The Joshua Tree sold 25 million copies with two singles that hit the top of the charts and spearheaded two U2 tours that became some of the biggest money makers of all time, according to the National Registry.

However, its place as a Rock & Roll concept album can confuse listeners to no end. U2 is an Irish rock band, but Bono speaks about American politics and philanthropy.

The name of the 1987 album and the picture of the Joshua tree would suggest it’s about the tree, its desert setting, or the Joshua Tree National Park, but is it actually about a spiritual journey?

There’s so much going on here. What gives?

The Joshua Tree

The album makes clear references to the desert and the Joshua Tree National Park in Southern California. Just listen to “Where the Streets Have No Name,” the opening track.

I wanna feel sunlight on my face
I see that dust cloud disappear without a trace

I’ll show you a place
High on the desert plain, yea
Where the streets have no name

The Joshua Tree actually has a lot more to do with a spiritual journey. U2 came out with the album after touring the United States for five months. According to Art Commons, it’s a critique of social divisions with a message about a return to more authentic meaning in life.

Allusions to Christianity within the album lyrics include Jesus carrying the cross and resisting temptation of the devil in “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For,” the second track.

The desert represents barren and seemingly hopeless situations in the Bible in the big picture of a spiritual journey. The name of the Joshua tree itself even comes from the biblical figure of the Old Testament.

Bono and U2 beautifully contrasted the metaphorical references to the desert with their famous album that made the tree itself more synonymous with the band than the national park. 

It tied together the concept of an all-time great classic rock concept album that was very difficult for its listeners to interpret. 

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