Tuesday, November 20, 2007

The Joshua Tree, 20 years later

Time flies. Twenty years went by in the blink of an eye. In that time, I graduated high school, college three times, got half-way through my Master's, moved out of my parents' house, traveled to Europe 19 times, had 10 jobs (at least!), fell in love three times, lost my grandparents and became a self-assured thirty-something who remains, to this day, a huge U2 fan.

I can remember awaiting the release of The Joshua Tree in 1987. It was the end of my junior year in high school when the single came out, and I can remember sitting by the radio waiting to hear With or Without You played for the first time on WBCN. I bought the cassette when the album was released and went to my first (of 32, so far) U2 concerts that fall.

The Joshua Tree (and its follow up Achtung! Baby) remains the cornerstone of my music collection, and oddly enough, the soundtrack to my life at the time it came out and I aurally devoured it. In recent years, hearing Where the Streets Have No Name live in concert moves me to tears. There is something about the phenomenal segue from whatever song preceeds it into the haunting sequencer and Larry's gentle cadence-driven intro that gets me every time. Long before Edge ever chimes in with his first notes, I have goosebumps. I'm smitten. It was the first song I heard U2 perform in concert, and the one song I've heard them perform every time since. Thankfully it's a staple, and hopefully it will remain that way. But the rest of the album, both the A-side and the B-side (for those of you who still remember when they ordered songs with the "sides" in mind), is incredibly strong and has withstood the test of time marvelously. It's one of the few albums from the 80s that I can go back to and listen again and again.

So here we are, twenty years later, and U2 has decided to remaster the album "as they intended it to be heard," says U2's manager Paul McGuinness. Now, why they didn't do this the first time around, barring lack of available technology that we probably have easy access to today, I don't know. But in the meantime, I bought JT on CD when album formats went to CD. So I'm already in this for two copies. And to further the additional funding on construction on U2's homes, I bought the $60 super deluxe maxi version today (but on sale for $45!), remastered with "rare" unreleased songs (shockingly, I had actually never heard them before), a DVD of a 1987 Paris show and the much-rumored-to-exist video of Red Hill Mining town. I think that alone is worth the price of admission, but I fell hook, line and sinker for the whole set. Which is why I say, I'm helping to fund a new room on each of U2's homes.

But I think more disturbing than my propensity to blindly throw money at this band like a crack addict looking for her next hit is the harsh realization that this is the first historic box set re-release for which I remember the original. Not only do I remember it, but I lived and breathed it. For years. And still do. That alone is making me feel my years today and realize as I look at their pictures that, as much as they have aged in 20 years, so have I. And that's downright scary.

So on the initial listen, I can't say that with my crappy iPod headphones and the PC CD-player at work I really hear a difference, to be honest. I will have to try it out on a home stereo or maybe even home stereo with headphones to appreciate the difference. And I can't really say the previously unreleased material is that great either. They sound unfinished and/or cut from the album for a very good reason. Which of course, they were. None are the caliber of Spanish Eyes or Silver and Gold or even Luminous Times, three songs which really, in all rights, should have made it on to that album. But there wasn't room on either the A-side or B-side for them.

For now though, opening the collector's edition box and reading the booklet and looking at the photos of the band then, and thinking of where they (and I) have been in the interim, is like being swept by an undertow back through the past. When all things, including their music, were simpler, easier and cost a lot less than $44.


Mark Freedman said...

Ahhh, the long awaited emergence of the oft rumored RHMT video. I'm glad it really did exist, and I'm glad they finally released it -- I'm sure it was ONLY because of the fans who've been wondering for years. Not a great video, but still great to see. The first song I loved from JT.

Great story. I can't believe it's 20 years. I really cannot believe it. I just ordered it from Amazon. Shows you how out of the loop I am -- I didn't even know this was imminent.

amybatt said...

I vow, Mark, I'm only buying this one and Achtung's remaster. But I hear they are doing this for ALL of the albums, one a year going forward. Talk about cash cow!

And now that I've had a chance to really listen to them all, I can tell a difference between the remaster and the original. It sounds like someone's turned the Treble up!