The Joshua Tree

Music review by
Barbara Schultz, Common Sense Media
The Joshua Tree Music Poster Image
Post-punk stars deliver soul-searching anthems.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this music.

Positive Messages

The messages in U2's No. 1-selling, Grammy-winning album The Joshua Tree come somewhat veiled in their passionate, religious, poetic lyrics. Overall, the feel of the album is one of searching for answers -- something like God or faith or love -- in a harsh world. Recurring images include nails, crosses, healing, rough weather, and wind. However, the searching feeling is the strongest and offers a good deal of hope.

Positive Role Models & Representations

The characters in the songs on U2's The Joshua Tree are often lost and lonely, but they're always searching for love and faith amid suffering. In real life, the members of U2, and frontman Bono in particular, are among the most generous human-rights advocates in the rock world. Bono is a spokesman for the Project RED campaign, which works with retailers to raise funds that support AIDS/HIV charities in Africa. He and his bandmates have also performed in concerts for Amnesty International and that benefit hunger-relief charities. Among the recognition he's received for humanitarian work, Bono was named one of Time magazine's Most Influential People in 2004 and 2006, and Time named him 2005's co-Person of the Year, along with Bill and Melinda Gates.

Violence

There's some violent religious imagery on The Joshua Tree. Nails are often mentioned; there's a bed of nails in the song "With or Without You." "Bullet the Blue Sky" includes burning crosses and fighter planes. A couple of the later songs on the album briefly mention guns: In "One Tree Hill," "bullets rape the night of the merciful," and in "Exit" someone holds a pistol. In "With or Without You" the singer's hands are tied and his body is bruised. The violence in these songs helps paint a portrait of a harsh reality; it is not glorified or graphic.

Sex

A few songs in The Joshua Tree mention love or sin, but only two songs get the least bit specific. "Trip Through Your Wires" compares love to a bomb and tells a love object, you "set my desire." In "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For," the singer "kissed honey lips" and felt "healing finger tips"; this track emphasizes more religious than romantic/sexual imagery, though, as the searching singer looks for understanding.

Language
Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

There's one reference to sleep coming on "like a drug."

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that U2's No. 1-selling, Grammy-winning (Album of the Year) masterpiece The Joshua Tree is full of anthemic songs about the search for truth and faith in a cruel world. Religious imagery abounds, but the tone is always questioning, never preaching. There's some violent imagery (nails, crosses burning and otherwise, bullets), but none of it's graphic, and violence is not glorified at all; it's meant to illustrate the passionate search for a better world. There's no profanity on this album, nothing remotely consumerist (though "Bullet the Blue Sky" equates cash with war), and just a few references to sexual desire, but nothing graphic.

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Kid, 12 years old July 22, 2012

On for 4+

Violence (G)-Violent references, although scarce. Sex (G)-Mildness in "With or Without You".

What's the story?

THE JOSHUA TREE is the fifth album by Irish rock band U2 (lead vocalist Bono, guitarist the Edge, bassist Adam Clayton, and drummer Larry Mullen). Though the band had been successful before making The Joshua Tree with producer Brian Eno, this album pushed the band over the top, from popular New Wavers to anthemic, stadium-packing megastars. Thematically, The Joshua Tree explores the search for truth and faith in a harsh world. Sonically -- with its layers of electric and acoustic guitars, soaring vocals, and thunderous drums -- the album builds on the type of songwriting and arrangements that the band had been perfecting. The public response was huge: The Joshua Tree went to No. 1 on the Billboard album chart and won the Grammy Award for Album of the Year.

Is it any good?

The Joshua Tree was a massive hit, and deservedly so. The way these songs build, often beginning with Edge's solitary guitars and growing sonically bigger and bigger, makes a huge emotional impact.  U2's compositions don't have typical song structures, but the unbridled passion of their music remains intoxicating and memorable, even without any of the usual hooks songs use to catch listeners.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the song "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For." What does the Christian imagery mean in this song?

  • U2 are known for their work as humanitarians and human-rights activists. Do you think artists should use their fame and resources to support political and social causes?

  • What are the connections lyricist Bono is making in these songs between religious passion and human passion, or between violence and love?

Music details

  • Artist: U2
  • Release date: March 9, 1987
  • Type: Album
  • Label: Island
  • Genre: Alternative Rock
  • Parental advisory: No
  • Edited version available: No
  • Award: Grammy

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