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Out of the underground and into the masses, The Joshua Tree is U2's benediction of commercial music. No longer to be confined to the title of "world's greatest underground band", a ridiculous notion given their (successful) bombast in Live Aid, this album put U2 over the top as "world's greatest r'n'r band". The fact the it sold a ton (but not as much as Bon Jovi) helped.
The keyboard intro to "Where the Streets Have No Name" is reminiscent of the closing bars of "The Unforgettable Fire", (the most beautiful U2 song ever) and it provides a touch of continuity. The signature percussive Edge sound is there, and it's even more pronunced in "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For". This last song also continues U2's (by now) infatuation with religious themes. While not as sincere here as in October's "Rejoice" or "Tomorrow", religiosity is an integral part of U2's constitution, and it's continued here. All this changes with "With or Without You", which, hadn't it been a huge single, it would rank with "Love Comes Tumbling" as a minor U2 ballad. This is where the commercial aspect of "The Joshua Tree" makes its biggest impact, when a lesser song takes precedent over an entire ouvre. "Bullet the Blue Sky", a well disguised metal song, confirms the change and then the big American style rock of "Red Hill Mining Town", and "Trip Through Your Wires" restates it to oblivion. There are songs that salvage this album, like the brooding "Exit", the instrospective "Running To Stand Still" and the anthem-like "In God's Country", but the album closes with the subdued granstanding of "Mothers of the Disappeared", which truly hasn't much to say.
Millionare Lennon did say "imagine no possessions", but he had the panache and conviction to voice working class anguish while feeling none of it and not apologize for it. "The Joshua Tree" made U2's former image (or relevance) irrelevant, and with albums like Achtung Baby and Zooropa, positively killed it. Good for them.
8 out of 10
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