Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Albums2010 #1: The Joshua Tree

Although I didn't know it at the time, I was introduced to The Joshua Tree at a very young age. One of my earliest memories of the Iowa Memorial Union- back when parts of it looked like this (my apologies if it isn't that good of a pic. I did my best.):

Was standing in line for what seemed to me to be a very long time indeed with Mom so that she could get tickets to go see U2 as they swept through Iowa City on their Joshua Tree tour. Let's review that last sentence again: so that she could get tickets. I didn't get to go.

OK, so it was 1987 and I was five years old at the time. But the chance to see Bono (before he was annoying) The Edge and company perform what truly is one of the greatest albums of the past thirty years live in Carver Hawkeye Arena? Who knows what impact that could have had on my tiny mind? Perhaps today I'd be a successful musician somewhere with a hot band just breaking into the charts or something. But I didn't get to go, so we'll never know now will we? (Sorry. I'm going to give both my parents grief about this until the day they die. Why? Because it's fun.)

But The Joshua Tree itself is an exceptional album. It finds U2 at a turning point in their career and pushes them to heights that they haven't matched since. Sure, some people say Zooropa or Achtung Baby were good albums, but they weren't great. They were frankly weird and experimental and didn't lead anywhere good until U2 finally got their shit together with their 2000 album All That You Can't Leave Behind.

A quick read-up about this album reveals that America, visions of the wide-open spaces of the empty west drove a lot of the music behind this album. And although not a raw, bluesy or loud album, The Edge is careful to use his guitar sparingly, but with devastating effect- the simple chords weaving an expansive underlay throughout the album that really does put one in mind of wide, open America.

The songs people will recognize from this album: first and foremost, the gospel tinged 'I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For.' Close second behind that could be either 'Where The Streets Have No Name' or 'With Or Without You' but to me, the singles that get the air play off this album aren't the true gems. Those you have to dig a little to find. To me, 'Bullet The Blue Sky' captures the true spirit of the America that U2 was after with this album. It's raw, it's driving and it's passionate- all things one could, I suppose attribute to this country.

Second in line behind that: 'One Tree Hill' this was a song composed for Bono's assistant who was killed during the making of this album in a motorcycle crash. (The album is also dedicated to him) They performed it at his funeral in New Zealand- and it actually refers to a real place in Auckland which, at the very least used to have one tree on it. (Not sure it does anymore.) Anyway, this song is probably one of my favorite songs and it's been put on a quiet list for music I'd like played some day far in the future when I shuffle off this mortal coil. 'I'll see you again/when the stars fall from the sky/and the moon has turned red/over One Tree Hill.' That line especially resonates with me for some reason-- just beautiful.

But overall: this, to me is the last truly great album U2 has done. Before they went all experimental and mainstream. Before Bono embarked on his sermonizing and crusading. When they were just a damn good band. The Joshua Tree captures them at their best, as they mature from the angry young pissed off Irish band they were in albums like Boy or War into something truly great. This is an album that you can hit play to start and not touch once after that. And it will always hold a special place in my heart as the first rock concert that I didn't get to go too...

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