Apple Music 100 Best Albums

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The Joshua Tree



U2’s leap into global domination explored the liberations that come with constraint.

The Joshua Tree represented something new for U2: the gospel influences, the emotional nakedness, the introduction of understatement to a sound that had defined itself by its forthrightness. In the past, they’d let their songwriting be loose and in the moment. Now they were exploring the liberations that come with constraint.

If you lean in close, you can pull apart the sound in layers: the wisps of guitar, the bits of pocket-watch percussion (“One Tree Hill”). But if you sit back, it sounds minimal and direct. The words point to romantic love (“With or Without You,” “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For”) but also to the search for God and meaning—a reflection of the dualities they found in both gospel and the romanticism of Van Morrison and Patti Smith. The backdrop—the inky washes of sound, courtesy of Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois—captures constant change. But the foreground—the march-like rhythms, the impassioned vocals—is steadfast and firm. They rock with the tools of their era, but they also tap into something eternal.