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Site created 12/15/97.

review added: 4/21/00

U2: The Joshua Tree
Classic Albums - 1999 (2000) - Image Entertainment

review by Frank Ortiz of The Digital Bits

Classic Albums: U2 Joshua Tree Film Rating: B

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B/B+/D-

Specs and Features

59 mins, NR, full frame (1.33:1), single-sided, single-layered, Snapper case packaging, band bios & discography, film-themed menu screens, scene access (12 chapters), languages: English (PCM 2.0), subtitles: none

I can remember the very first day I ever listened to music from U2. I also remember the day I bought The Joshua Tree and just sat in my car listening to the album. I grew up in Southern California and had been camping once or twice in Joshua Tree National Park, where the album's cover image was taken, so even without hearing the music, the album evoked a certain mood. Listening to song after song, I realized that the music struck a chord in me. In the intro to this DVD, Bono shares how he believes the Joshua Tree album, in a mysterious way, is uniquely Irish. But at heart, it's universal in appeal - it's very easy to connect with the emotions in this music.

This DVD is part of the Classic Albums series from Image, which takes a "behind-the-scenes" look at the creation of some of music's greatest albums. Here, we get a glimpse of the creative and technical effort behind U2’s fourth full-length album. There are stories shared by Paul McGuiness (the band's long-time manager), Steve Lillywhite (re-mix producer), Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois (the album co-producers) and best of all, all the members of U2 (including Bono, The Edge, Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen, Jr.). The disc even kicks off with a few words from rock legend Elvis Costello, himself a huge U2 fan.

Seven of the album's eleven songs are examined here from various angles: I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For, With or Without You, Mothers of the Disappeared, Bullet the Blue Sky, Where the Streets Have No Name, Exit and Running to Stand Still. The Sweetest Thing is also included - even though it wasn't on the final album, we learn here that it was written during the Joshua Tree sessions, and so fits in nicely. We all may be familiar with the amazing sounds that ended up on the final version of The Joshua Tree, but here we're treated to a glimpse at earlier or alternate mixes, other recordings and discussion of the various influences that contributed to the final product. For example, The Edge occasionally lets you hear different sounds in the mix, which may not have made into the final master, and shows how he created them - how his creative process works. Bono chimes in here and there with insight into the lyrics. Adam remembers a lot of the emotions and stories behind creating and fine-tuning songs for recording. And there's a lot of great footage edited in to provide visuals for the stories and memories expressed, including a full live edition of Running to Stand Still and the music video for The Sweetest Thing. Much of this content is a treat for musicians or U2 fans to experience. There are countless nuances to the art and creation of music, and it's interesting to see how drastically even the slightest step in the process changed the final feel of these songs.

The video on this DVD is full frame. It's generally pretty good, with some occasional clips of older, lesser-quality video footage edited in. An occasional NTSC artifact can been seen, but the picture usually looks sharp and the colors are rich. The audio is beautiful. It's a PCM 2.0 48khz/16-bit stereo mix, which sounds very good. There were several selections where I can compare the sound quality of the DVD to my CD copy of Joshua Tree. The DVD actually sounds slightly better, having a nice, fuller sound. The PCM audio is definitely clean, and the higher bit rate adds a little more natural "space" to the soundstage. One example is With or Without You, mid-way through chapter 3. If you compare it with the CD, you'll notice that on the DVD version, you can better hear the inflection and diction of Bono’s voice in between notes - he sounds more natural and prominent in the mix, rather than slightly muffled or hidden. It could even be that the mix for this DVD is actually better than the CD.

Although I enjoyed watching the feature on this disc, it’s pretty slim on extras. You basically get three screens of text for the biographies and a one screen discography. The Classic Albums project provides a unique opportunity to include rarities (like live and alternate recorded material) for the fans, and I wish the chance had been utilized more fully here. I almost feel like asking, "Where’s the beef?" Still, what you do get is worth having.

Bono believes the ache and the melancholy of this album is uniquely Irish, but I must disagree. I think that the pain and despondency in these songs is every bit as American (or anything else for that matter) as it is Irish - such feelings are inherent in the human condition. In any case, they are very tangible U2's The Joshua Tree, and that may be the reason for the album's success.

Frank Ortiz
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