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U2, Joshua Tree. Classic Album Cover Review

4 September 2009 5 Comments

Very often I get asked for ideas on location and styles for an unsigned bands album photos. I tell them, what bands inspires them because that is always a good place to start. In my first review of classic album covers I wanted to start with a BIG classic; U2′s Joshua Tree.

The Joshua Tree Album Cover

There are thousands of reviews about the songs on the album, so I am not here to debate why this is a classic and nor do I intend to review the songs themselves. The purpose is to tie it with Music photography which is what this site is about after all.

“This cover is all about not trying too hard”

It is very clear from the cover the band wanted something subtle and understated. From the choice of the black background which expands the photograph, to the photograph itself which features the band members tucked away in the corner. Death Valley in California is the backdrop; it’s vastness and baroness emphasizes how small we are, and how insignificant the band members seem. This cover is all about not trying too hard. The prominence is the blackness, even the title of the Album ‘Joshua Tree’ is very understated as if where an after thought, as if they were reluctant to put the title on the cover at all! I love it, it compliments the whole style of the cover.


When this album was released in March 1987, U2 were already an established band. They had not yet reached ‘super-band’ status so it would have been very tempting for the band and the marketing people to splash the members to take up all the space of the cover, instead the almost go the other way!

I admire the ‘less is more’ philosophy, it is something I had adopted during my time as a Graphic Designer and now as a Photographer. It does take a strong nerve to execute well though. It can come across as plain and ordinary, but what U2 and the photographer as done is create an emotion without even listening to the songs.

It is also interesting that Bono is not facing the same way; I don’t believe there is any meaning by that action other than it looks cool. However it is strange to see Bono without his trademark glasses.

The gold text and lines that border the photograph is an interesting choice; gold is a timeless emotive quantity. Gold is something that doesn’t need to be shouted, it is a class of its own so by choosing Gold to trim the cover does give the design a subtle sens of class.


The photograph inside the sleeve it’s a classic ‘band’ pose. not too happy, moody with a no s**t feel to it. It worked well back in 1987 and it’s still working well even today. It features the tree in the background. The shot seems to be photographed with a fish eye or very wide angle lenses judging by the curvature of the horizon.

To summarize, a great album cover that is bravely executed.


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