Ruminations on TV Shows, Comics, And Music
For a wide variety of reasons, in the universe I a m living in, and you are likely reading this from, 2016 was a bummer of a year. Amongst the reasons: the deaths of David Bowie, Prince, and Tom Petty. The American Presidential Election and the creation and subsequent vote on Brexit were also mentally taxing horror shows, but those have only gotten worse. Bowie, Prince, and Petty haven't been continually killed in worse and more horrifying ways in the intervening three years. None of your horrible relatives have, without anyone asking, repeatedly made public their views that rock stars deserve to die horrible deaths because a room-temperature IQed reality star with a history of not paying bills or being able to finish a sentence said so.
I chose to grieve by making my own alternate reality discographies of the deceased musical icons. I shared some with friends, and merely commented on making others. No one had any controversial takes on making the mixes. But when I mentioned that I hadn't touched Prince's Purple Rain because this reality's version was perfect, a couple of my friends, who are bigger and more loyal Prince fans than I am, offered remixes and alternative tracks to improve Purple Rain. They were mostly correct.
U2's The Joshua Tree has a similar touchstone significance for U2 fans to Prince fans feelings about Purple Rain. It's the album that brought the most people into the artists' hearts and ears.
In 2017, U2 launched a tour where they mostly just played songs from the thirty year old album, or from the sets they played when touring for The Joshua Tree. This may have had something to do with the commercial failures of their most recent two albums, but fans were excited by the roving nostalgia of the tour conceit.
Is it perfect? Of course not. Though I have a frequent loiterer/antagonist/contrarian who, whenever U2 is brought out, is quick to point out his incorrect opinion that the only good songs in the U2 catalog are from The Joshua Tree, and that they should have disbanded when it was over. Nobody likes that guy. And his feelings about U2 aren't even in the top hundred reasons that nobody likes that guy.
I mentioned during the alternate universe Unforgettable Fire post that it's my favorite album. Still, I erased one song from it entirely (the agonizingly out of tune and boring "Elvis Presley And America". I have not erased any songs from The Joshua Tree. I have merely rearranged them, and added some B-Sides and once-lost tracks from the albums that have shown up on subsequent rereleases of the album. The singles aren't as buried on the album as they were on The Unforgettable Fire, partially because they're stronger, but mostly because there's more of them. Enjoy!
"Deep In The Heart" could have come from The Unforgettable Fire. It has the atmospheric start, and the less-focused lyrics, as well as Bono being more experimental with his vocals. It also sets an interesting tone. We're certainly going to get to some political tracks on this album, but instead of setting a rebellious tone, this opening track is about trying to make everything work out tonight. A noble goal.
Another...another...love song? Bono sings a song about his wife and her ... "Spanish Eyes" ??? From what I can gather "Spanish Eyes" is a term Irish people have used for Irish men and women with dark hair and eyes. It seems not so much offensive, as I've not found any negative connotations to the term, just factually inaccurate. Bono's growling during a non-political song gives the song a sense of fun urgency that the lyrics support, but which I rather enjoy.
Building out of it is one of the best riffs the band has ever written. The first single from the album is "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For". A love song about faith built on Christian gospel that never namedrops Christ but uses Biblical imagery. This song is best performed by or with a gospel choir (we'll get to that later in the discography), but even the original is catchy as misguided religious beliefs.
Due to the band (in this alternate dimension)'s ban on talking about politics off-stage, U2's tour through Nicaragua and El Salvador seemed merely to be the act of taking their act to countries that big European rock bands rarely visited. That the band came out of the experience with "Mothers Of The Disappeared" is rarely mentioned in articles about them. But the heart of this song is the plight of South American prisoners. The lyrics are more focused than those from The Unforgettable Fire, but just as poetic. The song is too haunting to bury as the last track. It's also one of Bono's best vocal performances to date.
Twanging through the discorporating clouds of "Mothers Of The Disappeared" is "Running To Stand Still", a much more articulate and lush narrative about addiction than The Unforgettable Fire's "Bad". This song is in contention for my favorite U2 track ever. The Edge even breaks out his piano for the first time since War! And the guitar was actually written by producer Daniel Lanois. Unlike "Tomorrow" where U2 matches the Irishness of the lyrics with more stereotypical Irish instruments and arrangement, here U2 goes more American Blues with Bono even playing harmonica to close out the song.
"Race Against Time" harkens back a bit to "Alex Descends Into Hell For A Bottle Of Milk" with the song building around the bass track, and repeated lyrics, as opposed to a verse/chorus structure. It's a nice build to the lapping "Waves Of Sorrow", which is probably Bono's weakest vocal performance on this album. His voice breaks the way it frequently did on War. While the use of Biblical imagery work really well in songs like "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For", they're super heavy handed here. I really enjoy the chanting quality of the final three verses, though.
Drums and harmonica, like light beer and Twinkies, signal that we're about to get really Really American. "Trip Through Your Wires" delivers a decidedly American edge to U2's sound. Even Biblical imagery and Edge's jangly guitar can't move the song back across The Atlantic. And that's fine.
"Trip Through Your Wires" repeatedly mentions how thirsty Bono is, so it's good that he follows it up with "Walk To The Water". We also continue talking about a nebulous woman. Is it the same woman from "Spanish Eyes"? From "Running To Stand Still"? We seem to be tracking her progress much the way we were following the subject of "Running To Stand Still". Hmmm.
The fifth single from the album (we'll get to numbers two through four) is "The Sweetest Thing". A fun summer love song that, like "Spanish Eyes" was written about Bono's wife, Ali. The lyrics are dopey as hell but in a much more acceptable way then when Bono goes Heavy. I also appreciate how Bono's voice goes fairly parroty instead of his usual falsetto when he goes high.
The fourth single from the album is the most political U2 single since "Sunday Bloody Sunday" [take that, "Pride (In The Name Of Love)"!]. Edge's guitar playing on "Bullet The Blue Sky" is phenomenal and Very American. Clayton's bassline is simple but unrelenting. Mullen's drums harken back to War. And Bono's lyrics are some of his finest, even when he goes all Biblical again, with the story of Jacob wrestling the angel, and the returning image of burning crosses. In our universe the lyric From the locust wind/comes a rattle and hum gives the title to their next album. But, spoiler alert, that's not the name of the next album in this alternate discography. In this universe, they do not release an album with that title.
"Bullet The Blue Sky" ends with Bono talking about refugees who run into the arms of America, which, coincidentally is the title of the Alan Ginsberg poem that serves as the lyrics to "Drunk Chicken (America)". Ginsberg is even the vocalist for this track. I'm not a huge fan of Ginsberg, but I do like this poem, even if I wish it hadn't inspired so many similar poems by other Beat Poet wannabes.
Climbing out of "Drunk Chicken (America)" is the band's third single "With Or Without You". Another contender for my favorite U2 song. Following this album, Bono's falsetto gets a nasal quality to it, so enjoy this pure falsetto while you can.
"In God's Country" is the first song on the album that really evokes the cover photo, what with having a desert in it. Not sure how I feel about the lyric sleep comes like a drug on an album that otherwise speaks to the horrors of drug addiction. Bono also comes close to putting some American country inflection in this song, but he always pulls out at the last second.
"Beautiful Ghost" evokes "Mothers Of The Disappeared" with its haunting instrumentation but has the Bono speaking style that he will use years later, in our universe, on the soundtrack to The Million Dollar Hotel. It's a solid haunting lullaby.
Breaking through the ambience of the previous track, "Luminous Times" is another hold on to love track. Lyrically, this song is not my favorite, partially because I don't enjoy the use of the word soul, partially because the song never actually goes anywhere, but that seems to be part of its point. Love is god's blah blah blah, and you should hold on to it. Fiiiiiiiiiiiiine.
The second single from the album, "Where The Streets Have No Name" becomes their tour opener for the end of the eighties, and also for much of the twenty-first century. It's constant sense of building, and never arriving so much as ending with The Edge twanging the same sequence from the beginning of the song is really indicative of the whole experience of this album.
The squeak of Edge on his guitar is one of the album's most endearing sounds. It shouldn't work with the heaviness of "Red Hill Mining Town" but it does. Perfectly.
"One Tree Hill" has one of the most unnecessary fake endings and rebuilds of any U2 song. I an't explain why I enjoy it. I really enjoy it as the album's penultimate track, too. Here you go, a poppy Americaneque rock ballad to end the album. Just kidding, there's going to be another atmospheric song before we go!
How is U2 going to have a song called "Exit" be on the album, fade it into silence, and then not have it be the final track? I've fixed that for them.