The Joshua Tree
Released: March 17, 1987
Peak: 19 US, 12 UK, 117 CN, 3 AU
Sales (in millions): 10.0 US, 2.67 UK, 30.0 world (includes US and UK)
Song Title [time] (date of single release, chart peaks) Click for codes to singles charts.
All songs written by U2.
Total Running Time: 50:11
4.603 out of 5.00 (average of 23 ratings)
Quotable: “By far the greatest album of the 1980s.” – Clarke Speicher, The Review
Awards: (Click on award to learn more).
About the Album:
Throughout the eighties, U2 had built up their following, first with college radio and then, by The Unforgettable Fire, their fourth studio album, they cemented a home at album rock and started making inroads into the pop world with top 40 hit “Pride (In the Name of Love).” In 1986, “the band was the musical heart of Amnesty International’s Conspiracy of Hope tour” RS and “their newly established place in the rock elite ensured that U2 were now spending more and more time with rock legends like Bruce Springsteen and Bob Dylan.” Q4 Rolling Stone magazine declared of the album upon its release that “for a band that’s always specialized in inspirational, larger-than-life gestures – a band utterly determined to be Important – The Joshua Tree could be the big one, and that’s precisely what it sounds like.” RS
To enhance that sense of purpose, “the stark, black and white cover photography [shows] U2 looking like missionaries” AZ2 and “‘With or Without You’ and ‘I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For’ could be played under a revival tent.” TL
Even with the high expectations greeting The Joshua Tree, the album was a remarkable leap forward, giving the band their biggest success – critically and commercially. Buoyed by two #1 pop smashes (“With or Without You” and “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For”) and an eventual Grammy for Album of the Year, The Joshua Tree was “U2’s most varied, subtle and accessible album” RS and served as U2’s declaration that they were the rock band of the eighties.
If U2’s third album, “War, was an exploding political bomb, The Joshua Tree is a journey through its aftermath trying to find sense and hope in the desperation.” AMG “It might seem a little ironic that U2 became superstars on the back of such a dark record, but their focus has never been clearer, nor has their music been catchier, than on The Joshua Tree.” AMG “U2…learnt to combine their multi-textured sound with the kind of melodies that fans could sing as well as sway along to.” Q4
“U2’s sonic trademarks are here: the monumental angst of Bono’s voice, the driving pulse of Adam Clayton’s bass and Larry Mullen Jr.’s drums and the careening wail of the Edge’s guitar.” RS However, “producers Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois turn in an austere production that heightens the drama substantially.” AZ2 They “expanded [the] innovations [of The Unforgettable Fire] by scaling back the songs to a personal setting and adding a grittier attack.” AMG “U2 dropped the theme of political freedom that dominated the music of its early career to focus on the more accessible topic of human relationships.” RV ”Never before have their big messages sounded so direct and personal.” AMG
U2 also “unexpectedly…tempered their textural post-punk with American influences…Bono’s lyrics obsessed with America” AMG and he comes up with a “pile of striking images in his verses.” JA “The band did their homework and got the sound of the country just right.” TL “Country and blues influences are heard throughout the record, and instead of using these as roots, they’re used as ways to add texture to the music…the result is a powerful, uncompromising record.” AMG
“In its musical toughness and strong-willed spirituality, the album lives up to its namesake: a hardy, twisted tree that grows in the rocky deserts of the American Southwest. A Mormon legend claims that their early settlers called the Joshua tree ‘the praying plant’ and thought its gnarled branches suggested the Old Testament prophet Joshua pointing the way to the Promised Land. The title befits a record that concerns itself with resilience in the face of utter social and political desolation, a record steeped in religious imagery.” RS
“The predominant mood here is one of self-discovery and the hunger for something more.” AZ1 The album carries a heavy theme of Christianity, although “many purists debate classifying” BN it as such despite “lyrics as blunt as ‘You carried the cross and my shame, you know I believe it’…Bono and the boys explore such spiritual concerns as hope, redemption and loving thy neighbor -- and you can’t get much more Christian than that…Even at its darkest and most disturbing…The Joshua Tree never advocates turning anywhere other than to God for comfort. The fact that a large share of the Christian music industry has snubbed the best-selling Christian rock album of all time seems somehow appropriate: as Jesus said, a prophet is never accepted in his hometown.” BN
“Where the Streets Have No Name”
”The Edge’s guitar begins the journey” RV with “the pulsating Where the Streets Have No Name.” AZ1 The guitar “goes round and round…building” AD “one instrument at a time,” RV “the drums getting louder, the rising of passion in the vocals,” AD “until it explodes into an orchestra of restlessness to match its searching lyrics.” RV
“Bono sings at or near the top of his range through out, but never more thrillingly than on ‘Where The Streets Have No Name,’ which belongs with ‘Like a Rolling Stone’ on the short-list of best album openers.” TL
“I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For”
The “yearning” I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For combines with “Streets” to express “seeds of doubt within their soaring choruses, and those fears take root throughout the album.” AMG The song serves as “a crusade for religious, romantic or self-discovery.” RV
“With Or Without You”
“The album’s masterstroke, however, is With or Without You,” AZ1 “a spare, inventively arranged tune…a rock & roll bolero that builds from a soothing beginning to a resounding climax.” RS It is a “gorgeous song restoring some of the keyboard textures and beautiful sounds from Unforgettable Fire but within a more structured and purposeful song.” AD “Bono’s aching voice and declarations of obsession prevails as the defining musical moment of a decade.” RV As “a nasty love song dressed up as an ode of devotion and care, it ranks with the Police’s ‘Every Breath You Take’ as the most misread smash hit of the ‘80s.” AZ1
“Bullet the Blue Sky”
U2 do revisit their inclinations toward political anthems with the “raw frenzy” RS of “the raging, melodramatic Bullet the Blue Sky.” RS This and “Mothers of the Disappeared” “turned a jaundiced eye toward Central America and the United States’ role there;” AZ1 the former specifically “ties Biblical fire and brimstone with American violence overseas and at home.” RS “Hats off to The Edge for the fantastic guitar.” AD
“Running to Stand Still”
“The mood and vocal are beautiful” AD accompaniment to the “acoustic bluesiness” RS of Running to Stand Still, a song characterized by the “mournful” AMG and “wholly unexpected blues slide guitar, the soft…yelps [of Bruce Springsteen’s Nebraska], the ghostly harmonica. It sounds like a lovely, peaceful reverie – except that this is a junkie’s reverie, and when that realization hits home, the gentle acoustic lullaby acquires a corrosive power that recalls ‘Bad,’ from the last LP.” RS
“Red Hill Mining Town”
Red Hill Mining Town features “simple yet effective guitar, strong bass melodies, powerful yet perfectly judged vocals, hooks galore both lyrically and melodically.” AD The song “echoes Peter Gabriel’s ‘Don’t Give Up’ in its unsparing look at personal relationships savaged by economic hardship – here, the aftermath of the largely unsuccessful British miners’ strike of 1984.” RS
“In God’s Country”
In Gods Country “is [an] uptempo number [with] passion-filled vocals, more good guitar and [recalls] earlier U2.” AD
“Trip Through Your Wire”
On “the stomping, harmonicaspiked rocker Trip Through Your Wires,” RS which uses “country-western flavors,” JA “what looks like salvation could easily be evil seduction.” RS
“One Tree Hill”
”The surging One Tree Hill” AMG “has a friend in ‘Red Hill Mining Town’.” AD This “is a soft, haunting benediction on a U2 crew member who died in a motorcycle accident.” RS
Exit, “a recited psychodrama about a killer,” RS is a “superb song, dark and heavy, explosive, great drum work, and guitar everywhere.” AD
“Mothers of the Disappeared”
“The hypnotic elegy Mothers of the Disappeared” AMG is “a haunting ode to…victims…built around desolate images of loss, but the setting is soothing and restorative – music of great sadness but also of unutterable compassion, acceptance and calm.” RS It is a “weird spooky song with low yet beautiful vocals, mentions of a heart beat, Bono singing wordlessly, wailing beautifully.” AD The song displays “a new, meditative maturity, coupled with an ever growing sense of social responsibility.” Q4 It is “a perfect way to close; everything comes around, we pray, and then go to sleep.” AD
“The record’s cluttered with catchy tunes, pulsing bass lines, jagged rhythm guitar parts, and soaring vocals, and it’s just impossible to dislike.” JA
Notes: A Deluxe Edition released in 2007 added a second disc of B-sides, single edits, and rarities.
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First posted 3/23/2008; last updated 8/13/2021.