U2 are going all out to celebrate the 30th anniversary of The Joshua Tree this year, complete with a new super-deluxe box set and a stadium tour where they’ll play the 1987 LP straight through. Lost in all the hubbub is another major U2 milestone. The 20th anniversary of 1997’s Pop came and went this month without a peep from the U2 camp, but that’s not really surprising. The electronica-influenced disc polarized fans and critics when it came out. With the exception of the soundtrack to their 1988 film Rattle and Hum, it was their first album that was seen as a disappointment, and it forced them to retreat back to a more traditional U2 sound for 2000’s All That You Can’t Leave Behind.
Looking back years later, U2 said the album was marred by their foolish decision to book a stadium tour long before it was ready. “Deadlines were looming ominously,” Bono said. “Pop never had the chance to be properly finished. It is really the most expensive demo session in the history of music.” But during the course of the PopMart Tour they made heroic efforts to fix the thing, releasing new mixes of the songs as singles and fiddling with the live arrangements as the tour progressed. The work continued in 2002 when they released The Best of 1990–2000, which featured new mixes of some Pop songs. If you piece it all together, they practically made an entirely new version of the album. The band never did piece it all together, though, so – as promised on a recent Rolling Stone Music Now podcast – we did it for them. Here’s a new version of Pop in the original sequence. It’s not better – it’s just different.
To be clear, we’re not saying here that Pop is a bad album. We love it. (The poster has proudly hung in this writer’s childhood bedroom for the past 20 years.) This is just a way to hear what it may have sounded like had U2 had a little more time to work on it.