that's precisely what it sounds like.
That's not to say that this record is either a flagrantly commercial move or another Born in the U.S.A. The Joshua Tree is U2's most varied, subtle and accessible album, although it doesn't contain any sure-fire smash hits. But in its musical toughness and strong-willed spirituality, the album lives up to its namesake: a hardy, twisted tree that grows in the rocky deserts of the American Southwest. A Mormon legend claims that their early settlers called the Joshua tree "the praying plant" and thought its gnarled branches suggested the Old Testament prophet Joshua pointing the way to the Promised Land. The title befits a record that concerns itself with resilience in the face of utter social and political desolation, a record steeped in religious imagery.
Since U2 emerged from Dublin in 1980 with a bracing brand of hard, emotional, guitar-oriented rock, its albums have followed a pattern. The first and third (Boy and War) were muscular and assertive, full of, respectively, youthful bravado and angry social awareness; the second and fourth studio albums (October and The Unforgettable Fire) were moody and meandering and sometimes longer on ideas than on full-fledged songs.
But The Joshua Tree isn't an outright return to the fire of War. The band ruled that out years ago: Songs like "Sunday Bloody Sunday" and "New Year's Day" hit with driving force on the 1983 album and subsequent tour. But U2 saw itself in danger of becoming just another sloganeering arena-rock band, so the group closed that chapter with a live record and video. The band swapped longtime producer Steve Lilly-white for Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois and, with The Unforgettable Fire, declared its intention to no longer be as relentlessly heroic.
On the new album, U2 retains Eno and Lanois, brings back Lillywhite to mix four songs and weds the diverse textures of The Unforgettable Fire to fully formed songs, many of them as aggressive as the hits on War. U2's sonic trademarks are here: the monumental angst of Bono's voice, the driving pulse of Adam Clayton's bass and Larry Mullen Jr.'s drums and the careening wail of the Edge's guitar. But for every predictably roaring anthem there's a spare, inventively arranged tune, such as "With or Without You," a rock & roll bolero that builds from a soothing begin