The 1987 release of U2's landmark album The Joshua Tree was one of those rare events in music that altered its course forever. Certainly it changed things for the band. Some would say it probably pushed Bono a whole lot further along in his quest to save the world. Although on that point I'd simply argue Bono's Messiah complex was already pretty well established.
No, what The Joshua Tree did was put U2 on the map for real and for good. This was no longer simply the biggest cult band in the world. With The Joshua Tree, U2 actually found itself in that unique part of the rock and roll stratosphere reserved for the likes of the Beatles, the Stones, Springsteen, and Dylan. U2 had become important.
On this documentary DVD, part of the Classic Albums Series from Eagle Vision, the making of what became U2's career making record is discussed at great length by everyone who was involved. There are interviews with all four members of U2 as well as manager Paul McGuinness and producers Brian Eno, Daniel Lanois, and Steve Lillywhite. Elvis Costello even gets in on the act here — describing how he queued up for the midnight sale of Joshua Tree just like all of the other U2 fans the day of its release.
If you are bored by things like minute production details and record producer tech-speak, you'd be best advised to steer clear of this DVD. However, if you are one of those fans who dissects his music down to every single note played, there is a virtual candy store of information waiting here for you. In fact, a great deal of this DVD is actually set before a recording console where knobs are twiddled and sounds you never heard before (or never made it to the final mix) are explored for the very first time.
The recording process for "Where The Streets Have No Name" makes for a particularly fascinating story. Said to have driven producer Brian Eno to the brink of madness (he seriously pondered an "accident" destroying the master tape), Lanois, Eno, Bono, and Edge take turns recalling how the song took "hours, days, weeks" to finish. Eno even claims this single song accounted for half of the time spent on the entire record. Back to twiddling the knobs, individual parts of the song are then dissected. Steve Lillywhite plays a part he quite hilariously refers to as when "U2 became Depeche Mode."
For me, the biggest new revelation in watching this DVD was discovering how a band like U2 actually works. As bassist Adam Clayton describes it, the band doesn't even really come to the studio with pre-set songs at all, but rather finds its way to the songs by first looking for a specific sound and building things from there.
It was also interesting to learn just how great a role drummer Larry Mullen plays in the creative process, with many of Joshua Tree's best songs beginning as little more than one of Mullen's beats. Meanwhile, hearing all of the individual parts played separately reveals just how layered U2's music really is. The Edge's guitar parts in particular are striking when heard separately from the final mix. Always a master of texture, if you ever suspected those cascading waves of sound Edge makes with his guitar are created layer upon layer, it's because in large part they actually are.
However, even for tech-heads a full DVD of studio speak would make for a pretty boring viewing experience, so things are spruced up with a generous amount of video clips and concert footage. In one such concert scene, U2 is joined onstage in Chile for "Mothers Of The Disappeared" by the mothers who formed the human rights organization of the same name. The more cynical among you may call this simply yet another Bono political photo-op, but it's still a touching sight that left me a little misty eyed.
The Joshua Tree is one of those landmark albums that not only changed it's creators forever, but in many ways changed the face of music as well. Adam Clayton goes so far as to call it the first techno album — which I'll state for the record is an assessment I do not share.
This DVD does a wonderful job of dissecting the album and providing an insiders peak into the inner sanctum of what has truly become one of rock's greatest bands.