Q JULY 2017 - by Tom Doyle


Root & Branch: Irish rocker's landmark album gets the deluxe treatment for its birthday

In 1984, Bono was filmed at Windmill Lane Studio in Dublin for a documentary about the making of U2's fourth album, The Unforgettable Fire, standing at the microphone belting out Pride (In The Name Of Love) with such intensity that the veins in his neck were bulging. At the end of his thundering performance, as he caught his breath, the camera panned to the control room where producers Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois were visibly thrown by what they'd just witnessed. Then perma-unflappable guitarist The Edge spoke up: "Maybe a bit more passion this time, Bono?" he deadpanned.

The needle on U2's passion-ometer was already battering into the red. But for their fifth album, they managed to find room for even more. Their second with Eno and Lanois took them to a place that was utterly out of step with the contemporary sounds of the '80s. Where most of the records of the day were synthetic and proto-digital, The Joshua Tree (recorded for the most part in a rented Georgian manor house in Dublin) was roomy, mysterious and unique.

Thirty years on, as this anniversary remastering proves, it remains a cinemascopic, ambient-textured rock album. Everyone knows the hits - the rave-before-rave rush of Where The Streets Have No Name, the eerie and self-torturing With Or Without You, the modernist hymn I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For. But while typically viewed as U2's American Album, there's much more to it: Running To Stand Still is a beautiful Velvets-echoing empathic lament for Dublin heroin addicts, Red Hill Mining Town tackles the devastation of communities after the miners' strike of 1984-5.

Then there's the darkness of its closing tracks, as Bono imagines the thoughts of a murderous figure in the bruising Exit, before the industrial pulse of Mothers Of The Disappeared summons up the souls of those killed by oppressive regimes in Central and South America.

This remaster reveals The Joshua Tree in all its sonic wonder and its capturing-lightning-in-a bottle imperfections, which makes it all the more real and riveting a listening experience. You can hear The Edge fluff a guitar note or three in One Tree Hill and just how rough Adam Clayton's hastily-recorded bassline is on Where The Streets Have No Name, which he's admitted he would dearly love to re-do after thirty years of perfecting it.

While that hasn't happened, this is an opportunity for the forever self-critical U2 to have another go at the things that bugged them about the original mixes: Bono has re-recorded his vocals for both Eno's extras disc ambient reworking of One Tree Hill and the new Steve Lillywhite mix of Red Hill Mining Town, where the colliery brass band lost in the original have been nudged back up.

The rarities and outtakes included on the 4CD/seven vinyl versions were first heard on the twentieth-anniversary edition, but the best of the new remixes that feature include Lanois offering a lovely, dreamy electronic take on Running To Stand Still, while the original album's recording engineer Flood sails Where The Streets Have No Name into an otherworld of harmonic reverb. Additionally, a live album from Madison Square Garden in 1987 reveals just how hard U2 threw themselves at these songs.

Bono has recently confessed that he finds some of the singing on The Joshua Tree over the top in terms of his passionate delivery. But as a document of men just past the mid-points of their twenties achieving individualistic greatness, this is perfect. Thirty years on, it's a complete picture of The Joshua Tree, past and present.

Listen To: Where The Streets Have No Name / I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For (Live) / Running To Stand Still (Daniel Lanois Remix)