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Zooropa is not the next great U2 album but a postcard from a Dublin studio...

You weren't expecting a new U2 album, but then neither was U2. Last March, the band ducked into a Dublin studio to record a shortish EP to help promote the European leg of its colossal world tour. It seems they got carried away and ended up cranking out the kinky, inchoate, "Zooropa."

Most rock bands cling to their credibility, but U2 has been trying to shake its for some time. Last year Bono began wearing bug-eyed shades and playing the rock-star game for laughs. Now U2 delivers the confounding "Zooropa": a few great songs and some off-the-cuff studio noodling. "Zooropa" says, "Why ask why?" We know why U2 would toss off a record halfway between here and brilliance: because it can.

The chief surprises are a droning industrial tune called "Numb" with a mantra-like rap by guitarist The Edge, and "The Wanderer," a strange hymn that pits a bouncy synthesizer riff against an imperious guest vocal by Johnny Cash. Bono unveils a coy falsetto on the delightfully empty-headed "Lemon." On "Stay," he beseeches a lover -- and nobody beseeches like Bono. But other tunes, like "Some Days Are Better Than Others," are rhythm tracks that became songs before their time. "Zooropa" is not the next great U2 album but a postcard from a Dublin studio. The band spent three months there, and some days were better than others.

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