Twenty years ago this week, U2 released their ninth album, Pop, an effort that caused quite a stir among both casual and hardcore fans, if only for the fact that the album itself was largely responsible for turning many hardcore fans of the band into casual fans.
To this writer's ears, it was the second album in a row that seemed to exist for no other reason than to provide the necessary excuse for undertaking a gargantuan stadium tour with which to yank even more money out of our pockets. It was also painfully obvious by now that the world's biggest rock band on the planet was openly flailing in the studio, desperate to latch on to any sound that might make the drudgery worthwhile and also keep them relevant.
Brian Eno, who had no doubt gritted his teeth through much of the Zooropa sessions, took one look at the writing on the wall and decided his time would be better spent tending to his garden or watching paint dry - anything to not have to spend twelve hours a day in the studio listening to The Edge trying not to sound like "The Edge".
As if that weren't bad enough, the band had chose to not wait for Larry Mullen Jr. to recuperate from back surgery before beginning recording sessions. Whatever time they thought they'd saved by getting a jump-start on things was erased during the three months it would take to re-work the material in order to integrate Mullins' drumming once he finally returns.
What he heard must have been shocking, as Bono's obsession with the underground dance scene saw him pushing The Edge and Adam Clayton to incorporate the latest sounds into their music, with DJ Howie B. brought in for his club expertise.
How bad is the album, you ask? Well, one of the songs is actually called "The Playboy Mansion". That's fine if you're listening to a Jay-Z or Smash Mouth record, but not something you expect to see from everybody's favorite morally-conscious rock band who, last time we checked, still hadn't found what they were looking for.
Of the six singles released from the album in the U.S., only first single "Discotheque" (the one with the video of the band dressed as the Village People) hit the Top 10 and the album's chart position itself quickly plummeted.
Additionally, the band's prop-heavy PopMart tour, which they announced from the lingerie department of a K Mart store, was an overly ambitious and jaded parody of American consumerism that played to half-empty or heavily-papered stadium audiences across the U.S., but did huge business elsewhere and still managed to gross over $170 million.