The Joshua Tree


Island Records, 1987

REVIEW BY: Michael R. Smith


The Joshua Tree is the sound of U2 finding its soul in, of all places, the American desert. Throughout the course of 11 tracks, this album conveys a strong feeling of barren darkness, much like the Mojave at night.

If B.B. King thought “When Love Comes To Town” had heavy lyrics, you can just imagine what he’d say if he ever were to hear The Joshua Tree from start to finish. The message of this, U2’s fifth release, seems to be: As grim and dark as reality may be at times, there is always an element of hope and a glimmer of light at the end of the long, arduous tunnel called life.

The Grammy committee indeed got it right in 1987 when they deemed The Joshua Tree the best album of the year. The album begins with three very familiar Top Five hits:  the transcendent epic “Where The Streets Have No Name,” the gospel tune “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” and the classic ballad that never seems to get old, “With Or Without You.” But don’t stop listening, because the rest of The Joshua Tree is just as strong.

The only song I have never been able to fully enjoy is “Bullet The Blue Sky.” Now, I don’t mind it when U2 gets political in the messages they tend to convey in many of their lyrics; this one has been played to death, especially in the band’s concerts where Bono will frequently interrupt it at the end to postulate and sermonize. Blah blah blah…we know you have plenty of gripes and grudges to get off your chest, Bono, but complaining about all of the problems isn’t going to change the way things are in the world. Granted, Bono is the one rock star who continues to prove himself by putting his money where his mouth is and is a real force to be reckoned with when it comes to taking action for the underprivileged, but sometimes you just want to yell “time out!” And although the studio version is not as bad, people don’t normally go to rock shows to be preached at or given a history lesson. Oversized ego aside, Bono is not God.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

So now then, let’s get back to the music, shall we? There’s still plenty to salivate over when it comes to The Joshua Tree, a favorite U2 album of many (though mine is 1993’s Zooropa). After “Bullet The Blue Sky,” the next stretch of five songs is as close to perfection a rock and roll record has ever gotten. The stark backdrop of “Running To Stand Still” makes it sound like it has come straight out of one of the ghost towns the band had frequented during their trek through the western part of the States. It’s got a great harmonica solo by Bono and some creaky yet impressive guitar work by The Edge to make things even more authentic sounding.

U2 then makes an admirable attempt to counterbalance the denser material with upbeat, airier tracks like “Red Hill Mining Town” and “In God’s Country.” In doing so, the band’s sound opens up before our ears.

Before things take a foreboding turn with the haunting “Exit” and the downer that is “Mothers Of The Disappeared,” we are treated to two of my personal favorites, “Trip Through Your Wires” and “One Tree Hill.” With its sly, rhythmic melody line, “Trip Through Your Wires” is guaranteed to put a smile on your face, while “One Tree Hill” is a seamless blend of strings, synths and gentle percussion resulting in one very special, somewhat heartbreaking little number.

This is the album U2 will forever be remembered for. It’s also the one that put producers Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois on the map in the US. In retrospect, The Joshua Tree has the darkest tone of all U2 releases, making its success even more surprising. Since then, the four members have attempted to “chop down the Tree” entirely just so they could move on and be accepted for doing something different, but now even they have come to the realization just how impossible a task like that can be.

Rating: A

User Rating: B+



© 2007 Michael R. Smith and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Island Records, and is used for informational purposes only.