Zooropa came as a surprise to everyone—even the members of U2. In the early ’90s, the group was in the middle of the mammoth Zoo TV tour when it became clear the newfound creative jolts and joys that had yielded Achtung Baby hadn’t diminished. There were more out-there ideas to be kicked around, and more sounds to be explored. The band members just needed some time to throw them all together. A months-long break between shows opened up U2’s schedule, while previous behind-the-scenes collaborators like Flood and Brian Eno opened the band members’ minds, helping them make sense of numerous sound loops the band had recorded during its Zoo TV sound checks. The hope was that all of this experimentation would lead to a short EP, one that U2 could promote on the road. But soon enough, the group had enough songs for an entire album—one of the fastest-produced in U2’s career, and also one of its darkest: a 10-track treatise on overbearing technology and overwhelming isolation—but with plenty of open-wide choruses and big beats. Zooropa’s groove ’n’ gloom approach is announced by the title track, a sci-fi-disco anthem about a man trying to break free from an ad-inundated dystopia. But the full chilliness of Zooropa doesn’t settle in until “Numb,” the album’s first single, featuring the Edge relaying a bunch of monotone commands—“Don’t think/Don’t worry/Everything’s just fine”—over a skittering drum track. It’s a hilarious bit of pleasingly overblown ennui, yet “Numb” became an unlikely pop hit, temporarily plastering the Edge’s milquetoast visage all over MTV. (Look—the ’90s were a weird time, OK?) There are more dance-floor pleasures to be found here—“Lemon” is a gorgeous slice of European-styled synth-pop—but Zooropa also finds U2 rolling out of the club and confronting the daylight. “Stay (Faraway, So Close!)” feels like the spiritual sequel to Achtung Baby’s “One”: an aching, soul-baring ballad that finds Bono trying to put listeners’ minds and hearts at ease. And on “The Wanderer,” the band recruits none other than Johnny Cash, who narrates a tale of a drifter making his way through a post-apocalyptic world, on the lookout for God. Again: This all started out as a nice-and-easy EP! But in the early ’90s, U2 had an unstoppable appetite for experimentation—and a speedy metabolism to match it. Zooropa encapsulated the band’s unspoken creative philosophy, one that would fuel U2 throughout the first half of the ’90s, as the band members zipped from one wild notion to the next: Don’t think. Don’t worry. Everything’s just fine.

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