Although “Discothèque,” the first single from U2’s 11th album, throbs with a fierce mechanical groove, Ireland’s fab foursome hasn’t ripped out its rock-and-roll heart and replaced it with the electronic beat of techno. In fact they’ve been hereabouts before: Pop resumes the industrial-leaning experimentation that U2 first embraced on 199l’s Achtung Baby and 1993’s Zooropa. Several tracks (“Do You Feel Loved,” “Miami”) find them enhancing their stadium ways with the computer-generated crunch that technoheads like Prodigy and Underworld have brought to cutting-edge dance floors. Noisy and brilliant, “MoFo” especially is a blaze of pyrotechnic glory that makes Prodigy’s “Firestarter” sound like a false alarm.
Unfortunately that’s the only time U2 truly loses its cool. For an album long rumored to be a radical reinvention of a great band, Pop turns out to be surprisingly tame. Rather than making techno’s blips and bleeps a vital part of its musical fabric—as David Bowie and Everything But the Girl have done recently—U2 seems to be using them for merely cosmetic purposes on sullen dirges like “If God Will Send His Angels” and “If You Wear That Velvet Dress.” The twinkly effects and portentous basso ostinato that decorate the latter can’t hide the fact that it’s a melodically challenged trifle. Perhaps U2 should have taken one aspect of Pop’s title—the part that suggests something at least vaguely hummable—a bit more seriously. (Island)