You can’t grow up in Dublin in the eighties without feeling that you
somehow played a part in the grand dramatical of U2, from battle of the bands to mega superstars.
In the pre-tiger, pre-hair straightener ramshackles of a seemingly devout but downtrodden Catholic Ireland, U2 gave the nation a well needed shot of international kudos. They gave us ‘Pride, In the name of Love’, when we were famous for petrol bombs and our potato famine.
This was the era of dodgy mullets and red graffiti, cassette tapes and ‘Top of the Pops’, when people wore bangles and leg warmers because they had to. It was back in the days when the album as an artform was a powerful entity. We didn’t know anything about the internet back then – we didn’t have ‘Sex and the City’ or ‘Big Brother’ either – but we had Bono.
Actually you wouldn’t have grown up in any corner of the world during that decade and probably to this day, without hearing ‘The Streets With No Name’ repeatedly and to the extent where you knew the entire verse and chorus lyrics backwards and probably also the guitar chords as well.
If anything, you couldn’t get away from them. By the time they got to The Joshua Tree U2 already had five albums and a heavy arsenal of hits songs: ‘Sunday Bloody Sunday’, ‘New Years’ Day’ and ‘I Will Follow’ among them. They were already as big and as iconic as Coke.
The Joshua Tree captured all that was brilliant about U2 right at the peak of their creative arc. They were on a roll. Mature in their skins and not yet complacent, theirs was the sound of a band whose magic lay in the sum of their parts. Larry’s simple slightly rackety militant drumming and Adam’s minimalist bass were the perfect cushion for Bono’s larger than life vocal deliveries. And the Edge’s distinctive guitar shimmered like a sequin mesh over the whole thing.
Of the eleven songs on there it’s hard to pick a dud among them. With the huge anthems of ‘With or Without You’, ‘I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For’, and ‘Where the Streets Have No Name’, they mastered the hook in all its shapes and sizes: from big and bombastic, to powerful and emotive. They nailed the art of being universal … and it paid off.
For my part there’s a certain cheesy dreaminess in ‘Running to Stand Still’ which I can’t help but give in to, and the infectious energy of ‘In God’s Country’ is a brilliant nugget of early U2 adrenalin poshed up in production.
I imagine Eno’s presence was of great significance to the sound of this album, as no doubt were the entire recording team. But, according to my five minute Wikipedia research, U2 mostly recorded the songs “live” and whether that’s true or not, the sweat and tears I think clearly ring out over any high tech studio jinks.
The Joshua Tree immortalized the heart and determination of a fiercely ambitious band trying to break the world and conquer the planet. The songs were political and personal songs of searching. Be it life outside the slums – or a bunch of lads on the trip of a lifetime, for me it’s always an album I’ll associate with growing up in Dublin.
If lack of exposure is the kiss of death for most bands, too much is perhaps even worse. The fact that The Joshua Tree has been heard so many times and still sounds great is a testament to it. That’s what separates a great album from a decent bunch of songs. A great album stamps a mood on the listener. It creates its own sense of time and space, and then lingers there. A great album stays with you.
The Joshua Tree stands as one of the world’s all time best-selling albums, with over 25 million copies sold so ‘stay with us’ it certainly has. Love ‘em or loathe ‘em, you really can’t argue with a killer song – or as they would call it – the truth and three
Ann Scott is a Dublin-based songwriter who released her third album, Flo, produced by Steve Albini in 2010.