Well having put out a single song (I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For) the rest of this just seemed to flow. I hadn’t intended this to happen, but here it is. I’d thought for many years about putting this one together, but had persuaded myself that (a) nobody would want it, and (b) the songs wouldn’t really work. Well I can’t vouch for (a), but having listened to the album afresh, and worked these through, I think I can say that I was wrong about (b).
I know that this band, and this album, is one that has attracted more than its fair share of opprobrium. I get some of that, and understand some of it. But personally U2 is the band that has sound-tracked my life more than any other. From having first seen them in a surprise appearance at the Greenbelt Festival in 1981 and then in a nightclub in Portsmouth later that year, Bono, The Edge, Larry Mullen Jr and Adam Clayton have informed and inspired me over the years. Yes, the last few albums have been something of a disappointment. And I know that Bono’s ego can get in the way of things. But for me, the journey that this band have been on, and the journey that they have taken me on, is something I don’t regret.
From the fresh-faced post-punk misfits of Boy, through the initial breakthrough of War and Under A Blood Red Sky, to the world-wide domination that was announced at Live Aid and came to fruition with The Joshua Tree, this was a band that grew up in, and to an extend defined, the 1980s. Afterwards they spent the 1990s embracing their more detached, ironic side with Achtung Baby, Pop and the Zoo TV tour – although it’s fair to say that under the surface there was still a lot of deeply serious stuff going on, before returning to be U2 again in the 2000s and beyond.
And so here is The Joshua Tree. The real international break-through for the band, one that begins with three stone-cold classics (Where The Streets Have No Name, I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For, With Or Without You), but which contains within its grooves a reservoir of deep cuts that have still bear repeated listening. Reprised a few years ago when the band – who usually stick rigidly to the mantra (from Rattle and Hum’s God Part II) that “you glorify the past when the future dries up” – toured the album in a series of world-wide shows, thematically the album is still is relevant as it was back in 1987. An album that riffs on themes of spiritual yearning and spiritual drought (those desert pictures aren’t coincidence), of the heart of America, and those on the fringes of that promised land who are cut-off and unable to participate, and of international tension and war-torn strife, this is a record that is still relevant, and which still inspires.
At the heart of the record, though, is a series of great songs. Strip away the effects and the production and – with a couple of probable exceptions (Bullet The Blue Sky and Exit, I’m looking at you!) – these are songs that works as stripped down, acoustic renditions, as much as they work as huge stadium-filling rock performances. And that is the measure of a great record.
And so here you have The Joshua Tree for ukulele. Unlikely, I’ll grant you. And whether these ever get to be played in public who knows. Stripped back, these songs are surprisingly simple. There’s no complicated chords here, no complicated rhythms, just a bunch of great songs that deserve to be sung proudly. I don’t think there’s more to be said than that. Just – whatever you’ve thought about the band and the record in the past – give it a chance. There’s riches in here.