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I might just stay in Dublin. Dublin knows how to drink. -- Bono, on how he would greet the new millennium, 1999

U2 Climbs to Top with Joshua Tree'

The San Diego Union-Tribune
U2's musical skills have matured. The melodies are tauter, the lyrics more potent, the musical influences more varied, moving beyond the band's trademarks of ticking guitars, marching rhythms and droning chords to encompass blues and folk elements as well.

Longtime U2 fans who adore the moody, mesmerizing atmosphere the Irish band created on its previous six records have nothing to fear. The 12 songs on The Joshua Tree, just as all U2 music, linger in the mind like clouds. The themes U2 has explored ever since its 1978 inception in Dublin are in tact -- personal and political freedom, the horrors of war, the spiritual poverty of oppression. In fact, these concerns have never been stronger, at least not since U2's War -- an album which depicted just what it was like to grow up in politically-divided Ireland.

Lead singer Bono , his voice partly triumphant, partly fearful, calls out fervently like the soldier battling for his integrity and sanity in a storm of political and social events. It is still the compelling instrument it has always been. acclaim. But it has never really taken the giant step to rock and pop music's forefront -- until now.

The timing couldn't be any better.

U2 first gained notice beyond its own fans when Bono wrote a riveting blues song for the anti-apartheid Sun City album. On the "Sun City" video, his bearded, intense presence became a visual highpoint.

Then, last year, U2 performed the closing segment on most of the Amnesty International concerts. That was the first time non-U2 fans experienced this Irish quartet's breathtaking performance. The three instrumentalists play with the single-mindedness of one person, while Bono, the inspired, daredevil front man, reaches out and pulls the audience into his fury and passion.

The path has been cleared for U2's ascendance as one of today's great bands. The Joshua Tree, coupled with the forthcoming U.S. tour that begins in Phoenix on April 2 and hits San Diego on April 13, puts U2 there in no uncertain terms.

The first cut, "Where the Streets Have No Name" sets a familiar tone for Side 1. The song begins with scratching guitar notes rising from solemn chords followed by Bono's disclosure: "I want to run/I want to hide/I want to tear down the walls that hold me inside." The music charges, like someone fleeing for life.

While these sounds and themes continue throughout Side One, generally melodies are tighter, even catchy as on "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" and "With or Without You." The song about self-destructive habits and spiritual surrender, "Running to Stand Still," introduces a folksy Velvet Underground-inspired simplicity to U2. The lyrics offering hope amid impending defeat are haunting: "You got to cry without weeping/Talk without speaking/Scream without raising your voice."

But Side One's centerpiece is "Bullet the Blue Sky." The instrumentals create the chaos and fear of bombs and guns firing while Bono recites, more than sings, about the relationship between big business profits and war control.

That's why "Trip Through Your Wires" does not come as a surprise. A blues swagger, complete with wailing harmonica, it is a plain love song and a major departure musically and thematically for U2.

The album progresses with increasingly spiritual concerns and yet still more variations on U2 instrumental themes in the churning "One Tree Hill" and the blistering "Exit."

The final cut ends with a song about political prisoners, the moving "Mothers of the Disappeared." On the lyric sheet, the song is followed by addresses for Amnesty International headquarters.

This is not your typical breakthrough album. More than anything, it is a serious, unflinching look in the eye of unwelcomed truths. But the songs are there, the timing is right, and the world is ready. The Joshua Tree will vault U2 over the top.

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