with the power of the band's catalog than with the draw of its current LP, the uneven Pop. Whereas the band's last disc, Zooropa, was a true tour de force of a band at the height of its powers, Pop is more the experimental joyride of a band that knows it can toy with anything it wants because it has nothing left to prove.

While outside of the confines of U2, the band members have experimented with electronic loops and effects over the past couple years to varying effect, this is the first time the band has truly dived into the techno front on a proper U2 album (the entire band worked on the Passengers ambient "soundtrack" album a year or two ago with producer Brian Eno, and Larry Mullen and Adam Clayton put together the techno feast remake of the "Mission Impossible" theme for the Tom Cruise film.)

Their adventurousness is laudable, but Bono's vocal style, and the songwriting strengths of the entire band, simply aren't in the electronic music arena. U2 has always been a great guitar band, and when the guitars take second stage to the beats and synth loops, the vitality that created anthems like "Sunday Bloody Sunday" and "Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" seems hobbled. On "Miami," for instance, The Edge's riffs are repetitively mechanical, completely lacking in passion and constrained by the techno bent of the song.

But it's not a total wash. "Discotheque," the leadoff track, is a smorgasbord of cheesy but still effective dancefloor tricks and "If God Will Send His Angels" explores the band's somber, spiritual side. "Staring At The Sun," already a successful single, sticks with the band's proven formula — strummed acoustic guitars, a warbling electric lead, and Bono's emotional delivery. It's a mix that's hard to beat. Bono also knocks off some great lines in the "Angel of Harlem" sway of "The Playboy Mansion":

"If Coke is a mystery
Michael Jackson, history
if beauty is truth
and surgery, the fountain of youth
what am I to do
have I got the gift to get me through
the gates to that mansion."

Pop offers an uneven ride, but then again, so do the currents of pop music. One thing you can't call Pop is a record of a band sitting still.

Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab (MFSL)'s release of The Joshua Tree on gold Ultradisc offers a sonic counterpoint to Pop. On this Original Master Recording of one of the band's seminal LPs, you can hear cymbal snaps, drum cracks and bass throbs that never quite came into aural focus before.

The Joshua Tree, which celebrates its 10th birthday this year, spotlights the band's chiming, circular guitar sound on "Where The Streets Have No Name," "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For," and "With Or Without You." The opening bass guitar picks of "I Still Haven't Found" are extraordinarily crisp and present on this remastered version. It's the percussion that tends to benefit the most from MFSL's meticulous meddling, with the impact of snare and cymbal sounds clarified in spots throughout the album. With the three hit singles mentioned above, along with concert favorites "Bullet The Blue Sky," "In God's Country," and the "Angel In Harlem" precursor "Trip Through Your Wires," The Joshua Tree in its pristine (and slightly more expensive) Original Master Recording edition is definitely a worthy addition to any U2 fan's CD library.