First of all, I'm not a music critic. I'm not claiming or trying to be one by writing this. These are just my opinions, and I feel the need to write them out. You don't have to agree with me any more than I have to agree with you.
Secondly, I'm not normally up this early, so parts of this might not make much sense : P
Yesterday, I saw/heard both my uncle and people on my friends list bashing Zooropa and Pop (my uncle included Achtung Baby, as well). It was the same thing I've heard countless times, and it gets tiring. Basically, the argument is "U2 was a great band up to Joshua Tree, but then they lost their way/started to suck/lost their minds." Anyone else get really sick of hearing this?
Now, I like Joshua Tree. What I don't like about it is how overrated it is. Yes, it's a great album, but it's not the greatest album ever. It wasn't anything that hadn't been done before, and that was the point. U2 started out as a band without any real roots, Joshua Tree was their way of exploring and embracing music that had happened before them that they hadn't been open to before. I think they needed to explore that territory, learn from it, and move on. I don't know about anyone else, but by the time Rattle and Hum came out, I was getting bored. I like Rattle and Hum, too, but it's a little much to take all at once.
So, after all that, U2 kinda disappeared for a while. They needed some time away to decide which direction to follow next. With Achtung Baby, it feels like they finally became their own band. That album seems miles ahead of Joshua Tree to me, and I think that could be why a lot of people didn't like it. Perhaps they felt left behind, but who knows. Meanwhile, newer bands coming out around the same time and embracing the same sounds and ideas were welcomed and praised. Maybe because they had a clean slate?
Then there was Zooropa. A lot of people just weren't ready for this one, they were still recovering from Achtung. What a shame that they missed out on so much! Now, I think Zooropa has more weak moments than Achtung, but there are only one or two songs I ever feel like skipping over. But overall, this album fascinated me. I'd never heard anything like Lemon or Numb before, and it broadened my horizons. Without Zooropa, I don't know if I'd be as open to bands like Massive Attack and Portishead. And now, they're among my favourites.
So, on to Pop. How many people made their minds up about this one before ever even hearing it? I got so tired of hearing about how U2 had gone "techno" (I hate labels). They heard Discotheque and assumed that it represented the entire CD. Well, I have two things to say to that: One, Discotheque is not techno, and two, since when did one song ever represent the whole of a U2 album? Sure, it has some electronic influence, but that's nothing new. Aside from Discotheque and Mofo, it's not overwhelmingly electronic. So what's the big deal?
The tours (Zoo TV and PopMart) were slammed the most. I remember an interview Bono did on Much Music where he talked about this. Now, the interview was done at I think 3 AM, after a show, so he was exhausted and wasn't his normal eloquent self (and that is sarcasm, in case you're wondering). But he did say something that really struck me, "People have just (long pause)... Lost the plot." So true. No matter what they did while onstage, they were still one of the few consistently good live bands around. And what would be the bigger joke, 40 foot Lemons and PVC, or a bunch of 30 year olds prancing around in tight jeans waving around a white flag?
So, this is my theory: People don't like change. Too many fans wanted U2 to keep re-releasing Joshua Tree, because it was comfortable. But if they'd done that, they wouldn't still be around today. It's the whole "Evolve or die" thing. And U2 realized they were being too serious. Dangerously serious, even. They'd often get into such a state onstage that it'd come down to threats of (as well as actual) physical violence. Think they were having fun? Not likely. But watch them onstage during Zoo TV, and you can tell they're having the time of their lives up there. They remembered that playing music was supposed to be fun.
All That You Can't Leave Behind was supposed to be a "return to form". Okay, I like this one too. But (you knew there was a but) there's a lot I don't like about it. It's one of the very few (if not the only) U2 albums where I rarely listen all the way through. I adore Beautiful Day, Elevation, and so on, it's U2 at their best. Lyrically, though, it has a lot of weak and nearly embarrassing moments. And that is not common for U2. Normally Bono writes lyrics that make my jaw drop, but songs like Wild Honey and Grace make me cringe.
Anyway, I think I've said all I wanted to say. I don't expect anyone to have read through all that rambling, but let me know if you did. Even if it is to tell me I should be locked up ; )