Maybe it’s not too surprising after the critical drubbing and commercial failure of 2014’s Songs Of Innocence that U2 might choose to revisit the majestic achievement of 1987. The Joshua Tree was the Irish quartet’s (with producers Daniel Lanois and Brian Eno) leap from the Emerald Isle, all things U.K., even European, to the land that the band loved and mythologized: America. From sea to shining (and not-so-shiny) sea—Reagan, J.F.K., M.L.K., GM, independence, our racist past—this was U2’s Dos Passos-like U.S.A. with all the ambient morass, flanged Edge-y guitar, grooving syncopated rhythm and poetic Bono yelping, howling and bleating found in the hummable, ascending “Where The Streets Have No Name,” the searing “One Tree Hill,” the mad dog-attacking “Bullet The Blue Sky,” the brooding “With Or Without You” and such.
And at 30 years of age, it’s only better than it was. Burnished and tawny by maturity; taut in its accuracy; bourbon-soaked in the influence of American icons from Huey Newton to Tom Wolfe; the airy, silt-ish tones of the original Joshua Tree stand as an anthem to its moment and testament to the collective’s sense of melody and atmosphere mixed with intimate personal reflections on the big issues. It gets zero help from unnecessary remixes and wee heft from an era-appropriate Madison Square Garden concert recording. Rather, the happy burden of expansion’s worth falls to its oddities and non-LP b-sides such as the sensual “Luminous Times (Hold On To Love)” and the wisely woeful “Wave Of Sorrow.” Add those rarities and the entirety of The Joshua Tree blossoms anew.