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U2’s ‘Pop’: A Reimagining of the Album 20 Years Later

U2 kept fiddling with their ninth LP long after it hit shelves in early 1997, so here’s a new take from live recordings, remixes and re-recordings

U2, U2 Pop, U2 pop 20th anniversary

U2's 'Pop' turned 20 this month, and to celebrate we assembled a new version of the album from live takes, remixes and re-recordings.

Paul Bergen/AP

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.

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“Please” (Live at the MTV VMAs)

With a little more time “Please” could have been the best song on Pop. The anthemic tune was written after Bono got into a conversation with someone that sympathized with the IRA’s bombing campaign in Ireland. It’s a plea for sanity in the middle of war. “It is a great song,” said Larry Mullen Jr. “I don’t feel like it was finished.” Knowing they’d botched something special, U2 remixed it for the single release, but it wasn’t enough to get any radio play or MTV love. The song got a new life on the Elevation Tour after 9/11. We’d include a version from that tour here had the band not played “Please” on the 1997 VMAs. U2 were deep in the PopMart shit by this point and Bono buried himself in a hoodie, but he’d never sung the song better. He simply couldn’t compete with Puff Daddy bringing out Sting, the Wallflowers duetting with Bruce Springsteen on “One Headlight” or Marilyn Manson ending the night with “The Beautiful People,” though. This wasn’t the band’s moment in the pop-cultural sun.

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“Wake Up Dead Man” (Live in 2001)

Pop begins with the party of “Discothèque” and wraps up with the funeral of “Wake Up Dead Man.” There’s something quite surreal and cool about the Pop version, but on the 2001 Elevation Tour it found new life when the band played a stripped-down take on it right before “Stuck in a Moment You Can’t Get Out Of.”

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