(Herald rating: * * * * )
A sense that anything might happen arrived with Pop, U2's tenth studio album.
It comes after the band has spent a few years in an experimental limbo - there was 95's Original Soundtracks collaboration with Brian Eno. There's been group and non-group efforts on movie theme songs, mostly further dabbles in the guitar-eschewing grooves they began on their last album proper - the undernourished, over irony-ed Zooropa.
That sense of unpredictability also comes in the light of of the recent albums by fellow rock major leaguers REM and Pearl Jam. Neither have sold in the anticipated big numbers, due to the lack of a floggable early single (a problem U2 rarely have).
However, since the 91 album Achtung baby, U2 has been trying - successfully or not - to shake it all off. The Zoo TV tour, Macphisto, the side projects.
Now here's Pop. Broadly speaking it's an upbeat collection of dance and techno-influenced U2 rock.
It might not boast the song high points of Achtung Baby, but thankfully it's far less of the indulgent twiddlings of Zooropa and Passengers and it's really very good.
That floggable first single Discotheque crash-starts it all as did The Fly, with its whizzing pans, slit octave vocals, the Edge's treated guitars shifting from a beyond-distortion lines to ambient pluckings and ending with a huh!-enhanced ending that doesn't remind of Frankie Goes to Hollywood. No, not one bit.
The languorously grooved and brooding Do You Feel Loved is reminiscent of Ever Better Than the Real Thing, while Mofo starts off with a Bomb The Bass-like rapid bass-chug and squalling samples before Bono's rasping vocal turns the Oedipal title nicely on its ear. Not a little thrilling.
The machinery gets a brief tea-break for the ballad If God Will Send His Angels which, as the lyric says, is "the stuff of country songs" with some old fashioned Edge guitar chimings. More guitars dominate Staring at the Sun with an early Bowie-ish acoustic/electric mix driving it all along with the track into a chorus only topped by the one belonging to next two songs _ Last Night on Earth (which works into multi-storeyed chorus which will serve it well as a subsequent floggable single) and the quietly epic Gone.
Miami - an ode of sorts to where much of the album was recorded and which might also explain their current dress sense - throws an experimental spanner into the works with its electro-throb. And likewise there's a sense of the old U2 blueprint being screwed up on the remaining tracks. If You Wear That Velvet Dress may give Bono yet another brooding howl at the moon but The Playboy Mansion heads trip-hoppishly towards the blues with sardonic references to Michael Jackson and OJ; there is the jazzy shuffling of the slow-fused Please; and the slowly lurching Wake Up Dead Man glues spaghetti western atmospherics to a Dear Jesus letter from Bono, the bewildered fan.
So Pop - it might snap, crackle and go blip quite a lot. But here U2 finally remember they're a rock band - and that's the best anything that could happen out of all of this.