Chris Willman
January 10, 1997 AT 05:00 AM EST

U2’s upcoming world tour will open, rumor has it, in…Las Vegas. Which sounds like a sure sign that ”Even Better Than the Real Thing” will be as much a theme of this show as their last big mass-media, artifice-embracing stadium swing nearly five years ago.

But this time the tour won’t just be high-tech — it’ll be high-techno. Among other flavors, the Irish quartet’s long-delayed Pop album incorporates unmistakable elements of techno and other British-derived electronic dance subgenres of the moment. The first single, ”Discotheque” (scheduled to hit radio in mid-January, though L.A.’s KROQ leaked it over Christmas, to mixed listener reaction), bears the stamp of quality time spent absorbing knob twirlers like the Chemical Brothers and the Prodigy. ”And not at all in a forced way,” says MTV programming executive VP Andy Schuon, who sees the song slotting easily into Amp, the network’s new late-night techno show. ”It seems very natural.”

But will it seem a remotely natural transition for mainstream American listeners, who’ve so far resisted embracing these same sounds in any big way (Moby be damned)? Sources who’ve heard a few more tracks from the closely guarded album caution that not all of it bears the techno influence as readily as ”Discotheque.” Bono recently said that U2 were attempting to marry Lennon-and-McCartney-style classicist pop, a la Oasis, with the adventurous spirit of dance music, a la Tricky — as if some sort of weird Beatlesque rave were in the making. When Pop weasels its way into stores March 4, fans will be the judge of whether the band’s risky stylistic hybrid is even better than a sure thing.

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