U2 - The Joshua Tree
U2 - The Joshua Tree
U2’s Joshua Tree had such an enormous influence on mainstream rock’s sound and sensibilities that it’s hard to remember just how completely different this album sounded in 1987 (when it was filed under 'alternative' in record stores.) There had been nothing remotely like it before. Now, it’s familiar not just as overplayed pop, but because of the impact it’s had on almost every rock band out there. It’s easy to forget how they saved us from radio dominated by glam metal’s crassness and Eu
Like most important works of art, The Joshua Tree is thematically charged with powerful passions: Catholic torment and catharsis meets gospel choir spirituality. There’s political activism powered by a vision of America (not just North America) as the world’s new political centre stage. There’s a yearning for something better, for equality, and for sense to be made of things that stands out in two songs: the graceful but musically complex "Where the Streets Have No Name", and possibly the most brilliant anti-war rock propaganda piece ever recorded, "Bullet the Blue Sky".
Musically, Joshua Tree broke new ground in pop. The supernaturally sustained guitar lines, the tangled layers of harmony and the melodic lines that reached across the scales created that sense of open space and mystery, evoked travel and hunger for new worlds. This sound has it’s origins in 1984’s The Unforgettable Fire. But on The Joshua Tree, its eXperimental factor is honed to radio-play perfection by the combined production genius of Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois. Somehow, it evoked a painful love affair. With God. With America. With the expanding world. It was hard to figure out which LP to put on after you’d played this record… except perhaps an earlier U2 album like my personal favourite Boy (1980).
Daringly, U2 introduced dynamic ranges that most popular music avoided – the opening track "Where the Streets Have No Name" builds slowly from a whisper to a strident stadium crescendo. The album was praised, bought by the millions and rewarded with an 'Album of the Year' Grammy in 1998. So the question is...is it still as good as it seemed back then?
Well, some of the tracks don’t stand the test of time much better than a hairstyle from 1987 does. "Running to Stand Still" - which seemed touching to a teenager in the ‘80s - now reveals itself to be corny and twee. "With or Without You" seems repetitive and flat, when it once captured all the yearning of agnostic guilt, or sexual frustration, depending on the mood. "Trip Through Your Wires" is no more than cute now. "Exit" is pretentious (and always was), but leaves you undecided about whether its wow or whack (and always did). Bono’s "wooo wooo" noises are still intensely irritating.
But every other track leaves you in no doubt as to the album’s genius. To have been played this much and still not feel played to death is something very few bands achieve.
The audio has been remastered on this 20th anniversary re-issue. It’s hard to hear the difference, and tempting to say that everything, even the old version, sounds much better on vinyl.
- Jean Barker
The album is unashamedly pop, but Toya's jazz background and classical training allow most of the songs to transcend the superficial genre offering a more layered and interesting sound. Read More »
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