5 Albums: PopMart Mix!

Original Story by Don Morgan (2017-03-07)

We’ve been celebrating the 30th anniversary of The Joshua Tree by selecting five albums each from the team that produced U2’s landmark fifth LP. So far we’ve covered Brian Eno and Flood, with Steve Lillywhite and Daniel Lanois still to come.

But since Pop also celebrates a birthday this month, let’s throw some love its way! Far be it from the team here at U2Songs to neglect such an important piece of U2’s history, even though some critics, fans, and even the band members themselves have been known to do so. Here are five noteworthy productions from the studio wizards who brought us what might be U2’s most misunderstood and controversial album. This gives us a chance to not only toss in a couple more projects helmed by Flood (Pop’s primary producer), but also take a quick glance at productions from his Pop collaborators Howie B. and Steve Osborne. Boom cha!

PJ Harvey/Let England Shake [Flood]

There really should have been a PJ Harvey album in our previous 5 Albums list for Flood, so here’s a chance to make up for that. PJ Harvey’s critically acclaimed, Mercury Prize-winning 8th album in 2011 was produced by Flood alongside Harvey and longtime associates Mick Harvey and John Parish. It was one of several successful collaborations between Harvey and Flood, dating back before the Pop era to 1995’s To Bring You My Love. With 12 songs and a concise 40-minute running time, Let England Shake won over critics and fans alike with its heart-wrenching meditations on war and conflict. Production-wise, Flood and Harvey brought an organic, bluesy sound to the album while introducing both autoharp and saxophone to the sonic palette, both of which were played by Harvey herself. This album is heartbreaking in the best possible way.

Bjork/Post and Homogenic + singles [Howie B.]

Scottish producer Howie B. first worked with U2 on the Passengers project in 1995, and also produced or mixed versions of the Mission: Impossible theme for Adam and Larry in 96. He co-produced four songs on Pop with Flood and also performed engineering and mixing duties on the album. Around that same time, he produced and mixed tracks on two of Bjork’s most successful albums, 1995’s Post and 1997’s Homogenic. Highlights from these projects include the spaced-out “Robin Hood Riding Through the Glen” mix of “Hyperballad” (from Post) and a slate of remixes of both “Joga” and “All is Full of Love” (from Homogenic). The “Joga 1” single is an all-Howie affair, with four excellent remixes from the man himself.

B-52’s/Funplex [Steve Osborne]

Steve Osborne co-produced Pop’s “Do You Feel Loved?” with Flood and also performed mixing, programming, and other technical duties throughout the album. His relationship with U2 stretches back further, though, to a string of remixed tracks from the Achtung Baby and Zooropa eras. Although frequently associated with 90s dance music, Osborne has produced more recent albums for a number of “legacy” artists from the 80s and 90s. The B-52’s 2008 comeback Funplex is a prime example. The band had not released a studio album since 1992’s Good Stuff, which, like its iconic predecessor Cosmic Thing from 1989, was produced by Nile Rodgers and Don Was. B-52’s guitarist Keith Strickland, reportedly inspired by Osborne’s work on New Order’s Get Ready, enlisted him to produce Funplex. The results are largely satisfactory. The album retains the band’s kitschy, space-age party vibe, but the sound is definitely more in the vein of modern rock, with sequencers underpinning the guitars. Funplex debuted at number 11 on the Billboard chart, and the band continues to incorporate songs from the album in its live set.

Sigur Ros/Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust [Flood]

Sigur Ros’s 2008 album (the title is translated as “with a buzz in our ears we play endlessly”) is the Icelandic band’s first collaboration with Flood. Known for a string of dense, enigmatic art-rock albums drenched in strings and sung largely in an imagined language (“Hopelandic”), …endalaust represented a bit of a departure for the band. The ethereal strings and extended arrangements (several songs broke the 10-minute mark) of earlier albums took a backseat to tighter arrangements and a heavier focus on guitar, bass, and drums. Several songs are augmented by playful horn arrangements. The “Hopelandic” lyrics were also abandoned in favor of straight Icelandic or, for the first time in the case of closing track “All Alright,” English, making the band’s most accessible album to date. In an interview with sigur-ros.co.uk, Flood said of the album’s sound: “The whole process of change was very collaborative, and so a new sound was sought by everyone. I wanted to reduce the amount of reverb used and the band wanted to be more acoustic and performance based. So all of us helped shape the sound by a lot of trial and error.”

a-ha/Foot of the Mountain [Steve Osborne]

Often dismissed as one-hit wonders in North America following their 1985 hit “Take on Me,” Norwegian trio a-ha has enjoyed longstanding critical and commercial success worldwide that continues to this day. After scoring a UK top-10 hit with “Analogue (All I Want)” (from 2005’s more guitar-focused Analogue album, mixed by Flood), a-ha was looking to bring a more electronic element back to their sound. With the help of Steve Osborne, they achieved that goal with 2009’s majestic, soaring Foot of the Mountain. Osborne mixed the entire album, co-produced several tracks with the band, and remixed some songs for single releases. Foot of the Mountain debuted at the number 1 position on the German charts, number 2 in Norway, and number 5 in the UK, a-ha’s highest album chart position there since 1988. (Sadly, no a-ha albums since 1993’s Memorial Beach have seen a North American release, aside from a Canadian pressing of Analogue.) Osborne would return to produce and mix a version of the band’s farewell single “Butterfly, Butterfly (The Last Hurrah)” in 2010, and also contributed to the 2015 reunion album Cast in Steel.

What about you? Do you have more Flood albums on the brain? More Howie B. or Steve Osborne productions to praise? Tell us about it in the Forum or on Facebook or Twitter!

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