In 1976 a band formed in Dublin, Ireland. In 1978 they took the name U2. BOY, their first album, came out in 1980 and included the song ‘I Will Follow’. Their second album, OCTOBER (1981), included ‘Gloria’. THE JOSHUA TREE (1987, Island Records) was the band’s fifth studio album. It was produced by Daniel Lanois and Brian Eno. So, how did the album get it’s name? According to Wikipedia.org, photographer Anton Corbijn “told the band about Joshua trees (Yucca brevifolia), hardy and twisted plants in the deserts of the American Southwest, and he suggested their use on the sleeve. Bono was pleased to discover the religious significance of the plant’s etymology. Early settlers, according to Mormon legend, named the plant after the Old Testament prophet Joshua, as the tree’s stretching branches reminded them of Joshua raising his hands in prayer”. THE JOSHUA TREE won a Grammy for ‘Album of the Year’. Also, in 2001, CCM Magazine named it the sixth greatest album in Christian music. On the album, U2 is: Bono (lead vocals, harmonica, guitars), The Edge (guitars, backing vocals, piano), Adam Clayton (bass guitar), and Larry Mullen Jr. (drums, percussion).
‘Where the Streets Have no Name’ is a passionate rock song that anticipates Heaven: “I want to feel sunlight on my face/I see that dust cloud disappear without a trace/I want to take shelter from the poison rain/Where the streets have no name/Where the streets have no name (2X)/We’re still building then burning down love, burning down love/And when I go there, I go there with you/It’s all I can do”. ‘I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For’ is a moving rock anthem of one who is seeking and searching: “I believe in the Kingdom Come/Then all the colours will bleed into one, bleed into one/But yes, I’m still running/You broke the bonds/You loosed the chains/You carried the cross/All my shame (2X)/You know I believe it/But I still haven’t found what I’m looking for (2X)”.
‘With or Without You’ was the album’s lead single and the band’s first #1 hit in the U.S. and Canada. This rock ballad is sung with great feeling and is my favourite U2 song. Some of the lyrics are: “With or without you (2X)/I can’t live with or without you/And you give yourself away (2X)/And you give, and you give/And you give yourself away/My hands are tied/My body bruised, she’s got me with/Nothing to win and nothing else to lose”. ‘Bullet the Blue Sky’ is the heaviest track yet and includes these mysterious words: “In the locust wind comes a rattle and hum/Jacob wrestled the angel and the angel was overcome/You plant a demon seed, you raise a flower of fire/See them burning crosses, see the flames, higher and higher/Bullet the blue sky (2X)/Bullet the blue (2X)”.
‘Running to Stand Still’ is a tender story song: “She runs through the streets with her eyes painted red/Under black belly of cloud in the rain/In through a doorway she brings me/White gold and pearls stolen from the sea/She is raging/She is raging and the storm blows up in her eyes/She will suffer the needle chill/She is running to stand still”. The Arklow Silver Band play brass on ‘Red Hill Mining Town’, a song about holding on to Christ: “From Father to Son/The blood runs thin/I see faces frozen still against the wind/The seam is split, the coal face cracked/The lines are long, there’s no going back/Through hands of steel and heart of stone/Our labour day has come and gone/And you leave me holding on in Red Hill Town/See lights go down/I’m hanging on/You’re all that’s left to hold on to/I’m still waiting”.
‘In God’s Country’ is a pop/rock song with some biblical terminology: “She is Liberty and she comes to rescue me/Hope, faith, her vanity/The greatest gift is gold/Sleep comes like a drug in God’s Country/Sad eyes, crooked crosses in God’s Country/Naked flame/She stands with a naked flame/I stand with the sons of Cain/Burned by the fire of love (2X)”. ‘Trip Through Your Wires’ is about a lady: “I was broken, bent out of shape/I was naked in the clothes you made/Lips were dry, throat like rust/You gave me shelter from the heat and the dust/No more water in the well/No more water, water/Angel, angel or devil/I was thirsty and you wet my lips/You, I’m waiting for you/You, you set my desire/I trip through your wires”.
‘One Tree Hill’ finds The Armin Family on strings. These words seem to comment on war and the End Times: “I don’t believe in painted roses or bleeding hearts/While bullets rape the night of the merciful/I’ll see you again/When the stars fall from the sky and the moon has turned red/Over One Tree Hill/We run like a river, run to the sea/We run like a river to the sea/And when it’s raining, raining hard/That’s when the rain will break my heart”. ‘Exit’ is an experimental rock track: “Hand in the pocket, finger on the steel/The pistol weighed heavy/His heart he could feel/Was beating, beating/Beating, beating, oh my love/Oh my love (3X)/My love/Saw the hands that build can also pull down/The hands of love”. Last up is ‘Mothers of the Disappeared’, a sombre, quiet ballad about casualties: “Midnight, our sons and daughters cut down, taken from us/Hear their heartbeat, we hear their heartbeat.../In the trees our sons stand naked/Through the walls our daughters cry/See their tears in the rainfall”.
I believe at the time THE JOSHUA TREE was released, three of U2’s four members identified themselves as Christians. I wouldn’t really classify this as a Christian rock album, but rather as a rock album with Christian imagery and phrases mixed in with more mainstream lyrics. So, if you prefer the more didactic lyrics of say Petra or DeGarmo & Key, you’ll be disappointed here. I have to add that the music itself is much more creative and artistic than either of the aforementioned bands, but it definitely doesn’t rock as hard. Jars of Clay may be the best comparison I can come up with for U2. I find the album a bit uneven, in that some of the songs are more commercial and suitable for singing along with than others. I don’t believe all music put out by Christians must be Christian lyrically. For example, Johnny Cash put out a ton of songs that had nothing to do with God. The problem with some of the songs on THE JOSHUA TREE is that the lyrics are quite ambiguous. Still, for creativity and artistic quality, I’m rating it 87%. For more info visit: www.u2.com.