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U2 - The Joshua Tree

2008-12-24 08:58
The Joshua Tree
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 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

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

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Warren Black 2008/02/01 12:41 PM
U2 Joshua Tree This is quite possibly one of the greatest albums ever produced. I disagree that some of the songs now seem corny 20 years on. I look back at my teenage 80's and everything in it is laughable; the hairdos, kung flu slippers, puffy shoulder pads, half tops, luminous baggies, leg warmers and velcro wallets. But The Joshua Tree is timeless and I strongly believe that this album could have been released any year since 1987 (including in 2008) and still would have made a massive impact on the then current music culture.
warren21 2008/02/01 2:04 PM
A light in the darkness Cape Town in '87 was a desparately dismal & dark place, this album sustained me through it, & still inspires me.
L 2008/02/03 4:25 PM
Are we hearing the same album? Each to their own but I don't think many will agree with you about the comments made. The album, its songs and lyrics were and still are the anthem for a generation. The album is an absolute classic... not a corny, twee etc. thing about it.
mark durban 2008/02/03 6:37 PM
Joshua Tree If you don't have this album yet then buy it, definitely one of the top albums of all time. I agree with some of the comments, some of the songs do go down a little flat these days and appear a little too contrived, funny that musically Achtung Baby that at the time seemed so synthentic, is to me now such more revealing and personal than the Joshua Tree ever was.
Rick 2008/02/04 10:01 AM
What a classic I bought the vinyl as well as the tape back in the day. Since then I bought the CD and I can still listen to it everyday. I disagree with the writer on the songs sounding corny nowadays. There's a lot of crap out there in the same genre of music that does not come near this album. This is an absolute classic and whoever does not enjoy it knows nothing about music.
JanB 2008/02/05 12:15 AM
U2 Joshua Tree I saw U2 at Cardiff Arms Park in '87 on their Joshua Tree tour - they opened with 'Where the streets have no name' - the stadium in darkness & the band appeared - it was amazing. Still gives me goose bumps now. I then moved to Cape Town in '88 & hardly anyone even knew who U2 were ! I've since seen U2 all over the world, in Cape Town, Wembley, and most recently at the Stadium of Light two years ago on the 'How to dismantle an atomic bomb' tour - fantastic. Despite the fact that Bono is a bit of a prat, they remain my heroes through and through - I have supported them for more than 25 years & each one of their albums has special memories of concerts and personal times. I remember The Edge playing (and singing) 'One' to his Mum & Dad when they played their Popmart tour in Cape Town - it was fab, The Joshua Tree remains as one of my all-time favourite albums.
CapeTownJunk 2008/02/08 1:02 PM
With or without you? Without, please! I never did get late 80s U2. Everyone's least favourite superhero SuperBono was at his most bombastic, histrionic and preachy back then. I find U2 an incredibly hard band to like, let alone love... and this album (together with Rattle And Hum) sums it up for me. Way over the top and far too self-important for my liking. I was one of those people who preferred Achtung Baby to The Joshua Tree, and even Achtung Baby's lost its appeal for me over the years. It's just my opinion, of course... but U2 is not a band whose back catalogue has aged well.
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