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Case Number 10847: Small Claims Court

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U2: The Joshua Tree

Eagle Rock Entertainment // 1999 // 60 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Ryan Keefer (Retired) // February 15th, 2007

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All Rise...

Judge Ryan Keefer's car rattles and hums, but he took it into the shop, and they fixed it all fine.

The Charge

Almost twenty years and fifteen million copies later, U2's The Joshua Tree is examined by the British "Classic Albums" show.

The Case

The Irish band U2 (comprised of the lads known as Paul Hewson (a.k.a. Bono), Dave Evans (a.k.a. The Edge), Larry Mullen, and Adam Clayton had a somewhat solid reputation before the release of their milestone album The Joshua Tree. In the years leading up to it, they had released some fairly well-received albums in Boy, October, and War, the latter producing such hits as "New Year's Day" and "Sunday Bloody Sunday." In their songs were various themes surrounding politics, spirituality, and happenings past and present, both in America and in Ireland. Many first discovered the group while watching the video of "Sunday Bloody Sunday" during the live Under a Blood Red Sky album, when Bono would wave a huge flag over his head during performances of the song.

When the band returned to the studio to record The Unforgettable Fire, it was the beginning of their collaboration with producers Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois. Eno's work in the band Roxy Music was very well respected, and his work with David Bowie was among Bowie's best. Eno and Lanois added a previously unheard depth to their sound, using simplified effects like doubling guitar tracks to add weight and lending more power to Bono's vocals, evidenced in songs like "Pride in the Name of Love." Bono was also looking more towards America for inspiration, as the song was a clear reference to the assassination of civil rights leader Martin Luther King. Many people view their 1985 Live Aid performance as a breakthrough moment, as the industry had been subjected to synthesizer pop for several years and yearned for another truly exclusive rock band.

After the Live Aid performance and reception they received, they headed back to the studio to record their next album. The collaboration with Eno and Lanois remained solid, and the lyrical messages continued in songs like "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" and "Bullet the Blue Sky," where the Mullen and Clayton rhythm section got a chance to show their chops, and Mullen's drumming power continued to impress. "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For," "With or Without You," and "Where the Streets Have No Name" were released as singles to popular reception, made all the more so by extensive video airplay on MTV. Their music is described as "cinematic," taking the listener to a different place, which their videos seem to accomplish. The response to the album was practically seismic. People around the world packed arenas and stadiums to watch the band, and the film Rattle and Hum chronicled the band on tour.

As part of the "Catch a Fire" series produced for British television, the album is examined in greater detail with the artists and producers. While not all eleven tracks are broken down, they do explore the hits along with "Mothers of the Disappeared," "Exit," "Running to Stand Still," and "The Sweetest Thing." A great deal of interview footage along with The Edge playing some of their original, pre-mixed tracks gives fans an idea of what everyone brought to the table. Lanois talks about Bono's vocal range on the album and plays an unaccompanied track while an uncomfortable Bono nervously sits by listening. Knowing that he can sing with power but also hit the high notes when needed was interesting to see.

In an amazing bit of trivia, the only early version of "Where the Streets Have No Name" was nearly destroyed during the recording process, and Lanois had to forcibly restrain Eno from doing so. However, according to Eno, the existing version was in such bad shape that he was thinking that things should be reset from scratch, and perhaps a better version could be brought to the surface. But it wasn't, and everyone knows how the song came around. Even photographer Anton Corbijn gets some interview time to talk about where he found the tree, how it artistically spoke to him, and what the band thought about it.

As one whose exposure to U2 was seeing their videos repeatedly on MTV and watching my friend Pernell sing their songs with his cover band ("With or Without You" was particularly scary), my knowledge is topical at best. However, I understand where they're coming from a bit more now. Depending on your knowledge and interest, U2: The Joshua Tree may be of some value. If nothing else, listening to the early versions of these songs is fun for music geeks like me, and the quick remix treatment is fun, so I'll give it a rental recommendation.

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Scales of Justice

Judgment: 79

Perp Profile

Studio: Eagle Rock Entertainment
Video Formats:
• Full Frame
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
• English
Running Time: 60 Minutes
Release Year: 1999
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
• Concerts and Musicals
• Documentary
• Performance

Distinguishing Marks

• None

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