U2: The Joshua Tree

Ten years after the release of its landmark 1987 album The Joshua Tree, U2 was desperate to make the world forget about its former, earnest self. But disco grooves and gigantic lemons—like the giant lemon prop they used onstage, though the same term applies to 1997's Pop—couldn't erase the sand-'n'-cowboy-hats image seared into the public consciousness, and eventually U2 came around to re-creating the soaring anthems of The Joshua Tree. So while the ill-fated PopMart tour marked the 10th anniversary of the band's most commercially successful record, its 20th birthday is being celebrated with a re-mastered version, available in several packaging combinations.

In spite of U2's best efforts on its last two records, The Joshua Tree could never be made today. With its stark cover—four deadly serious twentysomethings staring into the desert—the album exists in a parallel, irony-free universe. But even though The Joshua Tree is one of the most aggressively unfunny records ever made, it's also one of rock's most powerfully moving experiences, nakedly emotional on a deeply personal level, yet sweepingly universal in a way few bands even shoot for.

The extras included in the deluxe editions are less essential. A disc of B-sides and rarities (most already collected by U2 diehards) suggests that the right songs made the final record. The DVD offers the documentary Outside It's America, a fly-on-the-wall look at U2 at the peak of Joshua Tree mania that's about as interesting as staring at a fly on a wall. A complete concert from Paris in 1987 is better, capturing U2 (awkwardly, at times) as it was becoming the biggest group in the world. While U2 doesn't always live up to that billing in the concert footage, The Joshua Tree remains its statement of greatness.

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