Revisiting U2: The Joshua Tree 30 Years Later

This album, it’s broad themes are VERY relevant to today with what’s happening right now. The effect America is having on the world, what our government’s role is playing in that, and many other things that seem to mirror issues happening today, 30 years later. But I’m not going to wade into that, you listen and draw your own conclusions…

One of the most formative albums of my youth (and probably yours) is 30 years old this week! Have you listened to it lately? I did and it does stand the test of time. Released in March of 1987, I was already a U2 fan, but this album was when all my friends found out what I kept going on and on about…

The album starts with the Big 3: Where The Streets Have No Name, I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For and With Or Without You. These three songs took them from “popular” in places to global superstars! The first two are gospel records and the third, can be both a romantic song or a spiritual yearning song…

But it’s the other 8 songs that I dug into and really enjoyed “revisiting”… The way U2 saw America back then…

“I love being there, I love America, I love the feeling of the wide open spaces, I love the deserts, I love the mountain ranges, I even love the cities. So having fallen in love with America over the years that we’ve been there on tour, I then had to ‘deal with’ America and the way it was affecting me, because America’s having such an effect on the world at the moment. On this record I had to deal with it on a political level for the first time, if in a subtle way.” – Bono

And did he deal with it, Mothers Of The Disappeared which was about a group of women whose children were killed by the local government in the Salvadoran Civil War. Bullet The Blue Sky with Edge’s soaring guitar riffs meant to sound like planes flying over head dropping bombs on the civilians… The lyric doesn’t explain, it paints…

This guy comes up to me, His face red like a rose in a thorn bush
Like all the colors of a royal flush, And he’s peeling off those dollar bills
Slapping them down, One hundred, two hundred
And I can see those fighter planes, And I can see those fighter planes

Across the mud huts where the children sleep, Through the alleys of a quiet city street
You take the staircase to the first floor, Turn the key and slowly unlock the door
As a man breathes into a saxophone, And through the walls you hear the city groan
Outside is America
Outside is America, America

The album cover and all the album art had them in the Joshua Tree National Park, in the desert… Which is part of what makes In God’s Country so powerful on the record.

“The desert was immensely inspirational to us as a mental image for this record. Most people would take the desert on face value and think it’s some kind of barren place, which of course is true. But in the right frame of mind, it’s also a very positive image, because you can actually do something with blank canvas, which is effectively what the desert is.” – Adam Clayton

So many more personal and heavy things the band dealt with on this album. One Tree Hill was about Bono’s personal assistant’s death, Red Hill Mining Town was about the 1984 UK mining strike, Running To Stand Still about a heroin addicted couple living in Dublin’s Ballymun Flats.

But there is also a love song, Trip Through Your Wires which is what one might consider a blues record, once again the influence of “America” into their European sensibilities…

But the song that gets the least amount of credit on this album, but I feel is the masterpiece is Exit. The original/working title of this song was originally “Executioner’s Song”. It is a very dark & violent song but in my opinion a very Christian record. It’s a religious man struggling with falling away from his faith. Something we don’t talk enough about in this kind of context. And the beauty of it, it is unresolved. You don’t know what happens, but you are left with the loss of his faith and the possible consequences…

“I had read Norman Mailer’s The Executioner’s Song and Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood,” “[‘Exit’] was my attempt at writing a story in the mind of a killer. It is all very well to address America and the violence that is in an aggressive foreign policy, but to really understand that you have to get under the skin of your own darkness, the violence that we all contain within us… Violence is something I know quite a bit about, I have a side of me which, in a corner, can be very violent. It’s the least attractive thing in anyone and I wanted to own up to that.” – Bono

And this is one of those few songs that evolved with time and is so much better live than what’s on the album! Rattle and Hum captured this in Denver. The raw energy of emotions, along with the segue-way to Gloria by Van Morrison takes it to a whole other place…

And yes I went to the Joshua Tree tour, but that’s another post for another time…

What do you think of this album? Give it another listen…

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