As successful as U2 is, and just as The Joshua Tree turns 35, they didn't play much of a role in defining the new sounds emerging from the 1990s
Album cover for U2's Joshua Tree
I know that a piece like this is bound to rattle a few cages, and that's ok. Sometimes a few dissenting opinions are good for the soul. Society tends to get a bit too comfortable with consensus and the status quo. Popularity doesn't equal truth.
The Joshua Tree was released on March 9th, 1987. It's the 5h, and biggest album of U2's storied career. The accolades associated with this record are as long as a child's Christmas gift wish list. There have been countless articles written on the significance and historical importance of this record. The album was even selected for preservation in the US National Recording Registry, having been deemed "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant" by the Library of Congress.
This blog is all about the music of the 1990s and who influenced it. The 90s, it could be argued, was the biggest cultural musical movement since the 1960s, and I'd agree with that. Where does an iconic band such as U2 fit? It's murky at best.
There's little doubt that U2 has massive cultural importance when it comes to music made over the past 40 years. They are one of the most popular and successful bands in history. That's undeniable. I do wonder though, did they have an impact on the music, bands, and genres that exploded in the early 90s. I don't think they did.
As the 35th anniversary of The Joshua Tree has just passed, I started thinking about the record again. I've been listening to it for the first time in a long while and I'm mainly thinking about how it sounds and the year it was released. Was this record a predictor of what was to come? Did bands who released albums a few years after this copy or display a clear influence stemming from U2's biggest album?
U2, ultimately, is a rock band. They were influenced by early American blues and rock n' roll music. They've never hidden that fact. Like most artists, however, their tastes evolved and the band would site punk and new wave bands as influences as well. Overall though, U2's music is rock music. They do have a "sound" though. Seeing as they're an Irish band, they don't have a typical American or British sound as many rock bands do since most bands from that genre tend to be from the U.S. or England.
If you look at 1897 though, there were many albums released that had clear influences on the underground punk, grunge, and alternative scenes already brewing. If we're being honest, most of these albums and bands don't resemble what U2 was doing on The Joshua Tree.
Releases such as Pleased To Meet Me (The Replacements), Document (R.E.M.), Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me (The Cure), Warehouse: Songs and Stories (Husker Du), Introduce Yourself (Faith No More), Yo! Bum Rush The Show (Public Enemy), Jane's Addiction (Jane's Addiction), Dry As A Bone (Green River), Screaming Life (Soundgarden), and others all provided the roadmap to the shift from rock music to several dirtier and grittier subgenres.
If you're familiar with the bands and albums mentioned above, it's obvious the music on The Joshua Tree isn't like the music on these albums. There's a difference that may be easier to experience than to discuss, but it exists. When hearing about so many of the bands from the 90s and who influenced them, many of the artists mentioned in the previous paragraph show up time and time again. The Joshua Tree isn't mentioned as often in that same vein yet so many people include it in their "favorite albums" lists.
This raises the question, "Can a musician be a fan of certain music but not be influenced by it"? I believe the answer is a resounding "yes", and The Joshua Tree, in my opinion, falls into that category for many artists of the 1990s.
As I stated earlier, this will rattle some cages because, for millions of people, U2 is simply untouchable. Any hint of criticism will deem those levying the critiques as stupid, misinformed, and a bunch of haters. None of that will be true of course, but I promise you those slings and arrows will come.
For the record, I like The Joshua Tree... a lot. "Bullet The Blue Sky" and "In God's Country" are songs I've listened to and loved since 1987. I'm not a hater. The topic of bands influencing other bands and creating new genres or scenes is something I've always thought about and studied. I find it fascinating that, in my opinion, a band as big as U2, and an album as popular as The Joshua Tree, doesn't seem to influence other bands or genres as much as people automatically think it does or should.