Over the Edge

With their finest LP U2 stands and delivers

More than any other rock band, U2 is associated with rock’s revived social consciousness. Whether it is as a result of, or in spite of, their professed Christian beliefs, U2 is one band that gives a damn. And their latest album, The Joshua Tree, delivers even deeper into spirituality, making it the most focused record of their career.

Producers Brian Eno and David Lanois succeeded in recapturing the ambient feel of 1984’s The Unforgettable Fire, while steering clear of the murkiness of that LP. Not surprisingly, Joshua Tree‘s most powerful music comes where former producer Steve Lillywhite is back in the mixing chair. “Where the Streets Have No Name” opens the album with a blast of his trademark drum power, and a riff similar to Simple Minds’ “Ghostdancing.” Lead vocalist Bono’s voice cuts through this wall of sound with a wail of desperation, as the lyrics agonize the need for personal spirituality. The following track, “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For,” concerns itself with the search that such a need inevitably leads to in a unique marriage of American gospel and Gaelic soul. While Bono may wear his Christian heart on his sleeve in lines like “You broke the bonds, you loosed the chains, you carried the cross, and my shame,” the human perspective he brings to this sentiment rings far truer than the rantings of, say, the born-again Bob Dylan.

The religious imagery continues throughout the first side. On the album’s musical highpoint, “Bullet the Blue Sky,” Bono howls of a “stinging rain, driving nails into the souls on the tree of pain,” as the Edge’s searing guitar runs add color to a drum track straight out of War‘s “Seconds.” Then, on “Running to Stand Still,” Bono furthers the Delta blues feel introduced on his Sun City contribution&endash;”Silver and Gold”&endash;drawing an analogy between heroin addiction and the Book of Revelation’s Harlot of Babylon: “She is raging and the storm blows up in her eyes. She will suffer the needle chill.”

With side two, the message shifts from the spiritual to the political arena. “Red Hill Mining Town” paints the bleak picture of two generations of British miners holding on to their hometown because “you’re all that’s left to hold on to.” “In God’s Country,” on the other hand, is an optimistic call to revive the ‘American dream.’ “We need new dreams tonight,” Bono sings in what may be his most passionate vocal ever, “She is Liberty, she comes to rescue me.”

On the far more personal level, the lyrics of “One Tree Hill” come from the eulogy given at the funeral of a band associate who died last year. The following song, “Exit,” deals with suicide by building an atmosphere of musical tension to match the frightening lyrics.

Although U2 was an original forebearer of the early ’80s “guitar band” boom, on The Joshua Tree, the guitar hero tag is laid to rest. Though U2’s brilliant guitarist, Larry [sic] “The Edge” Evans, is still allowed his share of the spotlight on cuts like “Bullet the Blue Sky” and “Exit,” the overall stand is stark and sparse.

The unifying factor on The Joshua Tree is U2’s ability to be both direct and believable, whether dealing with subjects as personal as suicide or as universal as spirituality. To call this U2’s finest album to date would be unfair to the angry young men who gave us those first three great albums. To call it anything less than the work of a band whose initial raw urgency has since flowered into a far greater maturity, would be equally unfair. U2 is a band whose time has clearly arrived.

Source: The Rocket/Glen Boyd

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