Wednesday, May 8, 2013

The Joshua Tree - U2

The Joshua Tree - U2

The Joshua Tree Album Cover

Band Members of U2
The album draws its influences from American rock, Irish folk music, acoustic blues and gospel. Released in 1987, it broke the shackles and extended the horizons of alternative rock with its motley nature of themes ranging from love, spirituality to violence, war, politics and social malaises like drug addiction, inequality and unemployment. This is the record which catapulted U2 from heroes to legends and drew multitudes to their fan base.

The album opens with ‘Where The Streets Have No Name’, a stadium anthem which has become a permanent staple in U2’s live concerts. Starting with a chiming guitar arpeggio and modulated synthesisers the song eventually builds up to its climax guided by Bono’s passionate vocals, Adam Clayton’s pulsating sound of the bass and sheer wizardry with the guitar by The Edge to create a ‘wall’ of sound. The name of the song may sound odd, but it stems from Bono’s belief that a person’s income in Belfast can be estimated by knowing his address. The band dreams of a world without inequality, social encumbrances; where the streets have no name.

‘I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For’ deals with spiritual yearning, the void that is sometimes created in spite of success. The chiming sound created by The Edge’s use of the delay effect strongly reminds you of chrome bells ringing on Christmas Eve and Bono’s choir-like singing accentuates the spiritual imagery brought to your mind by the song. The chorus is breathtakingly beautiful. ‘With Or Without You’, a troubled love song inspired by Bono’s conflicting  lives he led as a musician and a family man is notable for The Edge’s use of the delay effect and a prototype of the Infinite Guitar enabling ‘infinite sustain’. The main guitar riff is intoxicating and the song regularly features in ‘Greatest Hits of All Time’ lists.

If you care not to break the chronology, you will be caught off guard by the abrupt conceptual shift of the album with ‘Bullet the Blue Sky’. It is a rebel song with strong political overtones as The Edge ‘puts the El Salvador Civil War through an amplifier’. It successfully synthesises an image of war- Bono’s angry vocals and Adam Clayton’s aggressive bassline are redolent of roaring cannonballs, screeching fighter-planes and ricocheting bullets. ‘Running to Stand Still’, a slow piano ballad describes the plight of a heroin-addicted couple. The subtle guitar notes and the harmonica at the end are soothing and gradually grow on you. ‘Red Hill Mining Town’ speaks about the relationships strained and lives torn apart by unemployment.

‘In God’s Country’ ups the tempo with racy guitar strumming and energetic vocals. The song dishes out innuendos regarding the dearth of political ideas in the West. ‘Trip Through Your Wires’, packed with harmonica, is an unconventional love ballad while ‘One Tree Hill’ is an epitaph, a tribute to the departed, a celebration of life.

As we approach the end, the album skews again. ‘Exit’ is a song about a psychotic killer. Clayton’s  bassline and The Edge’s riffs succeed to create an eerie and surreal aura. The song’s up there with Metallica’s ‘Enter Sandman’ and Michael Jackson’s ‘Thriller’. ‘Mothers of the Disappeared’ is the concluding track of the album. It is a token of empathy to all the mothers whose children have been taken by sporadic occurrences of violence like war and riots. Bono’s choir-like vocals, the morose guitar notes and synthesisers bring the album to a melancholy finale.

The Joshua Tree is notable for utilising the complete range of Bono’s voice and tonal quality and The Edge’s delay effect, creating chiming cadences which went on to become his trademark sound. The album is implicitly critical of The USA’s foreign policy and describes the band’s love-hate relationship with The United States. Overall, the album takes you through various human emotions and packs a punch. Happy listening!

INTERESTING FACT: Writer Derek White conducted a mathematical study of The Edge’s rhythmic delay. He found that by dividing the number of delay notes per minute by the songs tempo in beats per minute, he arrived at ‘e’, an important fundamental mathematical constant!

Joshua Tree Full Track

Contributed by Niranjan Thakurdesai --