The Joshua Tree

A year of anniversaries … Recently, we recognized the 50th anniversary of the Beatles’ landmark Sgt. Pepper.  This year also marks the 30th anniversary of U2’s seminal album, The Joshua Tree, originally released March 9, 1987. Acknowledging the milestone, the band is in the midst of a world tour suitably dubbed The Joshua Tree Tour 2017. Now while there’s broad consensus that Sgt. Pepper is a culturally important album — a great album — there’s endless debate among fans and critics about which album is the Beatles’ best. There’s perhaps less argument regarding U2’s best. The Joshua Tree is the darling of the critics, and it happens to be my personal favorite as well.

008-anton-_corbijn_photographer.jpgThe first album that drew me to U2 is not The Joshua Tree, but rather 1983’s War. I still love War for its sheer intensity. Listen to the one-minute drum outro of “Like a Song.” 😮 This is a band on a mission. However, such youthful intensity is ultimately unsustainable. We all must grow up. And The Joshua Tree is the album where U2 grows up. This is the album where the band really comes into its its own. The Joshua Tree reveals a U2 with much more up its musical sleeve.  The songs are more diverse, more mature. The opening track “Where The Streets Have No Name” is a soaring tune, desperate and thrilling.  Bono is never so full of angst and passion. The Gospel-inflected “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” stakes out new territory for the band. “One Tree Hill” and “In God’s Country” are two of the most beautiful and poetic tracks the band has ever recorded.

We turn away to face the cold enduring chill
As the day begs the night for mercy, love
The sun so bright it leaves no shadows, only scars
Carved into stone on the face of earth

This is not to say that band can’t still summon intensity when required. “Ladies and Gentlemen … The Edge!” “Bullet the Blue Sky” rocks as hard as anything on War. But even this most lethal of rock songs contains religious imagery:

In the locust wind
Comes a rattle and hum
Jacob wrestled the angel
And the angel was overcome

Jacob wrestling an angel – Gustave Doré (1855)

The Joshua Tree
breaks new ground for the band stylistically. The influences are blues, gospel, and American and Irish roots music. “Running to Stand Still” and “Trip Though Your Wires” feature slide guitar, and Bono’s harmonica.  Even the album graphics, photographed in Death Valley and the Mojave Desert by Anton Corbijn, contribute to the earthy mood and art of this album.  
This has been called U2’s “American” album.  I second that. The Joshua Tree won two Grammys, “Album of the Year” and “Best Rock Performance.” And deservedly so.  For me, The Joshua Tree is U2’s crown jewel.

The band filmed a music video for “Where the Streets Have No Name.” Yes, this was the 80s. But this one is actually pretty cool, award winning. The band climbs up on the roof of a building in Los Angeles to give an impromptu concert. By this time, the egos are sufficiently large; they have no qualms alluding to the Fab Four. The band rocks with wild abandon. A crowd gathers. Businessmen come out of their offices and get decidedly non-corporate. A guy climbs a light pole. Traffic grinds to a halt. The cops arrive … and forcibly shut it all down. The crowd boos and jeers the oppressors. Bono strikes his Jesus Christ pose. Staged? Pretty much. But great theater nonetheless. 🙂 For the record, there was a performance that day. However, the soundtrack for the video is the studio recording. The cops did come, as planned, but they were accommodating for the most part. The band was eventually asked to leave, but only after a few encores.

The occasion is of course accompanied by the 30th Anniversary Edition of the album. The “Super Deluxe” box includes 4 CDs:

  1. The original 11-track album
  2. B-sides and outtakes. (Check out “Spanish Eyes.”)
  3. Remixes
  4. Live at Madison Square Garden, 1987

A book and a collection of color prints are also part of the package:

  • An 84-page hardcover book of never-before seen Photographs by The Edge, taken during the original Mojave Desert shoot in 1986
  • A folio of eight 12-inch Anton Corbijn colour prints

But, be forewarned, it’s a pricey package ($100+ on Amazon as of this post).

I bought a similar 20th Anniversary Edition a decade ago.  That older package had a nearly identical CD of B-sides and outtakes, but included a different concert on DVD: Live at The Hippodrome De Vincennes, Paris, July 4, 1987. So for me, the most interesting part of this new release is the Madison Square Garden concert. Although the books and art prints do look cool, I’ll probably opt for the more reasonably priced 2-CD (merely) “Deluxe” version, which includes only discs 1 and 4.  Of course, all the audio is available on Apple Music right now, but U2 is one of the bands whose music I ultimately must own.


Check out the Beats 1 interview with Zane Lowe, where U2 discusses, the anniversary of the album, the tour, and Bono’s bad haircut. 🙂

“A man should not look like his hair has been ironed.” – Bono




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