If U2’s The Joshua Tree did not represent such an artistic pinnacle for the Irish group, this Deluxe 20th Anniversary Edition might seem nothing more than another contrived piece of commercialism for the holidays.
But the reality is, as Bill Flanagan dutifully points out in his liner note essay, U2 reached a flashpoint of aesthetic and commercial success with this album. The band stood on the threshold of icon status without yet stepping over the line into self-caricature.
In a rather workmanlike description of the recording process, The Edge describes how the quartet worked closely with producers Daniel Lanois, Brian Eno, and, to only a slightly lesser extent, sound engineer Flood, to capture the essence of the music they were making. In doing so, they taught themselves how to know enough to leave well (recorded) enough alone and restrained themselves from overkill.
As a result, U2 made a quantum leap in popularity on the wings of such anthemic atmospheric rock as “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” and “Where the Streets Have No Name.” Yet, rather than conceiving and executing a single album with nary a misstep or note of excess, U2 might’ve made the potential misstep of putting out a double album. Certainly this can be argued in the form of “Walk on the Water” and “Silver and Gold” among others on the full-length second disc, as they had enough material of sufficiently high quality.
But the inclusion of more tracks would’ve no doubt diluted the impact of The Joshua Tree. The more accessible likes of those aforementioned tracks, in such stark contrast to the moody tenor of “Exit” and “Mothers of the Disappeared” which close the official album, might well have altered the ascending career path of U2 in such a crucial way that this ornate package—its bound book of text and CD’s housed in a slip case adorned with black gray and gold graphics of the original LP –might not have been justified.