The 1980s were a fun time, but that does not mean they were not devoid of problems. The world ran amok in the decade (as it has in every decade, really) with social and political issues, raising questions and prompting art to provide a means of spreading messages. A band that spent a lot of time slamming certain issues was U2, perhaps Ireland's most well-known band. In their efforts War and The Unforgettable Fire, U2 treaded upon the corruption and disorganization in Europe, seemingly singing of any issue you could think of.
It wasn't until their fourth album, 1987's The Joshua Tree, where they began to look outwards. In a review with Rolling Stone, guitarist The Edge claimed "The Joshua Tree was the first album where we consciously went, 'OK, we spent like four albums thinking about Europe, Ireland, but let's take a look at the roots of this form that we are inevitably a part of.' And those were all American." U2's views of America from The Joshua Tree are relevant once again, thirty years later.
Many themes and ideas from The Joshua Tree may seem like distant memories, but when dissecting them, it becomes clear that they are no longer just a thing of the past. It feels easy to rub off the anti-discriminatory chants of 'Where The Streets Have No Name,' but these sentiments are the same thing many of us are finding ourselves saying again. This signature anthem, amongst its warm and bright guitar riffs (washed in delay, as is expected of The Edge) and Bono's vocals that are packed full of love, promises that where you live is not definitive of who you are. This draws parallels to some of the most controversial (albeit expected) acts from the Trump administration: namely to Travel Ban and the wall. Bono cries "The city's a flood, and our love turns to rust / We're beaten and blown by the wind / Trampled in dust," to paint a picture of those targeted by discrimination. Shockingly, in 2017, we have to give these words the same power they did when they were most relevant, if not more.
Plenty of other songs describe more general ideas that still plague the world today. 'Bullet The Blue Sky' is a rockier and generally darker track amidst the pop rock anthems of the beginning of the record, but delivers a damning message about hatred and discrimination. The anti-war song challenges the lack of humanitarian consideration in government, angrily recalling "Suit and tie comes up to me / His face red like a rose on a thorn bush / Like all the colours of a royal flush / And he's peelin' off those dollar bills." The more positive sound of 'In God's Country' describes America's influence on the West and its political ideas, for both better and for worse.
Bono's lyrics revolving around issues at home in the United Kingdom still serve as a parallel for modern America. 'Red Hill Mining Town' rings with political strife, the track itself being about a strike of mining workers in the United Kingdom. At a larger scale, it's a song from the perspective of the unemployed, angry at the government, demanding their attention. Unemployment is actually an issue that is willingly being tackled, thankfully, but the threat of it still persists.
Of course, not all tracks are politically charged. Some have some sweeter meanings, like the single 'With Or Without You' with its broken love story and introspective look on life. That idea of introspection is something a lot of us in America could use right, in order to consider the true scale of the problems within. Perhaps one such problem can be the one addressed in 'Running To Stand Still,' or, in other terms, the song about a heroin-addicted couple. The album ends on two pretty alarming songs; Bono enters the mind of a serial killer in the dark and epic 'Exit' - which has actually been cited by a serial killer as an influence - and explores a humanitarian crisis in 'Mothers Of The Disappeared,' a song about the kidnapping of orphans' mothers in El Salvador. Many of these songs beg the question: are these issue today, and if so, what are we doing about them?
They say that history will repeat itself, lest we learn from our past. Thirty years is a long time for change, but it's beginning to look like not much is different. With the current administration making several ideas from U2's The Joshua Tree relevant thirty years after they were first heard, it really does make you wonder just how much we've done and how far we've come. For these views of America to be relevant once again is alarming, but it also means another thing: that art can rise up again and make a difference. Progress was made, and it's our job to maintain it. Love and unity will always transcend hate.
Favorite Tracks: Where The Streets Have No Name, Exit, Bullet The Blue Sky, Mothers Of The Disappeared
Least Favorite Track: Trip Through The Wires
Rating: 89 / 100
Buy or listen to The Joshua Tree here: