In Not Fade Away, we take a look at the legacy of some of the greatest albums of the past few decades – some iconic, some lesser known – as they celebrate significant anniversaries. Here, we take a look at U2‘s “Zooropa,” which turns 20 on July 5. 

If Achtung Baby was, as it has often been described, “the sound of four men chopping down The Joshua Tree,” then Zooropa was those same four guys getting drunk and swinging axes at the stump. Achtung saw the post-punk group morphing into a funky industrial combo. With Zooropa, they were baptized in a digital soup. When they emerged, they were barely recognizable as the same guys who released Boy, War and The Joshua Tree.

Related: 5 Directions U2 Could Go In For Their New Album

The album was introduced via the lead single “Numb,” which featured guitarist The Edge on lead vocals. The last time we heard him sing lead was on the incredibly earnest (and frankly, a little boring) “Van Dieman’s Land” from Rattle And Hum, which marked the apex of U2’s overly sincere Americana-obsessed era. On “Numb,” which featured Bono on falsetto backing vocals, Edge seemed like a different guy. He sounded, well, numb. His guitar buzzed and competed for space with noise samples, synth squiggles and drum loops. If a fan fell into a coma during the late ’80s and woke up to this song, he or she might not know that she was listening to the guys who sang “Sunday Bloody Sunday” or “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For.”

The title track opened the album, starting things off with over a minute and a half of ambient noise. It was nearly two minutes before anything identifiably Bono or Edge-sounding emerged — but it was actually kind of fitting. Bono and The Edge were the main creative forces behind the album (Edge even got a co-producing credit with Brian Eno and Flood), further deconstructing U2’s sound. At points in on Zooropa, it was difficult to tell if the drums were played by Larry Mullen or programmed, a la many of the dance music artists the band were becoming more obsessed with. Ditto for Adam Clayton’s bass lines.

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— Brian Ives, 


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