U2 The Joshua Tree (Island)

The U2 Catalog

Record Reviews

U2

The Joshua Tree (Island)

Before 1987's The Joshua Tree, U2 was the revolutionary flag bearer for post-punk idealists who were certain Reagan would blow up the world before they had a chance to drink legally. Then came "With or Without You," the strategic lead-off single whose melodic bassline and quasi-romantic delivery covered up the lyrics' tortured indecision almost as well as the Police's "Every Breath You Take" whitewashes stalking. Suddenly, you heard U2 at frat houses, wedding receptions, and on adult contemporary radio stations. U2 fans were understandably divided by the overwhelming success of The Joshua Tree, some lauding the band's sharpened pop songwriting, others lamenting the lack of politicized intensity that fueled War. Though the songs still struggled with discontentment, the spotlight turned inward. "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" chronicles a person's search for truth, but it might as well have been describing U2's struggle with the mantle of "World's Most Important Band." The choice was evolve or die, and even if "With or Without You" trod too deeply into Simple Minds territory, the band's ability to convey emotion via consummate soundscaping shone on the stark addiction tale, "Running to Stand Still" and the sorrowful, album-closing elegy, "Mothers of the Disappeared." As a high school journalist struggling for objectivity, I characterized The Joshua Tree as a good-but-imperfect continuation of the transition that began with Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois being brought in for The Unforgettable Fire. U2's next LP, I reasoned, would be the full blossom of their potential. I would live to eat those words, of course, but at least they tasted better than "This is a song Charles Manson stole from the Beatles -- we're stealing it back!"

***.5

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