U2 – The Joshua Tree (1987): Review


Produced by Daniel Lanois and Brian Eno
Label – Island

“The Joshua Tree” was a historical snapshot of U2’s position as one of the leading rock bands in the world, borne from relentless touring and exploring American musical culture, and lead singer Bono’s increasingly single minded effort to expose inhumanity and social injustice to a largely ignorant world. Recalling the services of producers Daniel Lanois and Brian Eno, who, rather than expand on the dense sonic textures of “The Unforgettable Fire”, peel back the layers to reveal sparsely filled compositions, subtle guitar tones from The Edge, more melodic basslines from Adam Clayton, and Larry Mullen’s simplistic, clearly punctuated rhythms. There’s a deeper sense of the roots of rock and roll, with touches of blues, gospel, and traditional Americana weaved into the remnants of their post punk beginnings. Bono had toiled over his lyric writing like never before, an effort to make sure his lines were as poetically justified as the weighty subject matter he presented. It’s a mixture of loss, love and longing, both radical and reactionary, politically nationless, carefully detailed, and a far cry from some of the hastily hashed studio scribbling of previous recordings.


“The Joshua Tree” opens with a triple salvo that’s quite simply stunning in its emotionally charged minimalistic intensity. Indeed, it’s difficult to consider that there are many collections that have a three song introduction as vital as this. As the passages close on “Where The Streets Have No Name”, one hears an almost spiritual squall of quivering guitar that meshes with the massively climactic swell. In contrast, “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” revolves slowly, with acoustic and bottleneck embellishments from The Edge, and Bono’s yearning for the next borderless world (“I believe in the Kingdom Come, then all the colours will bleed into one”). “With Or Without You” echoes from a tune that was a relic from “October”, with an increasingly more agile, confident vocal performance from the singer. “Bullet The Blue Sky” shows that the band are both in awe and horror with the U.S., as barbaric militaristic intervention in El Salvador and Nicaragua saw bombing and destruction of civilians with the resigned singer signing off with the stirring “Across the field you see the sky ripped open, See the rain through a gaping wound, Pounding on the women and children, Who run Into the Arms…Of America.” “Red Hill Mining Town” confronts the continuing break down of the British coal industry, with emphasis on its effect on the family. The softly haunting “One Tree Hill” is a perfect evocation of the loss of band roadie and friend Greg Carroll, who had been killed in a motorcycling accident the previous year.

Some commentators would consider Bono’s politicized pontification a little too earnest, but in many ways that’s what makes “The Joshua Tree” such a bravely triumphant album. The tree that bears the album’s name represents life and hope in a barren, unforgiving wilderness. U2 may have committed themselves to a moral crusade that laid their career on the line, but they backed it with a truly outstanding record.


Track Rating
1 – Where The Streets Have No Name (10)
2 – I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (10)
3 – With Or Without You (10)
4 – Bullet The Blue Sky (7)
5 – Running To Stand Still (8)
6 – Red Hill Mining Town (8)
7 – In God’s Country (8)
8 – Trip Through Your Wires (8)
9 – One Tree Hill (9)
10 – Exit (7)
11 – Mothers Of The Disappeared (8)

U2 – Boy (1980): Review (7/10)

U2 – October (1981): Review (5/10)

U2 – War (1983): Review (8/10)

U2 – The Unforgettable Fire (1984): Review (8/10)

21 responses to “U2 – The Joshua Tree (1987): Review

  1. Great album. Saw them twice recently on The Joshua Tree Tour- 30 years later still one of my favorite albums. Not in my Top 10 but easily in my Top 25. I’ve written it before but I sensed months before this album came out that it was going to be huge- they had been building up to this kind of monster album. Achtung Baby may be a better album but the Joshua Tree is my favorite of theirs. ….. I think anymore- the past 25 years they sit around and think too much- just make an album and release it.

    • Yeah this album firmly cemented them as one of the biggest bands in the world. I’m listening to “Rattle & Hum” right now for review purposes, and there’s some great moments but it’s definitely not as strong as “The Joshua Tree” IMO.

  2. Absolutely about that opening trio – I can’t think of another album with such a potent start.
    Even if you don’t like U2, one would still have to acknowledge that is an irrefutably strong start!
    I think we’re pretty close numerically on the rest of the tracks, I might bump In God’s Country up to a 9 with One Tree Hill, but otherwise, I second the motion!

    • I think we’re in agreement on the first three tracks Geoff. I’m still trying to think of other albums where the first three tracks are as strong as this albums openers.

  3. Great review, fella. Hard to fault this album. It was my old man who got me into this when I was a good bit younger. Don’t much like U2 (in fact, I hate them more than I do the Eagles), but this is an album I’d defend if anyone decided to say it was rotten. Cause it’s pretty brilliant. And yeah, that opening trio… pretty exceptional by anyone’s standards.

  4. Yes. Great album. Incredible trio to open things up. And yet, I still gave this CD away to a cute girl when I was in university because I never listened to it. These days I have a bit more respect for the latter part of the album and while I will likely not spend the ridiculous sums of money they’re charging for the anniversary box set, maybe it will rejoin my collection again some day.

  5. It’s funny to me that everyone feels like they have to hate on U2. Admittedly, they’ve had their bombastic moments, and their material doesn’t always seem to have heart behind it. However, this album is a classic. I actually really love Rattle and Hum. It’s one of the first live albums I liked (besides 101). (Now I live for live albums – see what I did there – but in the past, not so much). I haven’t listened to U2 much past Achtung Baby, even when we got the free one from Apple 😀. Maybe there’s some greatness there for me to discover when I get a chance…

    • Well, I’m not their number one fan either, but like many world class bands they’ve produced defining records, and for me, this is one of their best.

  6. I’ve been listening to a lot of U2 in preparation for writing something about them. As good an album as this is, I’m not necessarily on the “their greatest album” train. Not yet anyway. For me, the jury’s still out.

    • Good point Jim. I’m excited about reviewing “Achtung Baby” which before I started going through this chronological look back at their album releases was always my favourite. It may still be.

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