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.
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)