The Joshua Tree: 20th Anniversary [2 CD/DVD]
U2 is one of the handful of major rock acts that hasn't exploited their back catalog as much as they should. Their early albums have not been remastered since the '80s, there are plenty of early singles and EPs that haven't shown up on CD, B-sides that aren't easily available, and rarities tucked away in the vault. In other words, they're the perfect candidates for a deluxe edition reissue campaign, a project they finally began in a big way in 2007 when they released two deluxe editions of The Joshua Tree. Although this 1987 album was neither their debut nor their first great record, it made perfect sense that The Joshua Tree would be the first deluxe reissue as it was the album that made U2 international superstars -- plus, the group was ready to embark on this reissue campaign just in time for the album's 20th anniversary, perfect timing for all concerned. The two reissues share restored artwork (the original CD release zoomed in on Anton Corbijn's photograph, distorting the four members) and the same bonus CD, which essentially rounds up all the B-sides from the extended CD singles pulled from the album, adding a couple other non-LP rarities along with a handful of previously unreleased outtakes. Of these, the most musically substantial are the B-sides, which are among U2's strongest, boasting such staples "Sweetest Thing" (here in the original 1987 version, not the re-recording for The Best of 1980-1990), "Silver and Gold" (present in both the band's take and Bono's country-blues duet with Ron Wood and Keith Richards for the Sun City album), "Luminous Times (Hold on to Love)," "Spanish Eyes," and "Deep in the Heart." The unreleased songs are more demos and mood pieces than finished songs -- although Bono did go into the studio prior to this reissue's release to add vocals to "Wave of Sorrow (Birdland)" -- but their incompleteness is their appeal, as the ideas are still intriguing even if they're not polished. Despite its gloomy title, "Desert of Our Love" is a light, infectious number with slight soul influences that would have been out of step with the rest of The Joshua Tree (yet it points the way toward Rattle and Hum), "Rise Up" is almost too insistent in its desire to be an anthem, "Drunk Chicken/America" is an Allen Ginsberg poem delivered like a piece of bad Jim Morrison poetry, while "Beautiful Ghost/Introduction to Songs of Experience" is eerie atmosphere, as is "Wave of Sorrow." None is great, but they are interesting, and they help round out the already-known B-sides to make this bonus CD as a truly useful and entertaining expansion of the original album.
The bonus material stops with this second disc on the simple deluxe edition -- for the three-disc, super deluxe edition, the entire package is housed in a hardcover book, containing liner notes from band biographer Bill Flanagan, along with previously unpublished Corbijn photos and reminiscences by Bono, the Edge, Adam Clayton, Brian Eno, and Daniel Lanois. Also, there is a DVD contains an 18-song concert, "U2 Live from Paris," which documents a July 4, 1987 show, a brief documentary about their American tour called (what else?) Outside It's America, an alternate version of "With or Without You," and, most interesting of all, the never-seen Neil Jordan-directed video for "Red Hill Mining Town." Even if the $59.98 suggested retail price is a little steep, this book and video are nice additions that will please hardcore U2 fans, of which there are many -- plus, that high price justifies the release of the relatively bare-bones deluxe edition, as it's not only more affordable, it has the truly substantial musical rarities that should be heard by the widest audience.