The Joshua Tree (1987) is an album I vastly underrate. Actually, I now rate it as one of the year’s best, but I always had a soft spot for it. First, my reservations.
I think of poetry as writing we may not understand at first. The Joshua Tree’s written in such and such a way that a teacher of literature would be qualified to get it. But that’s the high-end poetry for there are all kinds of poetry that can reach all kinds of people. The Joshua Tree, from U2, is at the high end of the poetry scale. I expect lyrics to assist me in following the story of the song and if it’s popular music we can generally be assured it does that. The Joshua Tree isn’t pop music, it’s alternative rock music, but isn’t real rock music. It’s rock art and poetry in motion.
I couldn’t take about two-thirds of the album on board. What is it saying? What is it about? What’s the point? I had to look further to understand it, it’s something about heroin use on the track Running to Stand Still, worker’s rights on Red Hill Mining Town, immigration on In God’s Country and so on, but I don’t know for sure.
The Joshua Tree is well produced, well arranged, a fine production, but is it really rock? I think not. It’s a sound that rock band U2 abandoned for the looser production values of Rattle and Hum (the title is apt considering), Achtung Baby, alternative album Zooropa and so on. They never really looked back musically.
Yet, The Joshua Tree may be their masterpiece if you can get your head around the lyrics and appreciate them for what they are. I’d just say I liked it for the opening tracks, the musical qualities, and a sense of sincerity running through it. This isn’t a meaningless album, but for me it isn’t a masterpiece, but I may be wrong. I am underrating The Joshua Tree here, because once one gets over the hurdles, it’s a great album of substance, which is apparent in the depth of lyrical content, that while perhaps complexly arranged, is significant, combined with wonderful musical qualities. Most probably U2’s finest hour.
5 out of 5 stars