Key Points:

(5 stars)

"I'll see you again when the stars fall from the sky
And the moon has turned red over One Tree Hill."

Last July, a young Maori called Greg Carroll was killed in a motorbike accident in a city called Dublin on the other side of the world.

That tragedy wouldn't have meant anything to anyone but family and friends if it wasn't for the fact Carroll worked for a band called U2 and counted amongst his close friends Bono, the band's singer and lyricist.

Bono, U2's drummer Larry Mullen and other members of the U2 family followed Carroll's body back to Wanganui for tangi and burial last year, and, as Bono put it, to explain to his family what Greg Carroll had achieved in the strange world of rock music and to share the cruel loss they all felt.

On their way out of New Zealand two days later, Bono insisted that they pause in Auckland to visit One Tree Hill, a place their friend had talked to them about.

Bono, a deeply spiritual man, turned the experience into words and the other three members of U2 added the music to create One Tree Hill, a remarkable musical centrepiece to the remarkable new U2 album, The Joshua Tree.

The initial response of some local radio stations to The Joshua Tree, the first U2 album in more than two years, has been slow. It doesn't, they apparently say, "sound like U2".

Regard that as a recommendation. The Joshua Tree is the most compelling collection of music yet from a band that has cut its career with passionate, exciting slashes.

The Joshua Tree sees U2 adjusting their trademark sound - tough, sparse, rhythms by Bono's passionate howl and the band's second voice The Edge's distinctive crashing rhythm guitar.

Having obviously decided that passion's outlet needn't necessarily be volume, the band squeezes more subtly. The Joshua Tree's power lies in its restraint. There is an urgency underlying virtually all of the 11 songs - and when it bursts out, its intensity burns.

That is certainly the case in One Tree Hill. Not only is it a song that means a lot in this part of the world, but it is the album's finest, saddest melody and its most heartfelt performance, building in urgency until Bono's voice just explodes to the song's climax.

The new single, With or Without You, follows a similar pattern. Bullet in the Blue Sky is steel capped, brooding and dangerous, and the decidedly scary Exit, a virtual avalanche of a song, building from a whisper to a guitar-driven barrage, before pulsating out on Adam Clayton's menacing bass guitar.

Running to Stand Still and Mothers of the Disappeared, which close each side of the album, are sparse, touching little ballads, the latter an evocative tribute to the work of Amnesty International.

In God's Country, which opens with the crash of The Edge's guitar, harks back to that "old U2" those radio people suddenly miss, while the marvellous Trip Through Your Wires comes on like a new theme for The Good, The Bad and the Ugly, with its loping rhythm, its harmonica wail and Bono singing, "Angel or devil/I was thirsty/And you wet my lips."

Yes, it's a gospel record too. But then so are all of U2's albums. You can get away with being spiritual when the guitars are loud.

Joshua Tress is water in a desert. There aren't many bands with the vision and the power of U2. There are even fewer who can translate that to record and sustain it for over 50 minutes.

Prime cuts: One Tree Hill, Running to Stand, Red Hill Mining Town, Trip Through Your Wires