Joshua Tree narrowly beats out Achtung Baby

U2 Fans yesterday woke up around the world to the question of the day on Facebook. If you could only have one U2 ablum with you what ablum would that be. Of course we had some differences. War, Best of, How to Build, but for the most part it was neck neck these two ablums. For us we think its Joshua tree. A defining period for all of us.

The Joshua Tree is the fifth studio album by rock band U2, released on 9 March 1987 on Island Records. Written and recorded in Dublin throughout 1986, it was produced by Daniel Lanois and Brian Eno. The album is dedicated to lead singer Bono’s assistant, Greg Carroll, who was killed in a motorcycle accident during the album’s recording.

There is within music an ability to tap into the raw, revelatory power of beauty; music can give itself to the unknown whisper of the eternal in ways that other forms of art only hint at. The collage of sounds communicates something deep to the heart and, when combined with the presence of the voice, can be downright liberating. Few individuals, let alone bands, ever really reach a point where they are that open to the Unknown that it can give itself so freely through their music. U2 has done so time and again, but never with the level of directness and sincerity as they accomplished on the Joshua Tree.

A joshua tree is a real tree that thrives despite the dry environment it lives in. The image - the icon - of life amidst its seeming absence, embodied in the joshua tree, is one that is fully appropriate to U2 - particularly at the end of their first decade. U2, like the joshua tree, stood in stark contrast to its environment: ascetic, prophetic and disarmingly (some would say “naively”, but let the tension stand) sincere. (Their foray into the realm of post-modern sampling, irony and sarcasm was an identity crisis fully in line with where they stood in the 80s: cynicism is frustrated optimism.)

“I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For”, the second song, really expresses the kernel of The Joshua Tree; every other song fleshes it out in some way or another. The album is, in the end, about distance: “I have run, I have crawled, I have scaled these city walls only to be with you: But I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.” While one may take this to be an admission of defeat - and distance whispers of despair as much as consummation - doing so is incorrect: “I’m still running,” Bono sings. The song is an expression of hope more than anything.

Faith is a raw and disarmingly rough beauty; it looks within and it looks without. “Bullet the Blue Sky” and “Mothers of the Disappeared” give full expression to U2’s long-time political engagement, while “With or Without You” gives a glimpse into U2’s more tender side. “With or Without You” may very well be the best love song of the 80s. “One Tree Hill”, a deeply personal song about the death of a friend, moves with passion and rugged grace - and, again, with hope: “I’ll see you again when the stars fall from the sky and the moon has turned red over one tree hill.”

The album received critical acclaim, topped the charts in over 20 countries, and sold in record-breaking numbers. According to Rolling Stone, the album increased the band’s stature “from heroes to superstars”. It produced the hit singles “Where the Streets Have No Name”, “With or Without You”, and “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For”. The album won Grammy Awards for Album of the Year and Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal in 1988. The Joshua Tree is frequently cited as one of the greatest albums in rock history, and it is one of the world’s all-time best-selling albums, selling 25 million copies. In 2007, a remastered version of the album was released to mark the 20th anniversary of its original release.

Achtung Baby is the seventh studio album by rock band U2. Produced by Daniel Lanois and Brian Eno, it was released on 19 November 1991 on Island Records. Stung by the criticism of their 1988 release Rattle and Hum, U2 shifted their musical direction to incorporate alternative rock, industrial, and electronic dance music influences into their sound. Thematically, the album is darker, more introspective, and at times more flippant than the band’s previous work. Achtung Baby and the subsequent multimedia-intensive Zoo TV Tour were central to the group’s 1990s reinvention, as U2 replaced their earnest public image with a more lighthearted and self-deprecating one.

Seeking inspiration on the eve of German reunification, U2 began recording Achtung Baby in Berlin’s Hansa Studios in October 1990. The sessions were fraught with conflict, as the band argued over their musical direction and the quality of their material. After weeks of tension and slow progress, the group made a breakthrough with the improvised writing of the song “One”. They returned to Dublin in 1991, where the majority of recordings were completed. The album’s title and colourful multi-image sleeve were chosen to confound expectations of U2 and their music.

One of U2’s most successful records, Achtung Baby earned favourable reviews and debuted at number one on the US Billboard 200, while topping the charts in many other countries. It spawned the hit singles “One”, “Mysterious Ways”, and “The Fly”. The album has sold 18 million copies worldwide and won a Grammy Award in 1993 for Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal. One of the most acclaimed records of the 1990s, Achtung Baby is regularly featured on lists of the greatest albums of all-time.