Review Summary: Resplendent and transcendent.
As I type this, U2 are one of the biggest acts on the planet. Their tours gross in the hundreds of millions of dollars, they've sold over 145 million albums, and they've won more Grammy's than any other band in the award's history (22 and counting). There is no disputing their impact on Rock and Roll. When looking at U2's distinguished career, another fact is glaringly obvious: none of this would be possible without their 1987 release The Joshua Tree
. To put it plainly, it is U2's masterwork. War
, with its singles “Sunday Bloody Sunday” and “New Year's Day”, showed that the young Irishmen could write anthems with the best of 'em, and The Unforgettable Fire
saw U2 presenting a cohesive album for the first time in their career, but with Joshua Tree
U2 finally let go of the lingering trappings of their post-punk upbringing to make a gorgeous album filled with a captivating sense of cinematic grandeur that captures not only the imagination but the spirit.
is one of those rare albums whose songs are custom built for the arena but they still manage to feel hauntingly intimate. No song exemplifies this better than the heavenly “Where the Streets Have No Name”. The angelic keys that begin the song build into an ethereal glory that only intensifies when the Edge's nuanced and shimmering notes ring out like church bells. Bono's transcendent vocals wrap “Where the Streets Have No Name” in a comforting zen, bursting at the seams with an optimism that despite all the odds breaks free of the darkness. This optimism is carried over into the spiritual sojourns of “I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For” and “With Or Without You”. Bono's quest for God runs deep in the pairing, but it always portrays itself as the personal journey that it is, a personal plea for understanding. Even the haunting addiction tale of “Running to Stand Still” is made even more powerful by the feeling that just maybe at the end of all the darkness there is a light, however small that light may be.
U2 don't forget the political spirit that backed their early hits. The jarring “Bullet the Blue Sky” is a biting critique of the United State's Reagan-era affairs with Central America that is driven by bassist Adam Clayton's powerful low end. His militant bass riff flows through the entire track, giving room for the Edge's wailing, effects laden experimentation and Bono's dark layered vocals. Even though a tribute to Bono's personal assistant Greg Carrol who died in a motorcycle crash, “One Tree Hill” references the Chilean songwriter Victor Jara who was tortured and executed during the US backed coup that led to the rise of Augusto Pinochet. U2 pick a cause closer to home on “Red Hill Mining Town”. Inspired by the British mining strikes of 1984, it is a moving ode to the blue collar worker with Bono's vocals taking command of the bouncing beat.
The Joshua Tree
is the sound of U2 taking that next step, growing from rock stars to the legends that they are today. It is a defining moment in the history of Rock and Roll that manages to transport the listener not only mentally but also physically. It is, without a doubt