Robert Hilburn in the LA Times
'U2 is what the Rolling Stones ceased being years ago -- the greatest rock 'n' roll band in the world...'
In "The Joshua Tree," U2 fills in the sketches with sometimes breathtaking signs of growth. The music -- provided by guitarist-keyboardist Dave Evans (The Edge), bassist Adam Clayton and drummer Larry Mullen -- is more tailored and assured as it expands on the moody textures of songs like "Bad" and reaches out with great effect for new, bluesy touches.
Bono Hewson's lyrics are also more consistently focused and eloquently designed than in past albums, and his singing underscores the band's expressions of disillusionment and hope with new-found power and passion. The songs are about faith, but - as suggested by such titles as "Where the Streets Have No Name" and "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Searching For" -- they aren't tidy statements of rejoicing.
Biblical images abound -- from the album title to lines like "In the locust wind comes a rattle and hum / Jacob wrestled the angel and the angel was overcome" -- but there isn't the relentless dogma that many rock observers found offensive in Dylan's "Slow Train Coming." These are human tales of reaching for your ideals while battling against moments of doubt and despair: drug addiction ("Running to Stand Still"), the death of a friend ("One Tree Hill"), government terrorism ("Mothers of the Disappeared") and social injustice ("Red Hill Mining Town").
While U2 songs frequently comment on external forces (as in an Irishman's perspective on the contradictions in American society), the heart of the LP is concerned with individual resolve. In the LP's opening lines, Hewson describes the inner battle to maintain faith and ideals: "I want to run / I want to hide / I want to tear down the walls / That hold me inside / I want to reach out / And touch the flame / Where the streets have no name."
In a time when the rock 'n' roll world feasts on the banality of such acts as Bon Jovi, "The Joshua Tree" is asking more of mainstream audiences than any pop-rock album since Bruce Springsteen's "Nebraska." But the band presents its case in such majestic, heartfelt and accessible terms that it is unlikely to encounter the radio or consumer resistance met by that stark LP. Indeed, "The Joshua Tree" finally confirms on record what this band has been slowly asserting for three years now on stage: U2 is what the Rolling Stones ceased being years ago -- the greatest rock 'n' roll band in the world. In this album, the band wears that mantle securely.
(condensed from original review)