U2: The Joshua Tree (20th Anniversary Edition)

Honestly, I’m not sure if the remastered sound is all that apparent, and I do love the convenience of having this album’s b-sides on one disc.

But the one thing for which I’m most thankful is the restoration of the cover art.

When The Joshua Tree was first released on CD in the late ’80s, it was housed in a longbox, which was well-suited to the odd panoramic shot of the American desert with the band off-center. It’s perhaps one of photographer Anton Corbijn’s most emblematic pictures of U2.

Back then, cover designers took liberties with the entire package — the image on the longbox wasn’t necessarily the cover shot in the jewel case. When longboxes were phased out in 1993, that totality was pretty much thrown out. As a result, the CD edition of The Joshua Tree featured a blurry facsimile of that classic photo.

It’s taken 14 years to correct that mistake. The 20th anniversary edition of The Joshua Tree presents the cover art as it should be.

Sure, but what about the rest of the reissue?

As influential as The Joshua Tree was in my youth — boy did my family get sick of hearing it day in and day out — I’m not enough of a U2 devotee to go for the super deluxe package with the DVD. For this review, I refer to the deluxe package with a second CD of b-sides and outtakes, because really, that’s the only reason I bought it.

U2 took the unconventional route of including two b-sides for every 7-inch single — side A played at 45 rpm, while side B played at 33 1/3 rpm. I did the state of the art thing back then and dubbed the whole album from vinyl to cassette tape, stashing the b-sides immediately after the last track.

The b-sides to The Joshua Tree constitute something of an extended EP to the album — they fit with the general darkness of the album, but the writing and arranging is far more experimental. "Luminous Times (Hold on to Love)" gives the first impression of being a slow song, but when drummer Larry Mullen Jr. fades in with a double-time beat, the song turns into something far more passionate. "Walk to the Water" and "Deep in the Heart" contain little in the way of hooks but a lot in the way of atmosphere.

"Silver and Gold" and "The Sweetest Thing" rivaled the catchiest tracks on the album proper, a fact not lost on U2 when the band made the mistake of re-recording the latter song for The Best of U2, 1980-1990. Didn’t some wise man mention something about fixing what isn’t broken?

The second disc is rounded out by a number of outtakes, which really deserved to be left on the cutting room floor. The liner notes make a big deal of "Wave of Sorrow (Birdland)", but it didn’t strike me as anything essential. It feels far more Brain Eno and Daniel Lanois than U2. Maybe if the band finished it 12 years ago, they could have offered it to Emmylou Harris for her Wrecking Ball album.

"Desert of Our Love" and "Rise Up" would have made better tracks if the band managed to finish them.

The remastering of the album itself is incredibly subtle. The levels aren’t dramatically boosted, and while the instruments come across slightly clearer, an A-to-B comparison shows no real drastic difference. If you skip on the deluxe packages, you may not notice a thing.

The 20th anniversary edition fulfilled the two things I wanted out of a reissue of The Joshua Tree — a restored cover and a disc of b-sides. The additional content is interesting from a historical perspective but not anything illuminating, and the remaster barely registers.