ZOO Station: U2 Centraal

Getting Ready for What's Next from U2

Now that the atomic bomb has been dismantled and the world is recovering from a severe case of vertigo, Bono is already looking to the future and eyeing a new U2 album by year's end.

What's next?

While being interviewed by Jo Whiley on BBC Radio One recently, Bono provided the typical betwixt albums tease. "Our band has certainly reached the end of where we've been at for the last couple of albums," he said. "I want to see what else we can do with it, take it to the next level; I think that's what we've got to do."

But the tease intensified when Bono said, "We're gonna continue to be a band, but maybe the rock will have to go; maybe the rock has to get a lot harder. But whatever it is, it's not gonna stay where it is."

A quick survey of albums past and the ensuing idle pre-next-album chit chat reveals that, well, Bono isn't really revealing all that much here.

Happily, this is Bono being Bono and he's left behind the stark talk that followed "Rattle and Hum" and the Lovetown tour, when he made his dramatic statement about the band needing to "go away and dream it all up again," on New Year's Eve in 1989.

No. This falls in line squarely with the rhetoric of the past several years.

After "Pop" and before "All That You Can't Leave Behind," Bono spoke of advancing toward simplicity, while also noting that there are no reverse gears on the U2 tank.

But those were fairly natural comments considering how far out there the band had gone from the Heartland of America to the raucous reinvention of "Achtung Baby," their album-from-the-road sequel, "Zooropa," and the techno experimentation of "Pop." A newer, simpler approach at that point seemed logical.

And let's not forget that, prior to its release, Bono referred to "How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb" as the band's "first rock album."

Elsewhere in that same BBC interview, Bono said he'd like to do more acoustic compositions, simply focusing on voice and guitar. "I would like to do a couple of tunes in that direction, with just a lot of space around the voice," he said. "I'd like to strip things down; that's something I'd be very interested in at the moment."

For U2, however, that seems to be part of their traditional modus operandi. Bono has commented in the past on how a great rock song can always be stripped down to a simple acoustic arrangement. That method is certainly obvious in the band's earlier work, but it's also evident in their more recent, technology-finessed productions.

Set aside all the backing vocals and ambient sounds in "Staring at the Sun" or "Stuck in a Moment You Can't Get Out Of," and the acoustic versions carry an elegant, raw power. In the same vein, the Acoustic Couch Mix of "Sometimes You Can't Make it on Your Own" is another prime example of a U2 tune unplugged. Regardless of the rendition, it's a great song.

But far more surprising is how good "Vertigo" sounds with Bono's vocals accompanied by The Edge on, of all things, a banjo. One need only check out the Temple Bar Mix of "Vertigo" to appreciate the energy that can exist between a voice and an acoustic guitar... er, stringed instrument.

It's always tasty to speculate on the next set of U2 licks and this time is no different, particularly when Bono toys with the possibility of making the rock "harder" while also looking forward to the stripped down appeal of simple acoustic arrangements. Perhaps this is where Rick Rubin may or may not come in.

While no doubt the next change probably won't be as dramatic and, for some, as divisive as the total reinvention that accompanied Zoo TV, the thought of U2 taking things to the "next level" is certainly enough of a tease to make the coming months boil over with anticipation.

Ultimately, though, whatever comes out will surely be the end product of the Zooropean Democracy that is U2. After all, Bono is merely a player in the Larry Mullen, Jr., Band. While it's also a wee bit too early to consider all the tour implications and other residual effects of whatever new direction the band might take on the new album, four words continually bounce around in this writer's head. They're four other words from Bono, spoken from the Vertigo tour stage: "We're just getting started."

All right, Bono. And we're ready. We're ready for what's next.

• Originally published at Interference.com.



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