The Joshua Tree was the first CD I listened to on my first ever CD player. Although Dire Straits' "Money for Nothing" was more often used to show off the early CD players of the suburban middle class, it was that intro to "Where the Streets Have No Name" that hypnotised me in between those speakers. One of the most powerful beginnings to a piece of music, Brian Eno's atmospherics gradually giving way to the Edge's clockwork guitar, in a perfect one and a half minutes. The rest of the song's brillant as well of course.
All of the first three songs are up there with U2's best, and made the album so monstrously successful. "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" is a genre in itself, atmospheric gospel-rock, or something. "With Or Without You" winds its creepy way around the mind of an obsessive with some cutting music. But as soon as Bono sings "into the arms of America" at the end of the searingly heavy "Bullet the Blue Sky" we know where we are heading. As the tree on the album cover indicates, we're transported into a dusty midwestern desert, and their songs are generously dosed with country and blues.
I can take or leave the twanging of the relatively ordinary "Running to Stand Still" and the rootsy "Trip Through Your Wires". The best of the mid-album tracks is "Red Hill Mining Town", which builds up a more solid foundation from its country roots. "In God's Country" is more standard U2 fare, but on "One Tree Hill" they build a broad arch of a song from a lightly ticking riff. It finishes beautifully with a little splash of gospel.
But I've the greatest respect for the way they finish the album. Instead of the blustering pomp that the less imaginative might have settled for, the final two tracks inhabit the world of hypnotic minimalism. "Exit" makes a a particularly savage and heavy use of its one note, with great dynamics. "Mothers of the Disappeared" emerges slowly from its brooding bass hum, a moving tribute.
August 6, 2004