U2: The Joshua Tree

It’s a little unsettling how implacably serious these four young Dubliners have become in a relatively short period of time. The darkness of their costumes, the grimness of their faces and the bleak majesty of the desert terrain in which they are photographed on the cover of their new album announce a mood that is fully articulated by the music within. The first few times through the album one is apt to feel suitably restive, to come away thinking, “Lighten up, boys.” A lot seems to have happened to them since 1984’s The Unforgettable Fire — itself a heavy album that is sounding deeper all the time. The group has been involved with Amnesty International, projects involving African famine relief and other causes. A very popular member of the band’s road crew — Greg Carroll, whom audiences might remember as the small, cat-like man with the braided hair they saw springing after Bono, untangling his microphone cord — was killed in a motorcycle accident last summer at age 26. So perhaps the reason The Joshua Tree is hard for an outsider to bring himself to face is because the emotions that drive it are hard to face.

But the reason the album finally works is that there is more passion in it than there is resignation. Staring right into the jaws of their trouble seems to have given them substantial strength. That combination of passion and serenity, commitment and detachment, is what is initially unsettling and finally compelling about the album. It’s what people may have in mind when they say that U2 is a “spiritual” band.

© PEOPLE Magazine/ Eric Levin.

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