U2: The Joshua Tree Album Review
March 9 2017 will mark the 30th anniversary of U2’s The Joshua Tree album. The Joshua Tree is the fifth studio album by the rock quartet from Dublin, Ireland.
Contrary to the band’s earlier work, The Joshua Tree explores music genres such as folk, americana, and country — genres quite far from their punk rock beginning. Bono was originally opposed to blues and roots music. In an interview transcribed in the book “U2 by U2,” the frontman explains how 12 bars blues came off like the musicians ran out of creative ideas. However, after a meeting with Keith Richards of The Rolling Stones, Bono’s opinion changed after being introduced to John Lee Hooker and Robert Johnson.
U2 was formed in the late 70s by drummer Larry Mullen Jr. Mullen found the other members of the group by pinning a sign on his school’s message board. Guitarist Paul Evans (The Edge), lead singer Paul Hewson (Bono), and bassist Adam Clayton would soon join him in his band. Influences of the band originally came from punk acts like the Sex Pistols, Television, The Ramones and Patti Smith. While punk was influencing Bono, The Edge, and Clayton, Mullen was hesitant to join a punk band. In the book U2 by U2, larry explains that he was being trained under a jazz teacher and it was jazz his parents wanted him to learn. However, after he got bored with jazz he started looking for a rock band to play in; he ended up forming U2.
“I had started taking lessons with Johnny Wadham, a jazz drummer in town, but I was getting bored and wanted to play in a rock band,” Mullen explains.
According to the book “U2 by U2,” the band was originally formed under the name “The Hype.” In the early days of The Hype, The Edge’s brother, Dick Evans, would play in the band along side his brother; however, due to constant fighting during rehearsals, Evans got booted out of the band.
In 1979, U2 ended up signing a record deal with Island Records after a show at the Arcadia Ballroom. On Island Records, U2 has released every album to date. Furthermore, in 1993, U2 signed another contract with Polygram’s Island Records (who bought them out at the time) for an estimated “$60-million-plus” dollars, U2.com states.
The Joshua Tree opens up with “Where The Streets Have No Name,” a five-and-a-half minute track of driving guitar riffs and emotional vocals. The track begins with synthesizers and washing chords before a heavily delayed electric guitar plays a distinct ¾ guitar riff. The intro alone is a minute and a half build of guitar, drums, and bass which soon resolves to Bono’s smooth voice singing about taking control of your life and not letting anything hold you back.
“I wanna run, I want to hide/ I wanna tear down the walls/ That hold me inside/ I wanna reach out/ And touch the flame/ Where the streets have no name,” Bono sings.
According to The Edge, the song’s composition was rushed an evening before they were set to record again. He claims that the band was lacking the “ultimate U2 live song.” The Edge continues to state how he worked alone on the song with a tape recorder and drum machine.
“Where The Streets Have No Name” was produced by Brian Eno, Daniel Lanois and mixed by Steve Lillywhite. The production of Eno and Lanois was nothing new for the band; both of them had worked with U2 on their fourth album “The Unforgettable Fire” in 1984. Their input gave the band a less rocky, more atmospheric sound and allowed the band to take an “ordinary song and make it extraordinary,” Mullen states.
Two tracks later comes “With Or Without You,” the band’s first number one single in the US. According to the band, they could not get a recording that sounded good enough; as a result, they were originally going to ditch it. According to Bono, his friend Gavin Friday “rescued With or Without You” and made it into something worthwhile.
“He [Gavin] personally rescued ‘With or Without You.’ He pulled it out of the wastepaper bin, organized it, structured it and was the one who believed it could be a big hit,” Bono states.
The track starts off with a steady bassline, an arpeggiated synthesizer and a sustained guitar. The Edge claims he made his own guitar effect that supplied him with “infinite sustain” like a violin. The song builds to a climactic chorus. Bono claims the lyrics are about pure torment and domestic responsibility.
“See the stone set in your eyes/ See the thorn twist in your side/ I wait for you/ Sleight of hand and twist of fate/ On a bed of nails she makes me wait/ And I wait, without you/ With or without you/ With or without you,” Bono sings.
Halfway through the album comes “Running To Stand Still,” one of the simplest U2 songs in terms of structure and instrumentation. Contrary to the effect driven song of “Where the Streets Have No Name,” “Running to Stand Still” features prominent piano playing and acoustic guitar. Furthermore, the first half of the song is void of Mullen’s thunderous drumming; instead, subtle percussion plays in time to the band. The stripped back instrumentation effectively conveys what the song’s lyrics are about: the heroin epidemic which was present in Dublin.
“She runs through the streets/ With her eyes painted red/ Under black belly of cloud in the rain/ In through a doorway she brings me/ White gold and pearls stolen from the sea/ She is raging/ She is raging/ And the storm blows up in her eyes/ She will/ Suffer the needle chill/ She's running to stand Still.” Bono sings.
Since the formation of U2 in 1976, they have won many awards and titles for their music and career. Their first two of the band’s 22 Grammy awards were won in 1987; The Joshua Tree received awards for album of the year and best rock performance. Furthermore, The Rolling Stone magazine recognized them as the Band of The 80s.