Full Albums features covers of every track off a classic album. Got an idea for a future pick? Leave a note in the comments!
There’s a cartoon circulating on social media mocking U2 for a penchant for nostalgia. And, on its face, it’s pretty funny:
It doesn’t hold up to scrutiny, though. U2 is entirely the wrong group to pick for this joke. “World’s laziest band”? If anything, they have the opposite problem, endlessly hustling and trend-chasing in pursuit of their next hit. Their current Joshua Tree tour is just about the first nostalgia-trip moneygrab in a forty-year career. Unlike just about every other major band from the ’70s and ’80s, they generally avoid the greatest-hits summer tours and Oldchella combos the comic rightly lampoons.
The band is, however, indulging a rare back-pat on their current stadium tour by playing The Joshua Tree from start to finish. It’s one of the front-loaded albums of all time, an insane run of hits on side one followed by relative obscurities on the flip (including “Red Hill Mining Town,” which they’d never played live until this year). Which sounds like it might make for odd concert pacing, but early reviews have been great.
So if it’s good enough for them, it’s good enough for us. As U2 celebrates thirty years of The Joshua Tree, we will too, with covers of every song on the album.
Pet Shop Boys – Where the Streets Have No Name
There is a convincing argument to be made that the Pet Shop Boys are the greatest covers act ever. True, they don’t do too many, but every time they do, they knock it out of the park. In my upcoming book about cover songs [shameless plug], I dig deep into the story behind their “Always on My Mind” (they didn’t even like know the song when they decided to cover it!), and a recent album of theirs included an amazing version of Bruce Springsteen’s “Last to Die.” Arguably their best, though, is their storming electronic “Where the Streets Have No Name,” which they brilliant blend with Frankie Valli’s non-Seasons solo hit “Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You.”
Nick Francis DiFonzo – I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For
A premiere, from our friend and Majorleans frontman Nick Francis DiFonzo (who’s also covered Guns ‘n’ Roses and Harry Nilsson). He writes: “This is a song that can totally bring the vibe. I hadn’t heard or thought of it in a long time and it came on in a restaurant where I was eating with my family. You could feel it lift the room full of people. I went home and played it on an acoustic guitar. A connection happened where it became mine for an instant. So I made this.”
Amy Lee – With or Without You
“With or Without You” is one of U2’s biggest, most anthemic songs, but the lyrics are super dark. So it benefits greatly from the gothic storm of Evanescence’s Amy Lee, who gives it a brooding blackness that makes the singer sound truly desperate and at the end of her rope.
Vieux Farka Touré – Bullet the Blue Sky
Capping off what may be one of the strongest opening four-song runs ever committed to vinyl, “Bullet the Blue Sky” here gets radically transformed by Mailian guitarist Vieux Farka Touré. The son of the Grammy-winning Ali Farka Touré, he gives the song an Afrobeat flavor complete with driving percussion and beautiful harmonies.
Elbow – Running to Stand Still
Elbow’s anthemic sad-pop owes a lot to U2, so it’s no surprise they’ve covered the band, and a (relative) deep cut at that. They trace the broad contours of original version, but Guy Garvey’s emotive singing and a mournful harmonica pushes it over the top into something special.
Earl Pickens & Family – Red Hill Mining Town
Until this new tour, “Red Hill Mining Town” was the one Joshua Tree song U2 had never performed live. They have now, but they’ve still never played it anything like Earl Pickens’ bluegrass version. U2’s sounds like some Irish lads singing about miners, but Pickens’ version actually channels the red hills of Appalachia.
Deep Mosey – In God’s Country
Another cover in the dark gothic mold of Amy Lee’s, with thudding drums propelling singer Kirsten Wenlock’s haunting vocals. Not too many covers of this one out there (the album is so top-heavy, fewer musicians gravitate towards these later tracks), but this version is a winner.
Joel Bonner – Trip Through Your Wires
“Trip Through Your Wires” already features a prominent harmonica solo, so it only makes sense someone would take it the rest of the way into country-rock. Joel Bonner’s thudding shred-happy version sounds like a bar band trying an Allman Brothers deep cut.
Wade Baynham – Hard Times One Tree Hill
North Carolina’s Baynham creates a shimmering soundscape that beautifully blends Stephen Foster’s classic “Hard Times Come Again No More” with U2’s “One Tree Hill.” The combination may sound odd on paper, but works wonderfully in his delivery.
Anthrax – Exit
Anthax covering U2 sounds a lot heavier than their version of “Exit” actually is, but the metal pioneers find a good balance between their own intensity and U2’s sky-scraping sonics.
Engelsstaub – Mothers of the Disappeared
“Mothers of the Disappeared” shows hints of the electronic effects that would come to fruition on U2’s ’90s albums. On their odd and mesmerizing cover, German “dark wave” band Engelsstaub bring that side further forward, with weird synth burbles and squiggles backing up some disarmingly pretty vocals.
Buy the new deluxe edition of The Joshua Tree on Amazon.