I bought “The joshua tree” on CD as one of my ten for a penny from Columbia House (or was it BMG? – I did both, take your pick) in my late teens, so likely a few years after its release. It was purchased on the basis of the first three songs on the album, each of which was tattooed in my brain from hearing them several times. When my package of discs arrived, I did enjoy those three songs on initial spins but rarely did I get past them, and it wasn’t long before the album was just a dust collector on my CD racks. Shortly after arriving at university, then, I gave the disc away to a young lady on whom I may or may not have had a crush. Either way, I didn’t miss it for many years.
In fact, I never fully grew to appreciate “The joshua tree” until the last decade or so, when it found itself back in my music library somehow. I was finally able to listen to it without allowing all the prejudices I had built up against the band and their bloated image to taint my experience. The Irish four-piece’s fifth album was their second to be produced by the tandem of Daniel Lanois and Brian Eno. It kept the ambient underpinnings of “The unforgettable fire”, their previous record together, but returned some the harder hitting sensibilities of U2’s earlier work. Mix all of that with the furthering of Bono’s and The Edge’s musical history education, after hanging out with Keith Richards and The Waterboys’ Mike Scott, and you’ve got one heck of a record, much deserving of all the accolades that have been heaped upon it.
Indeed, I have plenty of new favourites on the album but you still can’t beat the triumvirate that begins the album so what other three tracks could I pick for you but those three?
”I still haven’t found what I’m looking for”: “I believe in the Kingdom come. Then all the colors will bleed into one, bleed into one, but yes, I’m still running.” While doing some reading up on this album, I learned how this song was built upon a drum demo by Larry Mullen jr. And if you listen to what he is doing here, you can really gain an appreciation for how great a drummer he really is, which makes the fact that he can easily be pushed out of the picture by the big personas of Bono and The Edge so unfortunate. The beat is augmented by Adam Clayton’s “one note groove” bass line and The Edge’s chiming arpeggios. And on top of all this, Bono is singing gospel at the top of his vocal register, mixing old with new, but pushing the universal theme of spiritual longing and the unending quest for meaning.
”Where the streets have no name”: “I want to run, I want to hide. I want to tear down the walls that hold me inside. I wanna reach out and touch the flame, where the streets have no name.” This was released as the third single from the album but it is the track that opens “The joshua tree”. And as great as The Edge’s guitar playing and effects work and (I suppose) the rest of the band’s performances are, I almost think they are secondary to the music video filmed for the song. Reminiscent of and likely an homage to The Beatles’ final live performance, the video shows the band performing live on the roof of a liquor store in Los Angeles. The performance was portrayed as being shut down by the police, which according to the director was as it happened, but it is obvious that it was all part of the plan and it all smacks of sensationalism. Nonetheless, I did enjoy the video back in the day and it’s rebel attitudes and the song has that same energy.
”With or without you”: “Through the storm we reach the shore. You give it all but I want more. And I’m waiting for you.” The first single released off “The joshua tree” was almost not a single and was in peril of never seeing the light of day at all. It was originally written in late 1985 but the band had to play with the arrangements for a few days before they were happy with it, coming near to scrapping it a few times. Their tenacity paid off because it was a huge hit for the band and their first number one in the US. It is notable for Clayton’s rumbling bass line, The Edge’s wicked sustained guitar effect, and Bono’s vocals, starting low and slow and building to explosion. To me, “With or without you” screams high school dances in the gym. It’s a troubled love song sure, but it was a sure fire hit with slow dancers. I definitely remember doing that slow turn and sway shuffle more than once to this song back in the day.
Check back next Thursday for album #3. In the meantime, here are the previous albums in this list:
10. Dead Can Dance “Within the realm of the dying sun”
9. Spaceman 3 “The perfect prescription”
8. The Jesus And Mary Chain “Darklands”
7. Jane’s Addiction “Jane’s Addiction”
6. The Sisters of Mercy “Floodland”
5. The Cure “Kiss me, kiss me, kiss me”
You can also check out my Best Albums page here if you’re interested in my other favourite albums lists.