The Joshua Tree
The big lie got to me – no scratches, no pops, surface always clean.
And the biggest lie of all: CDs sounded better than vinyl. I was late jumping on the CD bandwagon and I bought my first couple discs in late 1986 and then turned my back on vinyl in 1987 until I found my way back in 2013.
My third CD was U2’s The Joshua Tree. All my U2 vinyl up to that point (Boy, October, War, The Unforgettable Fire) was perfect, each sonically richer than the last.
But that sonic bliss ended when I got The Joshua Tree on CD.
For all intents and purposes, the idea I had was that I would sit down and listen to CDs in basically the same way I did with albums – except experiencing an artist’s musical vision all in one uninterrupted sitting without having to flip the record. That was important back then for some reason. Laziness I guess.
With The Joshua Tree CD that fantasy listening experience didn’t happen. The digital landscape made everything sound flat and tinny. The dynamic range was there but didn’t sound ‘real.’ It was simulacrum.
Simply, the CD didn’t engage me the way U2’s music did on vinyl. It bored me. I found myself skipping from song to song only a couple notes into each. I had to force myself to listen to it as a whole, which I only did once or twice. And while I could acknowledge the songs were good, they didn’t feel ‘rich.’ They were vacant.
This was strange, considering the album’s producers – Daniel Lanois and Brian Eno – are all about soundscape. But the CD was a depressing travesty.
At first I blamed the band for the music’s lack of depth – yet it was a critical darling. I had bought into the CD hype so deeply, there was no way I was going to blame the music’s delivery method. I’d been touting it myself parroting marketing speak on CD superiority.
The Joshua Tree produced more radio-friendly songs than any other U2 trip up to that point and that’s where I ended up getting more exposure to the tunes – on the radio. It wasn’t through my sitting down with the disc.
As I started to reintegrate vinyl into my life a few years ago, The Joshua Tree became one of my ‘grails.’ I knew it had to sound and play better on vinyl. But I was nervous about procuring it because I had read that as the CD craze grabbed consumers by the throat, LPs were being produced using inferior or recycled vinyl. Records pressed during the late ’80s and into the ’90s were suspiciously thin and were possibly devoid of true dynamic range.
That said, I wanted The Joshua Tree on vinyl and this past summer I told the owner of my favorite independent record store, Purple Dog Records (Naperville, IL.), to keep an eye out for it.
Within a week he messaged me on Facebook and said he had a copy and was I still interested. I was.
I went to the store and he told me there was a scratch on it but it played through. Other than that, it was dusty – a normal used vinyl malady. I asked him to play it to ensure it really did ‘play through’ the scratch.
He put it on their store stereo and what came out of their vintage Sony speakers was a sonic revelation. The opening vista of “Where the Streets Have No Name” was deep, rich – in the room – as The Edge’s jangly guitar sparkled with urgency eventually folding into one with Bono’s wail.
And there was no notice of the scratch.
I paid $15 for it. Took it home and spun it. All the way through in one sitting.
And for the first time I heard this brilliant drama unfold in all of its sonic Lanois Eno glory.
© 2017 Chris Barry