"Outside is America", sang U2

“Outside is America”, sang U2

On March 9, 1987 he U2 released their fifth album, “The Joshua Tree”. The album definitively brought the Irish band worldwide fame. It is considered one of the most important albums in the entire history of rock and certainly one of the most significant of the 1980s. We remember its release by offering you our review.

There are some records that marked the musical education of those who grew up in the '80s. Records by groups born, grown and exploded in that decade, together with a new generation of listeners. And, if we had to indicate one album and one album only from that period, “The Joshua tree” would be one of the most accredited candidates, if not THE candidate. Now we are in a period of revival: television programs and compilations remind us of the epochal deeds of those years, with the mythologizing typical of every operation of the genre. But if we have to talk about rock, U2 were certainly the group of the decade.

In 1987 U2 returned from a period of constant growth: with “War” they had become a cult group, or perhaps already something more.

The explosive live “Under a blood red sky”, with that evocative cover (the blood red sky of Colorado, the silhouette of Bono holding a flag) consolidated their fame as a rock band emerging from the great new wave cauldron. A year later, in 1984, the group changes direction: “The unforgettable fire” is the album of the meeting with Brian Eno. That is, less rock (apart from the anthem “Pride”), more sonic experimentation. Which meant less guitar playing from The Edge (the true musical soul of the group), but more sound textures, to support Bono's epic and “social” lyrics. In 1985 the definitive dedication to “Live Aid”.

“The Joshua tree” arrived in March 1987. The album of confirmation, but also the album in which U2 summarized the musical journey undertaken up to that point, plus recovering dormant and never fully revealed roots: the American ones. “Outside it's America”, “Out there is America” sings Bono in one of the most intense songs on the album, “Bullet the blue sky”. “The Joshua tree” is an American album, right from the title which recalls the trees in the desert between Nevada and California, which grow despite the lack of water. It's an American record in its music and themes.

Musically, the production of Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois brings the coordinates of the sound into greater focus, The Edge's “Infinite guitar” finds in the dilated arpeggios of songs such as “With or without you” and “Where the streets have no name” its most classic configuration. But the album also contains the acoustic, almost blues ballad of “Running to stand still” and songs like “Trip through your wires” which could come from Dylan or Neil Young's repertoire, the gospel of “I still haven't found what I'm looking for”.

The thematic references to America in the songs are countless. And if the one already mentioned in “Bullet the blue sky” is certainly the most explicit, the direct and indirect quotations range from the desert evoked in “Where the streets have no name” to the “land of God” in “In God's country”, to the song dedicated to the mothers of the South American desaparecidos (“Mothers of the disappeared”, precisely). What made this album great, however, is not the simple quotationism, but the rereading of America from the eyes of Europeans. A reinterpretation that crystallized into an epic sound, which became by definition the rock sound of the 80s.

The story of U2 post “Joshua tree” is well known: after a mega world tour (which also touched Italy, bringing together thousands of people), Bono and his companions continued to sing America with “Rattle and hum”, a record partly from alive and partly unpublished, all linked by the thematic thread represented by the continent, which becomes even stronger and more evident than in “The Joshua tree”.

In the 1990s U2 became one of rock's most beloved, but also most controversial, bands for their spectacular megalomania. “Achtung baby”, the first unreleased studio work, is another masterpiece, but certainly inferior to this “The Joshua tree”. Which in the end, beyond everything, remains the best album of U2 songs, and probably of a whole controversial musical decade.