Back in 1988 Bono sang on the U2 song God Part 2
“You glorify the past
When the future dries up”.
So as they announced this week that they were going to do a Joshua Tree 30th Anniversary Tour it begged the question, if they are glorifying a thirty year old album has the future dried up?
The Anniversary Tour announcement was a curve ball for fans who were expecting a tour to promote an anticipated new record Songs Of Experience, follow up to 2014’s Songs Of Innocence. So, the first question fans were asking was, are their problems with Songs Of Experience? With this Joshua Tree Tour, it is hard to believe that that record will now see light of day before the later part of 2017 and indeed maybe 2018. Are they playing for time?
This weeks interviews with Edge and Bono are suggesting that it is not so much a problem with the new album as they want to get it absolutely right. U2 are renowned for overthinking albums, tinkering with arrangements and mixes until they think its sounds just right. This time however, it seems that it not so much the sound, as the content.
With the album readying for release in 2016 the world changed. Literally. Brexit in the UK shook Europe. Trump’s election as President of the United States made the world tremble. U2 have always prided themselves in speaking into the times and Songs Of Experience simply could not be released without some comment on the strange state of the world in 2016.
This is where Joshua Tree finds itself as the unintended bridge between Songs Of Innocence and Songs Of Experience. Songs Of Innocence was written about the band’s youth. It was a looking back. Maybe, as the band took a panoramic glance across their past, while thinking up an album about the present, Joshua Tree caught their eye, or ear!
Joshua Tree was the social and political fulfilment of a trilogy of records. War was U2 starting to sing about the outside world rather than their internal hearts and souls. That developed musically and understanding on Unforgettable Fire. Joshua Tree had it all. The personal spiritual adventure of I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For but much more prominently songs about miners strikes in the UK and US foreign policy in Central America.
Indeed, Joshua Tree was an Irish band’s journey into the soul of an America they used to dream about visiting and now spent days travelling across. They were now reading Mailer, Carver and O’Connor, taking the country in and letting it back out through their writing. The album was almost titled The Two Americas.
So, as U2 have been looking back, they found Joshua Tree and their state of the union dissertation on record from 1987. It seems they found it familiar. Reagan and Trump, foreign policy and gun control. “Sad eyes, crooked crosses in God’s Country.” Maybe by accident as much as design U2 found songs for the times, their own songs thirty years on.
So, no doubt the pleasant surprise of a Joshua Tree Tour gives the band a little longer to give Songs Of Experience its necessary relevance and make it as much a statement on the times as Joshua Tree has proven to be.
I do understand the fans who are frustrated at the delay in the record. I even relate to some of the cynicism that the record might not be up to scratch. It might just be however that meditations on their 1987 opus might unlock the door that inspires Songs Of Experience into greatness. Maybe!
All of this said, here is a last question. Why shouldn’t U2 give their fans Joshua Tree. Pink Floyd have done it, Bruce Springsteen is the most recent to do it. If John and George were still alive and The Beatles decided to reform and play us the full Sgt Peppers’ album for its 50th Anniversary would we dis them. I doubt it.
Perhaps the fact that U2 have continued to create new songs for as long as they have has come back to bite them. They they were foolish enough to include lines in a song about glorifying the past is maybe a stock that they are now finding themselves beaten with.
Personally, I would prefer to be having a first listen to Songs Of Experience in late March and then seeing it live in July. However, the more I have thought about a Joshua Tree Anniversary gig, the more I am looking forward to seeing what they do with it. I am back in love with Exit, Trip Through Your Wires and One Tree Hill.
I am then wondering what they do for the other 90 minutes. How will they set it out? What will they do during Bullet the Blue Sky? Will we get other 80s songs mixed in? Will any new songs appear and what will their juxtaposition be to their 1987 siblings? It is all interesting surmising and I am glad that I will be in the stadium to see how it pans out... and I am even thinking what a great idea Achtung Baby 2021 would be!