Here's something that might be controversial, though I hope not. In short, I've made a lot of edits and changes to U2's "Pop" album. This is a pretty lengthy write-up explaining and justifying my changes. If you're interested in the details please read on, otherwise skip to the last two paragraphs.
I was a big U2 fan since their "War" album in 1983. I loved everything they did until their "Pop" album in 1997. That one left me feeling very disappointed. To this day, many U2 fans either love or hate "Pop." If you look at an average of fan ratings on rateyourmusic.com, it gets a much lower rating than all the band's earlier albums. Even the members of U2 had issues with it. They felt they had to rush finishing it in order to start a tour on time. Several years later, they redid a few of the songs to try to improve on them.
The band tried to be experimental with the album, while attempting to explore current electronic dance sounds. But I don't think that's why I had such issues with the album. I liked all of their experimental stuff from earlier in the 1990s, including their often overlooked "Original Soundtracks 1" album from 1995. I wasn't prone to like their electronic dance style, but to be frank there isn't that much of that on the album, and what was there wasn't a problem for me.
Instead, I think the album suffers from several problems. One is that some of the songs just aren't up to U2's previously high standards. But two, that's compounded by the fact that many of the songs are overly long. The 1990s were a time of what I call "album bloat." Albums had been limited to about 50 minutes due to limitations of vinyl records. But when CDs became the dominant format, albums could be 70 or even 80 minutes long. In my opinion, bands stopped editing themselves as much as before, because they didn't have to. "Pop" suffers from that, with most of the songs four or five minutes long, when they didn't always merit that length. Finally, the songs didn't fully jell in the recording studio. Once the band went on tour for a couple of months, many of the arrangements of the songs were changed and improved.
So this is my attempt to improve "Pop." On this blog, I've sometimes posted my improvements of other albums by removing some songs and adding others. I did that with "Cahoots" by the Band, for example. But for this album, I decided I wanted to improve it as much as possible without changing what songs were on it, or even the song order. Instead, I've made changes to every song but one, and I often made drastic changes.
In my opinion, my "secret weapon" for overhauling this album is a bootleg of the band playing a concert in Miami in late 1997. I listened to all the most popular soundboard bootlegs from the "Pop" tour, as well as the official (but somewhat obscure) live album "Hasta la Vista Baby! U2 Live from Mexico City." The problem with all of those for my purposes is that they contain lots of audience noise. But the Miami soundboard bootleg is different, with almost no audience noise at all. So I could use performances from that essentially as studio versions, better than the official album versions since the songs were honed from playing them at many live concerts.
Thus, I completely replaced the album versions with the live Miami versions for "Mofo," "Miami," "If You Wear that Velvet Dress," and part of "Wake Up, Dead Man." I carefully edited the songs to make sure no crowd noise could be heard. By the way, the Miami version of "If You Wear that Velvet Dress" is half as long as the album version, two-and-a-half minutes instead of five. I think the song is much improved in that shorter format.
I would have used the Miami bootleg version of "Do You Feel Loved" as well, except for the fact that the song was dropped from their set list by the time the tour reached Miami. So instead I used the same approach with a bootleg from a show in Las Vegas near the start of the tour. The sound quality isn't as excellent as the Miami one, but it was close.
For another song, "Please," I was able to use the version from the "Please: PopMart Live" EP. That one was recorded at a concert in Rotterdam, Netherlands. The sound quality on that version is great, and had virtually no crowd noise until the song was over, allowing me to easily edit that out.2
As the tour went on, the band kept releasing singles from the album. Sometimes, they recorded the songs for the single versions, using the new, superior arrangements they had honed in concert. That's why I've used the single version of "Last Night on Earth." I also used the single version of "If God Will Send His Angels." In my opinion, that was one of the weaker songs on the album. But one remixed single version, called the "Grand Jury Mix," changed the song significantly by fixing the plodding pace with a more lively drumbeat.
Of the redone versions the band did a couple of years later, for their best of collection released in 2000, I only used two, for "Discotheque" and "Gone." Those versions also were very influenced by the way the songs evolved in concert. So it would be much like using the versions from the Miami bootleg, except with even better sound quality.
That leaves just two songs, "The Playboy Mansion" and "Staring at the Sun." "The Playboy Mansion" was never played in concert, and I couldn't find any alternate versions of it anywhere, so I was stuck with the album version.
"Staring at the Sun" though is a complicated case. When the band tried playing it in concert, they soon discovered that the album version didn't go over well. The resorted to playing a very different acoustic version, with just Bono singing and The Edge on guitar. I like this version much better. But the problem is that because it's quiet and acoustic, the crowd noises could often be heard during the song, even with the relatively pristine Miami bootleg version. I realized the best acoustic version comes from a 2011 concert where just Bono and The Edge played. Unlike most U2 concerts, which are played in vast stadiums, this one was done for a very small audience, so the audience noise wasn't much of a problem. Also, there were some string instruments backing them up. Normally, I'm weary of orchestral arrangements, but this was subtle and well done. I consider it the best version of the song by far, so I've used it, even though it comes from 2011 much later than the others.
So that explains the sourcing of all the songs. But wait, there's more! Because in some cases, I edited the songs down. As I'd mentioned, I think maybe the biggest problem with the original album was the bloat. I've cut the run time from 60 minutes to 48 minutes mostly by making edits here and there. One example is "Discotheque." The original album version, the redone version, and the live versions all have the song start with a slow build up that goes on for over a minute before the main riff comes in. I think the songs works much better with the riff right at the very start, so I cut all the slow build-up.
I made another drastic edit for "Wake Up Dead Man." The album version is five minutes long. But in concert, the band played a version that's only two minutes long. I like that version much better. Obviously, the band realized the five-minute version was bloated and problematic, or they wouldn't have drastically cut it down in concert. So I wanted to use the live version. But, like "Staring at the Sun," because it's a quiet acoustic song, even a little bit of crowd noise can mar the sound quality. So I used the first minute and a half of the album version. Then I switched to the Miami bootleg version for the last 30 seconds, where the song winds down instead of going into a more rocking section. Luckily, that section had almost no crowd noise, and it fits in well with the studio album section.
I made other edits here and there. For instance, I lopped off about a minute from "Do You Feel Loved" that was just repetition of the chorus chords near the end of the song. On "Gone," although I used the redone version from 2000, I liked how Bono said "Going, going, gone" near the beginning of the song in the live version from Miami. So I added that in. By contrast, for the song "Mofo," the Miami version had a couple gratuitous crowd-pleasing mentions of the word "Miami" in the song, so I carefully edited those out. There are some other edits here and there, most of them trying to cut out bloat.
The bottom line is that, after all these changes, I think this is a much stronger album. For one thing, it's stream-lined, with 12 minutes of bloat removed without losing anything important. For another, these versions generally are less electronic and experimental and more in line with the classic U2 rocking sound. That's what worked best in concert, because that's the band is best at.
I won't be surprised if some U2 fans complain that I butchered and mutilated the album. If you're very familiar with it, these changes could sound jarring. But I made these changes primarily for me, and they work for me. Hopefully, they'll work for you as well. I put a lot of time and effort into these changes, as you can probably guess from my comments here. I felt the album had a lot of good things going for it, but was flawed. I now feel I'm removed most of the flaws, and the revised version of the album can now hold its own with the high standards of their previous albums.
01 Discotheque (U2)
02 Do You Feel Loved (U2)
03 Mofo (U2)
04 If God Will Send His Angels (U2)
05 Staring at the Sun (U2)
06 Last Night on Earth (U2)
07 Gone (U2)
08 Miami (U2)
09 The Playboy Mansion (U2)
10 If You Wear that Velvet Dress (U2)
11 Please (U2)
12 Wake Up Dead Man (U2)
For the album cover, I used the same cover as the official album, without any changes.