Reissues of single CDs or boxed sets that present career overviews are
common in the music business. A boxed set that is built around a single
album is rare, and it’s often overkill. But in the case of U2’s Grammy-winning 1987 release, The Joshua Tree, a lavish boxed-set reissue is warranted due to its significance. And with all the add-ons, it’s also worth it.
Since U2’s 1980 debut, Boy, the band has built a following as one
of the most important on the scene, but it wasn’t until The Joshua Tree that Bono and company really hit their stride, artistically and commercially. The album sold twenty million copies, hit number one on the charts, landed the group on the cover of Time magazine and won various awards, including album of the year at the Grammies.
Twenty years later, the album holds up remarkably well. The production, by Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois, supplies the right atmospheric, cinematic sound that brings forth the majesty of the music, yet keeps the group’s more bombastic side in check.
What makes this box worth getting, though, is all the extras. The package includes the original album, a CD of bonus tracks, and a DVD, all in album-styled CD packaging. There is also a fifty-six-page hardcover book with extensive liner notes and photos, along with an envelope of photographic prints. The photography throughout features Anton Corbijn’s stark and queasy black-and-white photography that has over the years taken
on an iconic splendor.
The bonus audio disk consists of seven B-sides, the single edit of
“Where the Streets Have No Name,” the Sun City version of B-side “Silver
& Gold,” which features Bono, Steve Jordan and Keith Richards and Ron
Wood from the Stones, and five tracks from the Joshua Tree sessions. Some of this material has been available in various forms before and has
gained widespread exposure, particularly the B-side “Sweetest Thing,”
which received about as much airplay at the time as any of the original
As good as most of the unreleased songs are, it’s easy to see why they didn’t make the final cut. Tracks like the B-sides “Walk to the Water” and “Deep in the Heart,” with their stream-of-consciousness vocals, sound half-finished. Other tracks, like “Beautiful Ghost/Introduction to Songs of Experience” and “Drunk
Chicken/America,” use the poetry of William Blake and Allen Ginsberg,
respectively, and have good ideas as their basis but are not so much
songs as aural exercises. “Rise Up” is nothing more than grooves in search of a song. The original B-side of “Silver & Gold,” the rocking “Spanish Eyes” and the aforementioned “Sweetest Thing” are the best and most realized of the lot.
The bonus DVD is extremely well done. It includes U2 Live from Paris, a concert filmed in that city on July 4, 1987, during the Joshua Tree
tour; a documentary called Outside It’s America; and videos for the songs
“With or Without You” and “Red Hill Mining Town.”
The original album, the bonus material included here and the resultant
feature film and album, Rattle and Hum, released in 1988, proved to be a
watershed period for the group in many respects, mostly due to the band’s Exploration and exorcism of America and American culture. It made U2, with a great deal of help from Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois, in particular, come to terms with its most profound influences. Also, through its pondering something as vast as America, it helped the group see beyond its much smaller world. It made u2 grow, be more compassionate and in the end, create its best and most enduring work.