During Zoo TV, U2 were trying to create a vision of an attractive future for Europe. With recent and ongoing events in Europe, Bono created a surreal vision of a European location called Zooropa. The lyrics in Zooropa begin with three verses of slogans for brands such as Audi, Colgate and Zanussi, slogans which tell us how to live. In the second part of the song the person from the song is lost without guidance, he doesn’t know what to do and eventually goes along with the current trends (“I’m in the slipstream”) and goes overground. The overground “was like coming out into the bright light of a modern city. And the idea was coming out into that, embracing it, going after it” , as Bono described it. Zooropa is a song about uncertainty, uncertainty about the future of Europe after the fall of communism and the invasion of consumerism into Eastern Europe, a theme which also influenced the next few songs of the album.
At the time of Zoo TV U2 was regularly hanging out with models. Christy Turlington and Kate Moss were friends of the band, and Naomi Campbell was going out with Adam Clayton. Some of the lyrics of Babyface seem to have been inspired by supermodels and the fascination of them. However, the song seems to be more about televisions themselves rather than about a person or persons. Television as a man’s best friend. Televisions everywhere in our lives ("You're everywhere child -- you're all over the place”). Television coming from outer space (satellites), a television that feels like "I must be your best friend”.
Continuing on the theme of media and consumerism and the many ideas of Zoo TV, Numb is a song which creates that feeling about being "bombarded with so much information that you find yourself shutting down and unable to respond" (The Edge). There is more to the song though, as The Edge also shares some of his personal feelings into the song. Feelings about going through the divorce with his wife. A feeling such as being or feeling useless, being numb, seems to be very fitting for that kind of situation.
The fourth Zooropa song is a media-centric song as well. Lemon was lyrically born when Bono got sent very early Super 8 footage of his mother, aged 24, wearing a lemon-coloured dress. The footage inspired Bono to write lyrics about using film to recreate and preserve memory. Lemon is about Bono's mother and about technology, on how we, despite technology and everything we capture, cannot bring back persons. The second half of the song is about how Bono is still longing and looking for her mother, and turning his money into light to look for her. The "turning money into light" line is about filmmaking and is a quote from director John Boorman, who once employed the young Paul McGuiness as a production manager. The videoclip of Lemon also builds on this theme. It was based on the artwork of Edweard Muybridge, who invented one of the earliest motion picture devices.
Stay was originally called Sinatra and written for and inspired by that same Frank Sinatra. As can be read from Bono's quote, Stay is about an impossible relationship. One perspective of this builds on the narrative from the movie Faraway, So Close by Wim Wenders, about angels who want to be human and who want to be on Earth. "But to do so they have to become mortal. That was a great image to play with - the impossibility of wanting something like this, and then the cost of having it", as Bono was quoted when speaking of the film. If you listen to Stay from the perspective of an angel falling in love with a human, the song really makes sense ("When I touch you, you don't feel a thing"). Angels know everything but are unable to change things ("And if you shout, I'll only hear you"). The videoclip for Stay also builds on this perspective. The black and white parts of the video are an angels point of view, struggling with the themes from the song. The coloured parts of the video can be seen as the real world, where the angels cannot be seen or are non-existent. The theme of impossible relationships can of course be applied in different ways as well, one other good example is the perspective where the song is about a guy who is in love with a girl who is in an abusive relationship she can't get out of. Yet another U2 song, such as so many, which can be interpreted in many different ways.
The main theme of Daddy's Gonna Pay For Your Crashed Car is dependence. Dependency in this case is very multi-interpretable as with almost all U2 songs, as can be read from Edge's quote above. The Daddy in this song "may be God, but he may be the Devil too" (Bono). A crashed car, as is referenced in the lyrics, represents a broken person. We leave that vehicle behind, death to self, and start the new life. When daddy pays for crashed car, he brings us to a place where we realize what we had to let go of, namely the things that were holding us back spiritually. Many also suggested this song has some relationship with the Soviet Union/Russia. The music you hear in the beginning of the song for instance is the Soviet Union's theme music. Daddy is a very interesting song and in some ways can be seen as the opposite side of the previous song, Stay, which is from the perspective of an angel, whereas Daddy can in that case can be the Devil.
Bono referred to Some Days Are Better Than Others as a summer song, just fun. This song however very much applies to life and is something everyone can associate with. Some days are just better than others, we have very little control about how we feel on a given day which is something we have to accept. The song is reassuring that, even when we have bad days, there will always be good ones ahead.
The First Time is a very religious song. It's the story of the prodigal son (from the bible) who doesn't want to return, as Bono was quoted about the song. A prodigal son who wanders off into a life of sin, running away from everything and finally finds the love he did not feel before. The song also contains some quotes directly from the bible ("In my house there are many mansions") and can also be interpreted as a song written by Bono against organised religion, where he finally feels liberated love (in the Christian sense) without others telling him how it's supposed to be. This last theory fits very much with some of the things Bono was struggling with on the subject of religion. This is also one of the Pop album themes.
From the prodigal son and the Father, Dirty Day continues on the theme of father and son. It’s about a father who left his family ("I had a starring role, I was the bad guy who walked out”), eventually returns to his son but the relationship is tarnished for life ("I'm in you more so when they put me in the ground”). The song is dedicated to, and was influenced by Charles Bukowski, which is also where the line “The days run away, like horses run over the hill” comes from.
Zooropa ends on another religious note, with The Wanderer, sung by Johnny Cash. The Wanderer is about someone who turns his back on his family and goes off to search for God amid the worldly and sinful.
With the alarm bell of The Wanderer, Zooropa comes to an end. An album that takes you on a musical and lyrical journey from uncertainty to religion, consumerism, relationships, God and much more. As with all U2 songs and albums, they all mean something different to us. Sometimes even depending on which state we are in, how we feel or where we are in life. This slideshow offers only one perspective, partly subjective.
This slideshow was put together with a lot of research, and could not have been created without the many great online sources, fans that provided input and some U2 books. An overview: U2MoL, Songmeanings.com, Into The Heart (Niall Stokes), U2 at the end of the World (Bill Flanagan) and U2 by U2.
What are, in your view, the main themes of Zooropa? What is lyrically your favourite track?