What do you think Sierra College will look like ten years from now and what will be the role of the online program?

I imagine there will be a lot of new construction thanks to the recently passed proposition in Placer County to fund upgrades and new buildings across campus.

As for what the role of the online program will be in ten years? I have no idea. Maybe it grows. Maybe it doesn’t. Maybe the North Koreans detonate an EMP over Kansas and send us all back to the Stone Age. Who knows? As an historian, it’s above my pay grade. But my discipline does teach me to try to be ahead of the curve while yet recognizing the unknowability of whatever lies beyond the singularity, so education in online education is a good time investment at this point.

And yes, this is a defunct U2 blog. I plan on making an author platform blog, but not for a few months. Good blogs take time to craft and cultivate, so I’m not going to rush it. But for those of you who are curious . . .

14. Zooropa

13. October

12. No Line on the Horizon

11. Pop

10. Rattle and Hum

9. Songs of Experience

8. Unforgettable Fire

7. Boy

6. War

5. Songs of Innocence

4. All That You Can’t Leave Behind

3. Achtung Baby!

2. Joshua Tree

1. How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb

U2 Album Rankings, #14: Zooropa (1993)

Look at the album cover. Why is that spaceman frowning? Because if one has to choose between listening to Zooropa and the soundless vacuum of space, the choice is obvious.

Not really. It’s not an awful record . . . for the most part. But it’s abstract for abstraction’s sake, an album about easy and ubiquitous mass communication released literally two weeks before President Clinton announced his “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy. We can’t really blame that sort of timing on Bono, but we can certainly point a finger at Island Records, which pressured the famously perfectionist band to release the album early.

Zooropa’s critical reception was largely positive, and it did net a Grammy for “Best Alternative Album.” But its win in that category, in retrospect, is curious in light of its competition . . . Nirvana’s In Utero, Liz Phair’s Exile to Guyville, Siamese Dream by the Smashing Pumpkins, Radiohead’s Pablo Honey, PJ Harvey’s Rid of Me, and the ridiculously underrated Vs. by Pearl Jam all came out that same year.

More importantly, the album’s standing within U2’s massive discography is also shaky. Sandwiched between Achtung Baby’s self-deprecating brilliance and Pop’s hungover self-indulgence, Zooropa is weirdly self-unaware . . . like a college paper written at 3am the morning it’s due, Zooropa feels rushed and unpolished. For instance, while “Stay (Faraway, so Close)” is unquestionably a classic, I won’t be adding “Lemon” to my Arnold Palmer any time soon. Meanwhile, side two’s “Some Days are Better than Others” has the rare great bass line for a U2 song, but the chorus sounds like mewling cats.

[I’m starting to realize that it is a lot more difficult to write about music than it is to listen to it . . . how did Lester Bangs do it? Then again, I’ve written plenty of history book reviews for various academic publications, so hopefully I’ll figure this music commentary thing out soon.]

But maybe we can cut U2 some slack. They were touring almost non-stop at the time, trying to stay relevant and edgy during the frenzied alt-rock revolution of the early 90s. While it’s my least favorite U2 album, it isn’t terrible, and many people remember it fondly (if not the band itself) . . . and what other band can put out over a dozen albums without a single clunker? Perhaps Zooropa’s weaknesses are a testament to U2’s enduring strengths as a perennially interesting, and never unsurprising, band.

. . .

Seriously, though, why is that spaceman frowning?

Ground control to Major Tom?

The Rank Critic

Howdy all . . . my name is Matt, and this is my music blog.

Here’s the plan: I pick a band with a large and varied discography. I rank all the albums. I then write a blog about each album, in order of worst to best. I’ll post at least once or twice a week. Once I’m done with that discography I’ll choose another band. Wash, rinse, repeat.

Since I’m an historian by trade, I will include some historical context with each posting. You know, regular Behind the Music-type stuff, but hopefully with a bit more nuance.

But everyone is a critic, and there is no accounting for taste. So here are some things to consider before you decide whether or not to take any of these opinions seriously:

  1. I play guitar, but I’m NOT a guitarist . . . I’m more like the guy playing on the stairs in Animal House. I do recognize when guitarists are better than I am (which is most of the time), MUCH better than I am, or fresh out of School of Rock.
  2. I have no formal music training. I did take a History of Rock class once in college, however, and I received an A. That’s good enough, right?
  3. Music I love: R.E.M., The Pixies, Failure, Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Radiohead, Spoon, Sleater-Kinney, U2, Elliot Smith, The Beatles, The Cure, They Might Be Giants, Johnny Cash, Uncle Tupelo, Old Crow Medicine Show, Lake Street Dive, Big Kettle Drum, Serge Gainsbourg, Beastie Boys, Birdy Nam Nam, Aphex Twin . . . in other words, a lot of dad rock (good thing I’m a dad), plenty of Americana (not just for Americans!), some electronica (NOT dubstep), anything popular between 1992 and 1995 (love me some Mariah Carey), and my Yamasuki Singers Pandora station.
  4. Music I hate: Jimmy Buffett, ZZ Top, Lynyrd Skynyrd, CCR, rap, metal, showtunes, country music (note the difference between country and Americana), Lynyrd Skynyrd (I can’t emphasize that enough . . . ), and anything that plays in an elevator or an Abercrombie and Fitch.
  5. I should admit up-front that I do, in fact, like one Nickelback track and approximately three songs by Creed. If that ruins this for you, I’ll save you the trouble of closing the tab . . . here is Bill Grundy’s infamous Sex Pistols interview in 1976. Pretty f-bomb awesome.

Anyway, enough with the preliminaries . . . let’s get on with the music, shall we?

U2 will be the first band I tackle here. Part of the reason is because I’ve embarked on a weird project during my commutes to and from work: listening to U2’s discography in tandem with the podcast, U Talking U2 to Me? It has been a lot of fun to revisit the band’s catalog while also listening to the very funny Adam Scott Auckerman talk about it (and every other thing under the sun). During the process I realized that I had my own things to say about the band, whose albums have been both spectacular and controversial.

Also, much like the above-referenced podcast (recorded in advance of Songs of Innocence), I’d like to pop this list out in time for U2’s new album, which will hopefully drop sometime soon.

At any rate, I hope you’ll check in from time to time to see how this all shakes out . . . thanks for reading!