A Masterpiece with Unnecessary Bells and Whistles
U2 never beat around the bush in terms of what prize they were eyeing early in their career. They wanted to be the biggest band in the world. Artists with that in mind usually explode with a sea of adulation and ride one pop hook into the sellout horizon. Since time fades everyone into obscurity, the challenge is the length of time the crown is held. In 1987, The Joshua Tree saw U2 as a new pop music King Arthur arriving in Camelot. Two decades later, U2 is still maintaining residency. While bands like Radiohead and the Rolling Stones keep a hold of titles such as â€šÃ„ÃºBestâ€šÃ„Ã¹ and â€šÃ„ÃºHighest Grossingâ€šÃ„Ã¹ respectively, no band since this Irish quartet has been truly bigger.With U2â€šÃ„Ã´s current state of extravagant tours and albums in a perpetual state of selling, one could say that a reissue campaign as adding the platinum icing to a multi-million dollar cake. However, there are some artists who are on their third re-appraisal this decade. This is the first installment of the first reissue campaign aside from the CD issues of their earliest output in the late 80s. Not only is The Joshua Tree the perfect place to start, everything from the album to its packaging is handled with the right amount of care. Nestled in a lavish box featuring the original LP artwork (as opposed to the CD image that distorted the band as well as the American southwest behind them) is the album, a bonus disc and a DVD.
Where it matters most this album is U2 at their most magnetic and sweepingly epic. From the processional fade-in of â€šÃ„ÃºWhere the Streets Have No Name,â€šÃ„Ã¹ itâ€šÃ„Ã´s almost too easy to get lost in the rush as this album surges along through the political (â€šÃ„ÃºBullet the Blue Sky,â€šÃ„Ã¹ â€šÃ„ÃºRed Hill Mining Town,â€šÃ„Ã¹ â€šÃ„ÃºMothers of the Disappearedâ€šÃ„Ã¹), the spiritual (â€šÃ„ÃºI Still Havenâ€šÃ„Ã´t Found What Iâ€šÃ„Ã´m Looking For,â€šÃ„Ã¹ â€šÃ„ÃºWith or Without Youâ€šÃ„Ã¹), the apocalyptic â€šÃ„ÃºExitâ€šÃ„Ã¹ and the utopian â€šÃ„ÃºOne Tree Hill.â€šÃ„Ã¹ This is also the place where Bono perfected his messianic delivery and The Edge solidified that chiming guitar that would be ever-present going forward.
With an album like The Joshua Tree, one might infer that any bonuses would only enrich this albumâ€šÃ„Ã´s legacy. Instead, it reveals that U2 arenâ€šÃ„Ã´t the studio band one might think. There are no hidden gems or lost masterpieces in the vaults. The 14 B-sides and rarities feature many cuts from the bonus disc of their Best of 1980-1990 from the late 90s. This fact shows the setâ€šÃ„Ã´s first shortcoming because the previously released â€šÃ„ÃºSilver and Gold,â€šÃ„Ã¹ â€šÃ„ÃºLuminous Times,â€šÃ„Ã¹ â€šÃ„ÃºSpanish Eyesâ€šÃ„Ã¹ and the original version of â€šÃ„ÃºSweetest Thingâ€šÃ„Ã¹ prove to be the most memorable of disc two and thus leaving only the completists with something to chase.
The DVD just barely surpasses disc two in the unnecessary department. While the hardest of the hardcore fan will hang on Bono’s every move and word during the entire concert at the Hippodrome de Vincennes, the casual observer will end up preferring solely hearing the music rather than overdosing on U2’s self-awareness of just how big they are. Musically and visually though, the songs are performed with a gusto slightly beyond the album’s intensity proving this might’ve been a fantastic gig to attend.
The documentary Outside It’s America acts as nothing more than an ego-stroking argument for U2 as a “band of the people.” Through a series of rather dull montages, we see the band juxtapose the life of photo shoots and sold-out arenas with stints in country bumpkin bars in Arizona. The only highlights are that videos for “Where the Streets Have No Name,” “In God’s Country,” “Spanish Eyes” and “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” break up the monotony. The other major fault is that the only stand-alone videos are “With or Without You” and “Red Hill Mining Town.” If you want to see the others, then you’ll have to skip through the documentary to find them.
The Joshua Tree is still a great album, arguably U2 at their absolute peak. With its majority of flaws this reissue doesn’t disprove that. In fact, it’s actually a perfect testament to the theory that only the music matters. In light of that, the remastered sound will be all anyone really needs of this edition.