Zoo Station (song)

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"Zoo Station"
Song by U2
from the album Achtung Baby
Released19 November 1991
RecordedOctober 1990 – September 1991
Studio Hansa Ton Studios in Berlin, Elsinore in Dublin, and Windmill Lane Studios in Dublin
Genre Alternative rock
Label Island
Songwriter(s) U2 (music), Bono (lyrics)
Producer(s) Daniel Lanois
Audio sample

"Zoo Station" is a song by Irish rock band U2. It is the opening track from their 1991 album Achtung Baby , a record on which the group reinvented themselves musically by incorporating influences from alternative rock, industrial, and electronic dance music. As the album's opening track, "Zoo Station" introduces the band's new sound, delivering industrial-influenced percussion and several layers of distorted guitars and vocals. Similarly, the lyrics suggest the group's new intents and anticipations. The introduction, featuring an "explosion" of percussion and a descending glissando for a guitar hook, was meant to make the listener think the album was mistakenly not U2's latest record or that their music player was broken.

Rock music is a broad genre of popular music that originated as "rock and roll" in the United States in the early 1950s, and developed into a range of different styles in the 1960s and later, particularly in the United Kingdom and in the United States. It has its roots in 1940s and 1950s rock and roll, a style which drew heavily on the genres of blues, rhythm and blues, and from country music. Rock music also drew strongly on a number of other genres such as electric blues and folk, and incorporated influences from jazz, classical and other musical styles. Musically, rock has centered on the electric guitar, usually as part of a rock group with electric bass, drums, and one or more singers. Usually, rock is song-based music usually with a 4/4 time signature using a verse–chorus form, but the genre has become extremely diverse. Like pop music, lyrics often stress romantic love but also address a wide variety of other themes that are frequently social or political.

U2 Four-member Irish rock band, from Dublin

U2 are an Irish rock band from Dublin formed in 1976. The group consists of Bono, the Edge, Adam Clayton, and Larry Mullen Jr.. Initially rooted in post-punk, U2's musical style has evolved throughout their career, yet has maintained an anthemic quality built on Bono's expressive vocals and the Edge's effects-based guitar textures. Their lyrics, often embellished with spiritual imagery, focus on personal and sociopolitical themes. Popular for their live performances, the group have staged several ambitious and elaborate tours over their career.

<i>Achtung Baby</i> 1991 studio album by U2

Achtung Baby is the seventh studio album by Irish rock band U2. It was produced by Daniel Lanois and Brian Eno, and was released on 18 November 1991 on Island Records. Stung by criticism of their 1988 release, Rattle and Hum, U2 shifted their musical direction to incorporate influences from alternative rock, industrial music, and electronic dance music into their sound. Thematically, Achtung Baby is darker, more introspective, and at times more flippant than their previous work. The album and the subsequent multimedia-intensive Zoo TV Tour were central to the group's 1990s reinvention, by which they abandoned their earnest public image for a more lighthearted and self-deprecating one.


The song's lyrics were inspired by a surrealistic story about Berlin from World War II that lead vocalist Bono heard, when overnight bombing damaged the zoo and allowed animals to escape and wander around the city's rubble. Bono was also inspired by the city's Berlin Zoologischer Garten railway station and used it as a metaphor for a reuniting Germany. "Zoo Station" was performed as the opening song at every concert on U2's Zoo TV Tour. The song received positive reviews from critics, many of whom analysed the song as a representation of the band's reinvention.

Berlin Capital of Germany

Berlin is the capital and largest city of Germany by both area and population. Its 3,748,148 (2018) inhabitants make it the second most populous city proper of the European Union after London. The city is one of Germany's 16 federal states. It is surrounded by the state of Brandenburg, and contiguous with its capital, Potsdam. The two cities are at the center of the Berlin-Brandenburg capital region, which is, with about six million inhabitants and an area of more than 30,000 km², Germany's third-largest metropolitan region after the Rhine-Ruhr and Rhine-Main regions.

World War II 1939–1945 global war

World War II, also known as the Second World War, was a global war that lasted from 1939 to 1945. The vast majority of the world's countries—including all the great powers—eventually formed two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis. A state of total war emerged, directly involving more than 100 million people from over 30 countries. The major participants threw their entire economic, industrial, and scientific capabilities behind the war effort, blurring the distinction between civilian and military resources. World War II was the deadliest conflict in human history, marked by 50 to 85 million fatalities, most of whom were civilians in the Soviet Union and China. It included massacres, the genocide of the Holocaust, strategic bombing, premeditated death from starvation and disease, and the only use of nuclear weapons in war.

Bono Irish rock musician, singer of U2

Paul David Hewson, KBE OL, known by his stage name Bono, is an Irish singer-songwriter, musician, venture capitalist, businessman, and philanthropist. He is best known as the lead vocalist and primary lyricist of rock band U2.

Writing and recording

Following difficult recording sessions at Hansa Studios in Berlin in late 1990, U2 undertook the second phase of the recording sessions for Achtung Baby in Dublin. [1] They struggled with the song "Lady With the Spinning Head" (later released as a B-side), but three separate tracks, "Zoo Station", "Ultraviolet (Light My Way)" and "The Fly", were derived from it. [1] The band ultimately decided to take "Zoo Station" in a more industrial direction than "Lady With the Spinning Head". [1]

Dublin capital and largest city in Ireland

Dublin is the capital of, and largest city in, Ireland. It is on the east coast of Ireland, in the province of Leinster, at the mouth of the River Liffey, and is bordered on the south by the Wicklow mountains. It has an urban area population of 1,173,179, while the population of the Dublin Region, as of 2016, was 1,347,359, and the population of the Greater Dublin area was 1,904,806.

"Ultraviolet " is a song by Irish rock band U2 and the tenth track from their 1991 album Achtung Baby. Ostensibly about love and dependency, the song also lends itself to religious interpretations, with listeners finding allusions to the Book of Job and writers finding spiritual meaning in its invocation of the light spectrum.

The Fly (song) song

"The Fly" is a song by Irish rock band U2. It is the seventh track from their 1991 album, Achtung Baby, and it was released as the album's first single on 21 October 1991. "The Fly" introduced a more abrasive sounding U2, as the song featured danceable hip-hop beats, industrial textures, distorted vocals, and an elaborate guitar solo. Lead vocalist Bono described the song as "the sound of four men chopping down The Joshua Tree", due to its departure from the traditional sound that had characterised the band in the 1980s.

Berlin Zoologischer Garten railway station, colloquially called Bahnhof Zoo ("Zoo Station") in Germany, partially inspired the song's lyrics. Berlin Zoo Station at night 2.JPG
Berlin Zoologischer Garten railway station, colloquially called Bahnhof Zoo ("Zoo Station") in Germany, partially inspired the song's lyrics.

"Zoo Station" came together near the end of the recording sessions when audio engineer Flood was mixing the song and introduced distortion to the drums. [1] The song's direction was largely influenced by the production team of Daniel Lanois, Brian Eno, and Flood. [1] Lead vocalist Bono had been disappointed with his vocals from early recording sessions for the album and told the production team, "Let's just try something that's gonna put me in a completely different place". [2] After they distorted his voice to make it sound as if it were coming from a megaphone, Bono was inspired to sing in a persona, as the effect gave his vocals a different "emotional feel". [2] Flood mixed the final track with the assistance of Shannon Strong. Along with Robbie Adams, Strong also assisted Flood with engineering. Lanois provided additional guitar during recording. [3]

Mark Ellis, known by his professional pseudonym Flood, is a British post-punk and alternative rock record producer and audio engineer. Flood's list of work includes projects with recording acts like New Order, U2, Nine Inch Nails, Marc and the Mambas, Depeche Mode, Gary Numan, Ministry, The Charlatans, Thirty Seconds to Mars, Erasure, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, PJ Harvey, Foals, a-ha, Orbital, Sigur Rós, The Smashing Pumpkins, The Killers, Pop Will Eat Itself and Warpaint. His co-production collaborations have included projects with Brian Eno, Daniel Lanois, Steve Lillywhite, and longtime collaborator Alan Moulder, with whom he co-founded the Assault & Battery studio complex. In 2006, his work with U2 led to his sharing of the Grammy Award for Album of the Year for How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb.

Audio mixing (recorded music) audio mixing to yield recorded sound

In sound recording and reproduction, audio mixing is the process of combining multitrack recordings into a final mono, stereo or surround sound product. These tracks that are blended together are done so by using various processes such as equalization and compression. Audio mixing techniques and approaches can vary widely, and due to the skill-level or intent of the mixer, can greatly affect the qualities of the sound recording.

Distortion (music) form of audio signal processing giving "fuzzy" sound

Distortion and overdrive are forms of audio signal processing used to alter the sound of amplified electric musical instruments, usually by increasing their gain, producing a "fuzzy", "growling", or "gritty" tone. Distortion is most commonly used with the electric guitar, but may also be used with other electric instruments such as bass guitar, electric piano, and Hammond organ. Guitarists playing electric blues originally obtained an overdriven sound by turning up their vacuum tube-powered guitar amplifiers to high volumes, which caused the signal to distort. While overdriven tube amps are still used to obtain overdrive in the 2010s, especially in genres like blues and rockabilly, a number of other ways to produce distortion have been developed since the 1960s, such as distortion effect pedals. The growling tone of distorted electric guitar is a key part of many genres, including blues and many rock music genres, notably hard rock, punk rock, hardcore punk, acid rock, and heavy metal music.

With Achtung Baby, the group sought to recover some of the Dadaist characters and stage antics they had dabbled with in the late 1970s as teenagers. U2 had abandoned these ideas for more literal themes in the 1980s. However, for the new album, the band was interested in no longer making obvious sense. [2] Accordingly, the lyrics for "Zoo Station" were inspired by the surrealism of a story about Berlin during World War II that Bono heard. Animals escaped the city's zoo after it was damaged in overnight bombing, and as a result, rhinoceroses, pelicans and flamingoes wandered around the next morning while people were sifting through the rubble. [1] [2] Bono was also inspired by Berlin Zoologischer Garten railway station, also known as "Zoo station", previously the main railway station in West Berlin. [1] The station was notorious as a haunt for drug dealers, prostitutes and pimps, pick-pockets and transients, particularly prior to German reunification, when it was run by the East German railway. [2] He compared the song to the station, saying "it was written as an opening track, the beasts breaking out of their cages", [1] and was interested in using the zoo as a metaphor and he took further inspiration from the subway station representing Europe at a crossroads.

Berlin Zoologischer Garten railway station railway station in Berlin

Berlin Zoologischer Garten Station is a railway station in Berlin, Germany. It is located on the Berlin Stadtbahn railway line in the Charlottenburg district, adjacent to the Berlin Zoo.

West Berlin political enclave that existed between 1949 and 1990

West Berlin was a political enclave which comprised the western part of Berlin during the years of the Cold War. There was no specific date on which the sectors of Berlin occupied by the Western Allies became "West Berlin", but 1949 is widely accepted as the year in which the name was adopted. West Berlin aligned itself politically with the Federal Republic of Germany and was directly or indirectly represented in its federal institutions.

German reunification process in 1990 in which East and West Germany once again became one country

The German reunification was the process in 1990 in which the German Democratic Republic became part of the Federal Republic of Germany to form the reunited nation of Germany, and when Berlin reunited into a single city, as provided by its then Grundgesetz (constitution) Article 23. The end of the unification process is officially referred to as German unity, celebrated on 3 October. Following German reunification, Berlin was once again designated as the capital of united Germany.

During recording, Eno created several prototype mixes of the song. The Edge recalled how these different mixes assisted the band in creating the final version of the track. [4] One of these early versions was later released under the title "Bottoms (Watashitachi No Ookina Yume)" as a bonus track on the UK and Japanese promotional releases of the experimental 1995 album Original Soundtracks 1 by Passengers, a side project by U2 and Eno, [5] as well as a B-side on some versions of the "Miss Sarajevo" single. "Bottoms (Watashitachi No Ookina Yume)" is an instrumental track and was described by The Edge as a "crazy" mix. [4] He added "'Bottoms' was done in Japan, and we just built on that mix. Sometimes you can end up with something completely distinctive." [4]

<i>Original Soundtracks 1</i> 1995 album recorded by U2 and Brian Eno

Original Soundtracks 1 is a studio album recorded by rock band U2 and Brian Eno under the pseudonym Passengers as a side project. It was produced by Eno and was released on 6 November 1995. The album is a collection of songs written for mostly imaginary films. Due to Eno's involvement as a full songwriting partner and the album's experimental nature, the moniker "Passengers" was chosen to distinguish it from U2's conventional albums. It was commercially unnoticed by the band's standards and received generally mixed reviews. Guest musicians on the record included Italian opera singer Luciano Pavarotti and producer Howie B, who would co-produce U2's following album, Pop (1997).

In popular music, a side project is a project undertaken by one or more people already known for their involvement in another band. It can also be an artist or a band temporarily switching to a different style.

Miss Sarajevo single

"Miss Sarajevo" is the only single from the 1995 album Original Soundtracks 1 by U2 and Brian Eno, under the pseudonym "Passengers". Luciano Pavarotti makes a guest vocal appearance, singing the opera solo. It also appears on U2's compilation, The Best of 1990-2000, and was covered by George Michael on his album, Songs from the Last Century. While the song did not reach the Billboard Hot 100, it reached No. 6 on the UK Singles Chart and was a top-ten hit in many other European countries. Bono, the band's lead vocalist, cites "Miss Sarajevo" as his favourite U2 song.

Although "Zoo Station" was not released as a single, it was included on a 12-inch promotional recording to promote U2's Zoo TV Tour in North America, along with studio and remix versions of "Lady with the Spinning Head". [6]


As the first track on an album that was a major reinvention for the band, "Zoo Station" was an introduction to U2's new sound. The song features layers of distorted guitar and vocals, and industrial-influenced percussion. Irish rock journalist Bill Graham cites David Bowie's album Low as a major influence on "Zoo Station", which he called a "new brand of glam rock" with "Spartan rhythms and sudden flurries of melody". [7]

"The opening of 'Zoo Station' makes a powerful statement: in its deliberate use of 'industrial' sounds that remind us not at all of conventional instruments, in the foregrounding of technology at the beginning of the song—indeed, in making this the opening statement of the album—there can be no mistake that U2 has embraced sound resources new to them. But the fact that it is a deliberately hesitant gesture puts it clearly in the realm of satire. Perhaps it satirizes the technology itself, or U2's new embracing of technology."

Susan Fast [8]

The song is played at a tempo of 130 beats per minute in a 4/4 time signature, [9] but only one element of the song's introduction, a marimba-like texture, is played in common time. [8] This sound, which has been compared to that of a clock ticking, was achieved by picking the guitar's D string behind the bridge and the stopbar. On the second half of the third beat, the song's signature guitar riff, a distorted descending glissando, enters. [8] The glissando descends past the octave it begins in by a major second before returning to it. [8] After the second time it is played, an "explosion" of percussion is heard, playing on beat four of every second measure on two occasions. [8] This percussion sound, played by Flood, enters early the third time, being played on beat two. [8] [10] The drums then enter, before stopping and starting again. Much like the song's guitar sounds, the drums' timbre is noticeably different from previous U2 songs as it exhibits a "cold, processed sound, something like beating on a tin can". [11] Amidst layers of various guitar sounds, the bass enters, the part played in the introduction and verses consisting of repeating G and A notes, mimicking the ascending portion of the guitar riff after the glissando overshoots the octave. [8] After the bass begins, the song's regular groove is established. [8] At 0:45, the chord progression changes. Fifteen seconds later, the song returns to the previous chord progression and the introduction ends. [12]

Guitarist The Edge explained that some of the sounds in the introduction that resemble keyboards were actually created by him on guitar. [1] Of the song's introduction, bassist Adam Clayton says, "When people put on the record, we wanted their first reaction to be either 'this record is broken' or 'this can't be the new U2 record, there's been a mistake.' So there is quite a dramatic extended intro where you just don't know what you are listening to." [1] Author Albin Zak, in his book The Poetics of Rock, says of the introduction, "Before any words are sung, the sounds alone alert the listener that the band has moved into new expressive territory." [11]

After the introduction, the song follows a conventional verse-chorus form. [8] The first verse begins one minute into the song, with Bono announcing, "I'm ready, I'm ready for the laughing gas". [12] During the verses, he sings primarily in a medium-to-low range and his vocals are treated with heavy processing, which takes out the bottom of the sound and "emasculate[s]" his voice. [8] The processing also introduces a wavering quality to his vocals. [8] The guitar glissando continues to be played during the verses. [8] The first chorus begins at 1:44, and the music mirrors the change in chord progression from the introduction's last 15 seconds. [12] During the chorus, the bassline becomes more dynamic, playing descending quarter notes of G–F–D–C–D–C–A–G–A, before resuming the previous G and A pattern. [8] Bono's vocals also become more dynamic in the chorus, featuring layers of both "open-throated" singing and monotone lyric recitation, as well as both processed and unprocessed vocals. [8]

Along with introducing the band's new sound, the song opens the album as a statement of intent. [2] Lyrically, new anticipations and appetites are suggested ("I'm ready for what's next"), [7] as is a willingness to throw caution to the wind and take risks ("I'm ready to let go of the steering wheel"). [8] Some of the lyrics, particularly those in the bridge before the final chorus, use the eponymous subway station as a metaphor for time: "Time is a train / Makes the future the past / Leaves you standing in the station / Your face pressed up against the glass". Bono cites the enjoyment of his first child born in 1989 as a major influence on Achtung Baby, as was his wife's second pregnancy during the album's 1991 recording. Bono says babies influenced the lines from the first verse, "I'm ready to say I'm glad to be alive / I'm ready, I'm ready for the push". [13]

Reception and legacy

Upon the release of Achtung Baby, "Zoo Station" was praised by many critics. Steve Morse of The Boston Globe said the song was one on which "sonic assaults are teamed with dreamily processed vocals that recall Beatles psychedelia". [14] The Orlando Sentinel called it "blistering" and praised the low mixing of Bono's vocals, which allowed The Edge's "new versatility" on guitar to draw more attention. [15] BBC Music enjoyed "The Edge's guitar squall and electronics" creating a "dense sound [that] is irresistible", noting that "Zoo Station" was one track where the strategy "creates moods rather than hummable tunes". [16] Jon Pareles of The New York Times stated that the song "announces a change, starting with a metallic clank, a buzzing guitar slide and a repeated electronic crunch—nothing ethereal". He also noted that Bono's voice was "electronically masked and the band's old style traded for a pushy bassline and a percussive stomp, although U2 can't resist some sweeter interludes". [17]

Rolling Stone was complimentary of The Edge, comparing his style of guitar playing on the song to using a rhythm instrument by "repeating a dark, buzzing phrase that drives the beat". [18] Allmusic reviewed the track favourably, saying "there are layers to Bono's lyrics" and that by the end of the track, the song and the band are "soaring". [19] Greg Kot of the Chicago Tribune likened the song's introduction to "trying to out-demolish Ministry" with "grating metal-on-metal percussion and a belching guitar". [20] He commented that the "rude awakening" that the song provides on the album as the opening track could only compare with the "fingernails-on-chalkboard guitar scuzz" of Neil Young's "Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black)" from Rust Never Sleeps . [20] The song subsequently appeared as one of seven U2 songs in the 2006 music reference book 1001 Songs: The Great Songs of All Time and the Artists, Stories, and Secrets . [21]

"Zoo Station" is featured in the 2002 British comedy-drama film About a Boy . In one scene, the main character, Will (Hugh Grant), turns up the volume of the song as a "childless effort" to ignore Marcus (Nicholas Hoult), a boy ringing Will's doorbell, prompting Marcus to ring it in unison with the beat of the song. [22]

The song was covered by American industrial rock band Nine Inch Nails on the 2011 cover album AHK-toong BAY-bi Covered . [23]

Live performances

During performances of "Zoo Station" on the Zoo TV Tour, Bono would arrive on-stage as his stage persona "The Fly". Bono as The Fly Cleveland 1992.jpg
During performances of "Zoo Station" on the Zoo TV Tour, Bono would arrive on-stage as his stage persona "The Fly".

"Zoo Station" made its live debut on the opening night of the Zoo TV Tour on 29 February 1992 in Lakeland, Florida, and was performed as the opening song at each of the 156 Zoo TV concerts. [24] During performances of "Zoo Station", Bono appeared on-stage silhouetted against a giant screen of blue and white video noise, making his entrance as his leather-clad stage persona "The Fly", [25] often goose-stepping his way onto the stage. [26] [27] [28] The Edge described the visual imagery displayed for the song in the context of Zoo TV's "sensory overload" that was intended as a commentary on mass media: [29] [30] "'Zoo Station' is four minutes of a television that's not tuned in to any station, but giving you interference and 'shash' and almost a TV picture." [31]

"Zoo Station" was not played during the subsequent PopMart and Elevation Tours, but it returned to the group's set lists on the Vertigo Tour. [32] The song was most often performed during the first encore, along with other Achtung Baby/Zoo TV-era songs, as part of a mini-Zoo TV set paying homage to the band's 1990s era. It made its last appearance in November 2006 and was not played live again until the September 24, 2015 concert on the Innocence + Experience Tour.

Live performances of the song appear on the video releases Zoo TV: Live from Sydney and Vertigo 2005: Live from Chicago . [33] [34] A live version of "Zoo Station" from the Vertigo Tour also appears as a B-side on the maxi single for "Window in the Skies".

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