Zoo Station (song)

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

"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.

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.

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]

The exterior of a railway station at night. A rectangular building on the right has 2 of its sides visible, both of their walls windowed. A shorter connecting structure on the left is suspended over a street and lined with advertisements.
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]

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.

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]

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]

Other Languages
español: Zoo Station
français: Zoo Station
한국어: Zoo Station
polski: Zoo Station
粵語: Zoo Station