Sgt. Pepper had been twenty years earlier.
Also with this album, Bono gave himself license to become even more pompous and self-important, and set him and the other guys up for parody. Luckily for everyone involved, the album was—and is—pretty good. It builds on the work started with Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois on The Unforgettable Fire, filling out the sound a bit and adding some American dust.
The three hits appear at the top, fading in with the galloping fanfare of “Where The Streets Have No Name”, “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” conjuring images of the self-deprecating video of the boys wandering around Las Vegas, and of course, “With Or Without You”. After that, “Bullet The Blue Sky” originally seemed out of place, but it delivers an excellent contrast. Closing a very good album side is another song about heroin. “Running To Stand Still” is probably the one most people would skip, but the acoustic blues and “ha la la la de day” refrains provide something of a relief to the attack of the previous track.
“Red Hill Mining Town” starts side two, and it probably means something to a few people in Dublin, but the chorus cuts through the murk to make it something worth hearing out of whatever context it’s in. “In God’s Country” manages to keep us interested over two chords, but it’s still a little weak. At the time, “Trip Through Your Wires” seemed adventurous—Bono’s blowing a harmonica!—but in the wake of their next album and film, you can see where they started to get a little ahead of themselves. “One Tree Hill” is the Personal Statement, but they fill it with enough of their anthemic sound to make people care.
That’s pretty much where the album stops, but there are two more songs, so we have to talk about them. “Exit” is the Dark Ballad, supposedly inspired by Gary Gilmore, while “Mothers Of The Disappeared” takes it back to the commercial sound, albeit with a song about Argentinean victims. This might suggest that the parts don’t quite equal the sum. But The Joshua Tree still a good album and quite justifiably the one that made people notice.
The band kindly added excellent additional songs two at a time to each of the singles — albeit at 33 1/3, making them tough to play on jukeboxes. These were all made available on the bonus disc of the 20th Anniversary Edition, alongside outtakes and working tracks. Ten years later, the 30th Anniversary Deluxe Edition supplemented the album with most of a Madison Square Garden concert that spawned the “gospel” version of “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For”. Recorded in the fall of 1987, after the album had taken over the world, the band had become too big for even themselves. (The so-called Super Deluxe Edition had that, along with a disc of “newly commissioned” remixes and all but one of the bonuses from the 20th Anniversary Edition, replacing a single mix with two unreleased alternate mixes.)
U2 The Joshua Tree (1987)—4
2007 20th Anniversary Edition: same as 1987, plus 14 extra tracks
2017 30th Anniversary Deluxe Edition: same as 1987, plus 17 extra tracks
2017 30th Anniversary Super Deluxe Edition: same as 2007, plus 25 extra tracks (and minus 1 track)