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"I work five days a week girl, loading crates down on the dock"
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Disclaimer: this page is not written from the point of view of a Bruce Springsteen fanatic and is not generally intended for narrow-perspective Bruce Springsteen fanatics. If you are deeply offended by criticism, non-worshipping approach to your favourite artist, or opinions that do not match your own, do not read any further. If you are not, please consult the guidelines for sending your comments before doing so. For information on reviewing principles, please see the introduction. For specific non-comment-related questions, consult the message board.
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My general take on Bruce Springsteen could always be briefly expressed as follows: Bruce is a very local phenomenon. I could actually stop right here, because everything that'll follow, both good and bad, will eventually come back to this first sentence, but I suppose I'll have to explain. Frankly speaking, I don't know anything about how much Bruce Springsteen is popular outside of the good old United States. To some extent, probably, mainly due to his grandiose career-supporting events and all kinds of propaganda campaigns and beneficial organisations he takes part in. In any case, in my home country people hardly ever know anything about him but his name, and it's one of those rare cases when I feel such an attitude is completely justified. I suppose I'll have to explain again? Should I?Springsteen appeared in the States at a time when someone like Springsteen simply had to appear. The intellectual American public in the mid-Seventies had all the 'intellectual' progressive bands to speak up for them (mainly imported ones, of course); the elitist underground public had its New York Dolls and John Cale and what-not; the raunchy public had its Kiss and its Aerosmith. But what about the working class people, particularly those who weren't entirely satisfied with generic "Southern rock crapola"? People who were so utterly miserable and never had their spokesman who would go one step above singing about beer and booze and "tuesday's gone with the wind"? This was a gold mine, a niche yet untouched: somebody had to be the plain simple guy who don't care 'bout no freakin' intellectuals but who thinks rather highly of himself anyway to listen to Kiss. And then Bruce emerged. Let us cut the crap at once: Springsteen was NOT about the music (with a few notable exceptions, as usual - 'The E Street Shuffle' comes to mind immediately, but then again, Dylan did have his 'Wigwam Boogie', too!). Or maybe he was, but not more so than, say, Leonard Cohen. About the only musical innovation he could lay claim to was the incorporation of (occasionally annoying, occasionally uplifting) saxophones into the already existing "big band music", and even that wasn't so hot by 1973 after the jazz-rock revolution. No, Bruce was a singer-songwriter, a spokesman, a poet, a word-wielder: his music was never supposed to be anything but an accompaniment to his poetic vision. Only where Cohen's vision was quiet and humble and definitely introspective, thus requiring accordingly humble, soft arrangements, Bruce's vision was grandiose and required grandiose, multi-layered music. Subtlety was never Bruce's weapon - at least, not openly. He roars and he screams, he bashes the shit out of his guitar, he requires pompous piano and sax overdubs, thundering drums: he's making his statement LOUDLY. But it's, after all, only a statement. You'll never see Bruce without a guitar, but his guitar is just a part of his image, together with the hairy armpits, the sweaty singlet, the dirty torn jeans, and the mini-Rambo muscles. The Sincere Working Man's portrait. I really don't know how much hypocrisy there is in Bruce's overall image - whether he really believes in everything he sings, from Born To Run to Born In The USA, and, frankly, I don't even want to know. He manages to get his message across so that there are no traces of phoniness, and that's it. However, I find Springsteen's general aesthetics completely uncompatible with my own (big emphasis on "my own" here, big guy - different aesthetics for different people). Perhaps it's because a multitude of Russian rock bands, good and original as well as bad and derivative, have unintentionally ripped off Bruce's image (i. e. singing with torn jeans and hoarse voices to a rudimentary-but-loud accompaniment about the current generation and to the current generation). But even so, Bruce's general message is quite different from the typical message of a Russian rock band. Serious rock'n'roll, as I see it, has mostly been about rebellion or about desperation, i. e. its two main mottos are 'we gotta get out of this place' or 'there ain't no way out', depending on your current state of mind. But Bruce is not really a rebel or a pessimist; he was never thinking of changing the world. He's a typical conformist, and what he usually says - compacted in a very rough, but essentially exact manner, I feel - is this: 'You think you are miserable, Mr Working Guy? Well then, take a look around you and find out that life as you can know it is beautiful. You were born to run, you were born in the USA, your life is in your hands. Why sit there and complain when you can mount that bike, grab that girl, breathe in the night air and see romance and loftiness in even the ugliest things. And if you think your life is too simple, you are deeply mistaken - there are problems deep inside yourself you're not even aware of, but all of them can be easily solved if you want. And if you think your life is dull and meaningless, you couldn't be more wrong. Your life is magic, pure magic and mystics. There's so much about it that you don't usually pay attention to. With just a little twist of your mind (and a little injection of my songs), your dull everyday life turns into a never-ending thrilling journey on an endless romantic highway! You're a hero, you're unique, you can be a superman if you wish. Just follow my advice.' On first sight, this looks like a beautiful perspective. At last - a spokesman comes up who tells me that I needn't try to escape this life, all I have to do is look within myself and take life as it is, with all its passion and beauty. And look at how smooth and beautiful his lyrics are? Wow, I never thought that a simple day in a simple biker's life can be described in such a glorious way! "In the day we sweat it out in the streets of a runaway American dream/At night we ride through mansions of glory in suicide machines!" Bruce, you're our man. You're da man! You help us to escape the misery and nightmarish routinenesss of our everyday life by turning us inwards and making us find beauty even within a nightmare - "mansions of glory in suicide machines". We might be simple bikers, or unhappy tramps, or just common working guys with no sense to exist, but here's that sense coming... There's a strong religious feeling emanating from the Bruce and his fans relationship, and it's no wonder that Springsteen more often causes a 'love' or 'hate' reaction - you either accept the faith and the epiphany or you indignantly decline it. But it is obvious that such a guy as Bruce Springsteen could only appear in the States (although many countries has similar types of expression). His appeal is mostly to people with a stable (not necessarily "happy", though) life who are getting sick and tired of their stable life. It's actually a compliment to the American social and economic situation in the Seventies that such a conforming dude as Mr Springsteen could appear there and become the nation's superstar. It's also a sign of stagnation: Bruce isn't actually searching for anything new, he's trying to convince you that everything necessary has already been found. Needless to say, Springsteen's music and image is a good sign - I actually welcome the fact that the man did appear on the scene. I can respect his attitude and I certainly acknowledge his talent. But stability and conformism in rock music isn't exactly what I'm looking for, and Mr Springsteen isn't a better specimen in this respect than, say, the Eagles. I actually prefer the Eagles over Mr Springsteen - both are the epitomy of 'conformist America', but at least the Eagles wrote slightly better melodies. Plus, for all their faults, the Eagles at least had 'Hotel California', a song that is actually the absolute opposite of Springsteen's life philosophy. Another myth in desperate need of rebuttal is that Bruce is actually a 'pessimistic' artist. Sure, a lot of his stuff is grim and infused with a sense of darkness, etc. But this pessimism is only superficial, and it hardly digs deeper than the traditional bluesy pessimism (which gets fully explored by the Boss on such an album as Nebraska). The 'pessimism' present within Bruce's work isn't really his own; it's taken from elsewhere, borrowed from the bluesmen and stolen from the folkies. But the song begins to belong to Bruce only after he'd stuffed its pessimistic cover with his optimistic content. Take a song like 'Meeting Across The River', for instance, with its supposedly grim matter. Is it a grim, hard-biting song indeed? Not at all. I gotta give it to him, Bruce masterfully acts as a 'salvaging guy' in all these cases, transforming potentially depressing material into a song of gentleness and epicness. But whether he means it or not, it is a phony move, a doze of musical opium for the working class. I remember reading an article somewhere that compared Bruce with Frank Sinatra: a very insightful article it was, too, as there is actually a far more tense connection between the two that you could possibly imagine. Springsteen is the Sinatra of rock; deeper, perhaps, and maybe with a larger amount of sincerity and a different 'core audience', but the main function of the two is the same - to act as a 'stabilising factor' in American popular art. Now that old pop music is on its way out and rock is slowly taking its place, we can easily quote the immortal words of Pete Townshend: 'Meet the New Boss, same as the Old Boss...' All said, I re-iterate: the world needs its Bruce Springsteen if it wants to live happily and in peace with itself. But in this case, let's just forget about musical creativity. Forever and ever. Are guys like Bruce representing the future of popular music? Perhaps. In both cases, the consequences will be both good and bad, so perhaps there's no need to be really bitchin' about it. One question that should quite naturally arise out of all this is: why the hell am I so viciously addressing Bruce's philosophy that I even felt a need to write an introduction three times longer than my usual length for intros? Well, you see, the Boss doesn't leave me a choice. He's all about the philosophy. As I already said, he's never been about the music: Springsteen's strength, like that of Dylan, lies in a) his lyrics, b) his singing and c) the general atmosphere of his records. All of these things relate to musical philosophy. That said, I find Dylan's material generally far more interesting from a purely musical matter, and I can't actually accuse Dylan of not having melodies, derivative as they might be, while I'd be hard pressed to memorize at least one or two of the Boss's melodies. Well, no, that's a lie. He has his share of melodically interesting songs - the catch is, most of his hooks are quite simple and recycled, and besides, even the most rabid Bruce fan would not claim that his love for the Boss stems from the Boss writing memorable melodies. The Boss is nothing without his voice. Likewise, Dylan's musical philosophy, while on the surface somewhat resembling Bruce's, is in fact vastly different. Both of them sing about 'the small guy', but both assume different modalities. Dylan sings about the small guy from the position of a small guy, or, rather, he sings about the small guy being a small guy. In this way, Dylan's musical philosophy is hardly acceptable for the average listener who wants the artist to flatter him - Dylan isn't a flatterer, he sings about things as they are (I mean, of course, when he's not being psychedelic: these things refer more to Dylan's acoustic albums like Freewheelin'). Bruce, on the other hand, sings about the small guy from the position of an epic hero, or, rather, he sings about the small guy being an epic hero. This is certainly far more acceptable to the general public, isn't it? It's always nice to hear someone singing about you as if you were a great 'introspective' hero, when in reality you're just a smelly drunk biker. Is the general audience supposed to identify with the message of 'It Ain't Me Babe'? Never, even if it's actually true. No, the general audience is supposed to identify with the message of 'Thunder Road'. In this way, Bruce Springsteen is as much of a necessary ingredient for the average working class listener as 'N Sync and Britney Spears are of a necessary ingredient for the average teenybopper. "Integration with the Boss" is supposed to elevate your conscience, just as "integration with MTV" is supposed to make you cool. I know this might sound blasphemous for many people, but it's plain and obvious for me that the Boss and MTV, different as they seem to be, are really events of the same nature. Is this actually bad? Not at all, or at least, it all depends on what you consider bad. Neither Bruce nor MTV don't exactly make the world topple over; on the contrary, both act as wonderfully stabilising factors in the society. The former quenches the 'spiritual thirst' of the grown-up, making him believe in what he is not, the latter quenches the rebel spirit of the kid, making him believe he is cool when he is actually just dumb. However, if you're looking for progress, advance and true creativity, stay away from both. That's my piece of advice, do what you want with it. In conclusion, as I see that most of the things I've said were harshly anti-Springsteen, I must add that there's certainly more to the Boss than this general attitude. He is not always such a radical optimist and "soother of the working class"; some of his albums are somewhat darker and more menacing (which is why they have never been absolute critical favourites - no, these guys prefer to drool over the far more faceless Born To Run and Born In The USA), and for several times at least, he managed to step away from the Rambo image and deliver seriously good, downright excellent even pieces of music - the atypical, and often underrated by fans, Darkness On The Edge Of Town comes to mind immediately. His music is always listenable, and his talents as a poet are undeniable. Plus, sometimes he's even stooped to write a catchy melody (very rarely, peaking with The River and USA when the Eighties required more commercialism from him). And finally, I can't really deny his message or - what's even more significant - its importance to millions of people. Bruce himself has always pointed out that he's always writing for people, not for himself, and few artists could boast such a strong relation with fans. He acts as first-rate therapy for people, an irreplaceable, precious "shrink" who, for some, is better than all the shrinks in the world put together. Whether he really cures the disease, though, or just acts like a skilled anaestheseist, is up to you to determine. But whatever be, I deny Bruce's importance to me and people sharing my aesthetics - and these people, on which the site is predominantly oriented, are a rather large group, too. Personally, I don't need a Fender-bending mini-Rambo shrink to suggest me my musical and life values, and if I needed a shrink, it certainly wouldn't be Mr Springsteen. In that respect, again, Dylan stands out as my ideal: the man never ever posed as an idol and never wanted to be an idol. You can cry over Springsteen's sincerity and Springsteen's being "misunderstood by the public" all you want, but you'll never get away from the fact that Springsteen is always toying with the crowd - and sometimes in a rather cheap way. In comparison, Dylan never toyed with the crowd, and time after time delivered not what the crowd wanted from him, but something radically different and artistically free. Yes, this is the key - Dylan is the artist, where Springsteen is, unluckily, only an excellent therapist. I see that I can't really getting away from bashing the poor Boss even when I start by praising him. I guess I should just shut up and very politely ask Springsteen fans, if ever they get around to seeing this page, not to flame me, but to use their head instead. What I did here was not to condemn Springsteen or whatever he is doing. It was just to point out that while many people treat Bruce with as much reverence as others treat the Pope, there are also people like me (and I'm not alone on this issue, believe me) for whom Bruce's 'musical therapy' is absolutely pointless, simply because they don't require it. And since Bruce is mostly about 'musical therapy', his importance for these people is minimal. P.S. I also feel it necessary to point out that, as much as I oppose the entire image and style of Bruce in general, I do not, in fact, detract any points from my ratings simply because I'm offended by the 'mood' or by just the lyrics. I do not, however, add any more points either - therefore, all the records are primarily rated by their formal aspects, such as melody, arrangement, and originality. As you can guess, these ratings aren't at all going to be very high; but keep in mind that if I decided to rate them all according to my completely subjective feelings, I'd have to cut even these in half. Not to mention that my own subjective opinion is actually firmly pinning Bruce down in the "roaches" section. But what the heck, let us respect the Working Man. P.P.S. Very important. My past experience says that this particular introduction is often regarded as easily the most offensive piece of writing ever put on my site. Therefore, I beg this one thing of you: before satisfying your urge to bombard me with the 47433th flame E-mail, please read all the reader comments and all of my responses to this introduction by clicking on the link below. By doing this, you will either be able to see the situation in a clearer light, and get lots of additional explanations that might make you understand; or find out that all of the counterpoints you'd like to raise had already been raised; or simply get exhausted from endless reading and not have any real fire left by the time you're through. Either way, it'll save all of us time, nerves, and energy. Thanks for reading, on to the albums now!
Listenability: 4/5. Oh,
he IS listenable. Whether you WANT to listen to him is a different matter.
Resonance: 5/5. I would be a fool to deny the Boss' ability to exercise his power over the human heart. That's 99% of what he is about.
Originality: 2/5. Umm, well, that big band sound does account for something. Not too much, though.
Adequacy: 1/5. This one line sort of summarizes all of my lengthy rant above.
Diversity: 2/5. Okay, you might argue with me, but here's what I tell you: did Bruce ever feel a need to be diverse?
Overall: 2.8 = C on the rating scale.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1973Record rating = 7
He's already pretentious, but he hasn't really learned how to SCREAM yet.Best song: SPIRITS IN THE NIGHT
Track listing: 1) Blinded By The Light; 2) Growin' Up; 3) Mary Queen Of Arkansas; 4) Does The Bus Stop At 82nd Street; 5) Lost In The Flood; 6) The Angel; 7) For You; 8) Spirits In The Night; 9) It's Hard To Be A Saint In The City.
Bruce's debut is an ambiguous piece of work - a complete bummer on some counts and a really interesting record on some others. 'Others', unfortunately, don't include melody: at this point, that's about the last thing Bruce is really concerned about. In that respect, this album stands somewhere in between Dylan and Cohen: Bruce's lyrics obviously tend towards the former, but his musical preferences obviously tend towards the latter. Throughout, he mostly relies on primitive acoustic guitar/piano arrangements, with trivial chord sequences that mean nothing but a general 'sonic accompaniment' to his vocal deliveries. Okay, strike out "trivial": from the very beginning, Bruce displays a penchant for jazz, and some of the sequences are anything but trivial, I guess, but they never amount to a timeless melody, and if I want unmemorable but "timeless" jazz I'll go listen to the "real guys" anyway.Occasionally, he does throw in some moody saxophone or some moodier organ to pump up the energy, but in the end that doesn't account for much. There isn't a single tune on the album that would be somewhat memorable on the basis of its instrumental melody, and that's a fact which would be completely ridiculous to try to overthrow. Even when he manages to establish a half-interesting jazzy groove, as in the intro to 'Spirits In The Night', it is immediately replaced by more pedestrian rhythms that don't go anywhere and mar the whole impression. The vocal melodies are a little better - Bruce knows about how to draw a line between the verses and the choruses, and at least on about half the tracks does make some kind of vocal point. If anything, he's got so much to say at this point and is so exuberant about it that he makes every line in every verse go on for about three minutes, and by the time you get to the chorus it's like "gee, God should have thought twice before inventing human language". That said, the overall ten which this album manages to get from me is still a relatively high rating for a record whose innovative musical value equals absolute zero (if not a minus - for providing us with prime radio fodder crap). Like I said, I do respect Bruce as a lyricist, and Greetings demonstrates him as an already mature, full-grown 'street minstrel', whose lyrics are for the most part deserving attention. Even so, his first try is not always successful. The above-mentioned 'Spirits In The Night', for instance, is a very strange composition - suddenly, in between all the wordgames, surrealism, and witty "socially conditioned" remarks, Bruce manages to land a rather silly and straightforward story about a drunken and drugged out biker party. Perhaps in that way he wanted to capture the attention of the more rednecky part of the American audience, but then again, isn't Bruce's audience primarily consisting of rednecks? (Now, now, don't you worry, that's just a bit of poisonous humour). I actually like the song, but that's a different story. Otherwise, Bruce is still way too heavily influenced by Dylan at this point: much of the imagery is clearly derivative, especially when he goes throwing around tons of successive wordgames, so typical of Dylan's classic "psycho" period. 'Blinded By The Light', for instance, and 'Lost In The Flood', get exactly the same lyrical structure as Dylan's 'list-of-action' songs like 'Stuck Inside Of Mobile' or 'Visions Of Johanna'. But it's a drag, for me, at least: I can acknowledge the effort, but I don't feel any atmosphere or any particular mood in the songs. Where Dylan's lyrics, incomprehensible as they are, being paired with his melody and singing, always point at a certain state of mind - despair, optimism, romantic dreaming, etc., 'Blinded By The Light' and 'Lost In The Flood' (and a couple of others) seem like a big put-on, leaving me in complete frustration. On the other hand, if you actually distance from the lyrics, you'll find out that both songs have interesting vocal twists to them: after all, Manfred Mann didn't turn 'Blinded By The Light' into a mega-radio-hit for nothing. Much better are the 'autobiographic' songs like 'Growin' Up' or 'It's Hard To Be A Saint In The City': this is where the 'true Bruce' as everybody knows him begins to shine, with many lines that many people can identify with and some real, unmasked feeling. This is Bruce's real credo: the "honest working guy's confession", a thing not entirely unheard of by that time (for instance, Thin Lizzy in Europe provided a similar vibe at the same time, even earlier, and they backed it up with real music, too), but certainly with enough new elements and new sensations to burn. Even so, it's only interesting when Bruce places the primary and only focus on himself: on 'Mary Queen Of Arkansas' he pairs his own image with that of an illusionary Woman, and the result is bleak and pales a lot in comparison with such Dylan masterpieces as... as... well, Dylan in his prime had every second song pairing him with a Woman, and they were all better than this one. It also has something to do with the fact that 'Mary' is a minimalistic, stripped-down acoustic ballad, and at this point Bruce just can't find enough focus to deliver a really good acoustic ballad. Not to mention, of course, the usual deadly seriousness - there's not a light spot anywhere on the album, unless, of course, you count 'Spirits In The Night' which is actually more stupid than funny. And having to sit still and force myself to feel all kinds of emotional thunderstorms through a series of dull, plodding, second-rate Dylan rip-offs with just about two or three lyrical gems mixed in is definitely more than I can handle. Final verdict: feelings are mixed. 'Spirits In The Night' counts as a really good song in my book, 'Mary Queen Of Arkansas' counts as a really shitty song, everything else falls somewhere in between.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1973Record rating = 9
One chance in a lifetime to become Steely Dan, and he ALMOST didn't blow it.Best song: THE E STREET SHUFFLE
Track listing: 1) The E Street Shuffle; 2) 4th Of July Asbury Park; 3) Kitty's Back; 4) Wild Billy's Circus Story; 5) Incident On 57th Street; 6) Rosalita; 7) New York City Serenade.
A little brave of me, perhaps, to give such a high rating to a Springsteen album, but this is obviously the highest musical point that this dude ever reached (although Darkness On The Edge Of Town certainly matches the record in many respects) - if anything at all innovative and at the same time "mature" really lies within his catalog, its quintessence gotta be found on Wild And Innocent. However, such an immediate and unexpected "firing up" of the rating doesn't mean that Wild And Innocent is actually a revolutionary album; there is no deep, uncrossable precipice between this album and its predecessor as there is, say, between early and "mature" Beatles. Instead, Bruce just consolidates his style - every important element from the debut album is preserved, yet every element is also reprised on a different level, with more complexity, taste and intelligence than before.For starters, this is where Bruce introduces his "E Street Band" to us: the arrangements are far more interesting this time. Unfortunately, Springsteen's melodies still amount to little more than generic folk-rock ramblings about half of which are recycled from the last album and the other half are recycled from Dylan and the like; but at least, his backing band ensures that they never sound as monotonous as before. With pianos, organs, saxes, accordeons, all kinds of guitar tones, flutes and trombones, orchestration, glockenspiels, wild percussion styles, tricky time signatures, little tasty instrumental passages that nod towards jazz-rock, etc., etc., it would take years to account for every production gimmick and arrangement device on the album. You may not understand one single word that Bruce sings on here and you'll still be able to dig this as perfect background music to brighten your day. A typical example are the pretty, moody guitar solos that grace 'Kitty's Back' from time to time; they never seem to fit in with the actual song all that much, but God am I glad they're there - otherwise, I would probably never even have noticed the song at all. At the same time, Bruce avoids sounding like some kind of pre-Steely Dan lounge artist by sticking away from slickness: the band doesn't exactly rock out (calling this type of music "rock'n'roll" really supposes an ample definition of the term), but it sure doesn't sound like a mindless automaton either, with drummer Vini Lopez providing a live, "breathing" beat and David Sancious, who is actually behind most of the technical ideas on this album, providing a lot of red-hot, energetic keyboard backup. Second and even more important, Bruce finally finds his voice - this is the perfect place to look for an independent Bruce, free from both the banal Born In The USA overtones and from the over-amplified Dylan influences. Of course, just like most of the Bruce-penned lyrics, they will mostly appeal to American teens with a bleeding soul - but that's not a bad thing either. Listening to this album is indeed akin to taking a walk in the deepest corners of the American psyche; but not being all that sentimental, I'll just refer you to Mark Prindle's hard-hitting review of this album instead. Guess there's no need to introduce you to the actual songs, too - most of these seven numbers are well-known radio standards and patented anthems of the Lost Generation (one of the many, that is). But if Yer Higness ain't a Yank, you might not be informed that 'Incident On 57th Street' and 'Rosalita' are among the Boss's most treasured and hailed "epics" - with their diligent rises, climaxes and 'falls'. Oh, and have I yet mentioned that Bruce's sheer vocal power on this album is at least thrice as impressive as on the first one? He gruntles, grumbles, stutters, whispers, roars, wheezes, whines - all within a single song, to illustrate a large variety of moods that all fit amazingly well together. And, more important, without actually overblowing it - the melodrama is kept down to a minimum, with none of the bombastic arena-rock tendencies that would freely blossom soon afterwards. Whaddaya know, listening to this album is indeed akin to living several different lives by identifying with lots of personages; but not being all that imaginative, I'll just refer you to Brian Burks' well put together review of this album instead. Personally, I find myself more and more enamoured of the title track - 'The E Street Shuffle' you won't find on any greatest hit compilations or serving as the centerpiece of anybody's gushing review, but that's because nobody really gives a damn about the E Street Band unless when they're functioning as a robotic, completely dependent appendage of the Boss. But on that track, everything works: the shuffling, I mean really shuffling guitars, the running ruminating R'n'B-ish saxes, the funny rockabilly guitar solo, and Bruce's hoarse ramblings over all of it - it's like a 'Blinded By The Light' where the instrumental sound really, really matters. The funky guitar break in the coda rules, too. My second favourite is the already mentioned 'Kitty's Back', which, in terms of complexity, easily tramples all of Born To Run into the dust, and is really a great example of inspired Big Band playing without a single drop of redneck appeal. My third favourite is the very very very long 'New York City Serenade', just because the combination of Bruce's "cooing" singing with Sancious' piano playing creates a very special kind of mood. Almost an empty nighttime barroom mood a la early Tom Waits, although not as straightforward and minimalistic. Now I guess ten minutes is a bit too much for this kind of stuff, but since I take to this album as background music anyway, essentially, I don't mind. Hey, even the album's "wildest" track, 'Rosalita', is still laid back and tasteful enough so as not to make me come up with any unnecessary Rambo associations. The instrumental breaks out there are so goddamn colourful and exuberant without being consciously crafted to ram that catharsys out of 'em boyos I can't say anything bad about it. In short, this is the kind of Bruce Springsteen that I would not only be willing to tolerate in my world, but actually would welcome to it. The problem is, the people of America would not - as good as it was, the second album flopped like the first, which means it just didn't have enough commercial appeal. Which was sort of expectable, ye know: it was a big question whether this record should appeal to the singer-songwriter crowds or to professional jazz lovers, I guess. Well, the next album sort of put it out straight then. PS. I see I didn't say one word about Bruce's lyrics on here, did I? Hmm. Well, just download them from the Internet and take a peep yourself, then. You sure don't need me (or anybody else) to interpret them for you, and retelling them would be a total waste of your, and, what's infinitely more important, my time, as Russell Crowe would say. PPS. Incidentally, 'Incident On 57th Street' is my least favourite song on here today. Three guesses why?
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1975Record rating = 6
If this were indeed "the greatest American album", as some call it, I'd feel real sorry for America. Fortunately, I hope it isn't.Best song: TENTH AVENUE FREEZEOUT. Or BACKSTREETS, if I'm feeling particularly generous.
Track listing: 1) Thunder Road; 2) 10th Avenue Freezeout; 3) Night; 4) Backstreets; 5) Born To Run; 6) She's The One; 7) Meeting Across The River; 8) Jungleland.
Yep, you heard it right. Nine out of fifteen, and that's not even regarding the fact that I am absolutely not bowled over by Bruce's vision on this album. Now before you start calling your local hacker to ram this site into oblivion, consider the following things: what does Born To Run offer us that the previous record did not? Nothing except an emphasis on pomp and grandeur. Why is this considered one of Bruce's absolute pinnacles, then? Surely not because it was recorded on a bigger budget and gave the Boss an opportunity to make his usual Fat Sound even fatter and more bombastic? Why, yes, because of that, mostly.No, maybe not necessarily because of that? Maybe just because it includes 'Thunder Road' and the title track - the two Springsteen cult classics that I, for one, find absolutely... ah, wait here. Yes, I do find them absolutely dull melodically, but I would be the last person to admit that the grandiose scope of 'Born To Run' (the song) doesn't really suck in the listener, big or small. It's Bruce at his most anthemic and at the same time, Bruce at his most humble: it is Bruce who says 'Humble man, rise up and shine in all your glory and magnificence!' That kind of Bruce. So is it any wonder that this song has long since become one of the Boss's most proverbial moments? 'Tramps like us, baby we were born to run'. And 'Thunder Road' is basically the same thing, just not as proverbially obvious. Face it, the two songs are pretty much interchangeable. But I hate, hate, hate this vibe with a passion. This is where Dylan and Springsteen finally part ways, once and forever: I could never imagine Mr Zimmerman assuming this image. Where Dylan takes pity on the humble man and seeks out his inner glory, Springsteen is a provocator - he cries out for the humble man to get on the street and have some action (innocent action, mind you), be proud of his humbleness and expand his humbleness on others. 'Say it now and say it loud, I'm a cow and I'm proud' (Bored Of The Rings, 1969, p. 73). Might I also add that both songs are strikingly unmelodic? Or, if you wish to argue on that one because of a wider understanding of "melody", that they are both based on exactly the same rambling rhythms that Bruce introduced on his debut album? Might I? Oh please let me mention that. No wonder, then, that my favourite tune on the whole album is the one that most people usually forget to mention - the slinky-dinky '10th Avenue Freeze Out'. Not only is it far better in the musical sense (using a more strict and interesting approach to rhythm), it's also far more honest and hard-hitting with its tale of a tramp stranded on the street. Then again, it's probably far less original, idea-wise, but that's not a real problem. The important thing is, it sounds as if it were unintentionally carried over from The E Street Shuffle - it has the same homey, fun-filled feel as the album where he really put his band to some hard work. It just absolutely doesn't fit in with the rest of this material. Heck, it's got a noticeable funky guitar riff, ya know. Most of the time I don't even notice the guitar on this album, cuz it's so washed away by new band member Roy Bittan's powerhouse pianos and all those gargantuan saxes and big booming drums and what-not. The only other track I take particular interest in is the epic 'Backstreets', mainly because of Bruce's excellent theatrical delivery - again, you never know if he really means it, but he uses his voice in such a wonderful manner that it draws you in, as he goes from restrained whiney patter to a slow 'crescendo' bursting out in wild, unrestrained screaming. For my money, he could have screamed the 'hiding on the backstreets, hiding on the backstreets' lines forever; nobody could have really done it better. And I gotta give it to him - his poetry in the song (as well as anywhere on the album) is really, really strong. Isn't this a curious phenomenon? Great voice, great band, great lyrics (at least, as far as word-choice is concerned), and such a big waste of everything in the end? Of course, I never had great expectations about Born To Run: lyrics-wise and concept-wise, I got exactly what I expected, so it wasn't such a big disappointment. The biggest disappointment was the music: that interesting sound he seemed to have finally gotten 'round to developing on the last album has gone away, replaced by stupid, unnecessary barroom noodling. For Chrissake take a look at the instrumental work on these songs: they all have the same bombastic mush splattered all over them, with the instruments drowning each other out and never really giving individual members any chances to shine, except for the sax guy who has exactly one way of getting it on - playing it like he were leading an army into battle. That's fine and dandy for once, but by the second song already it reeks of well-calculated commercial formula so much it loses all impact on me. Ah well, why do I care? Nobody mentions the music of Born To Run anyway when they start discussing the album! The most frequent thing to say is that on here, Bruce was aiming for a bombastic Phil Spector-type kind of sound, but he blew it on one count: Phil Spector was at his best only when he was laying his production on great hook-filled tunes, his own or whoever else's. These tunes have no hooks. Worst offender is the nine-and-a-half minute 'Jungleland' which is basically 'Thunder Road Part 3' ('Born To Run' was Part 2), only extended to a double length because of the long sax solo and the slowing down and the BOOM Bruce getting it up again (it's sort of a fun game, though, to look at the lyrics and make your bet upon the line where he is going to raise his voice to a shout again. I actually lost to myself over that one, but not by a long shot). Now excuse me if I dwell too much on this, but understand, it's no shitty late period Deep Purple album I'm lambasting here, I'm taking it upon the most sacred of all sacred cows, and I can't just get over it with two quick lines and that's that. What I really want to express my amazement about is how Born To Run is so often called "the greatest rock and roll album". Now sure, I see it's a "rock" album, just like an Eric Clapton album or a Ministry album or a Fairport Convention would be "rock", too, albeit with prefixes like "blues" or "industrial" or "folk". But rock and roll? You wish to tell me this is rock and roll the way we're supposed to understand it when listening to Chuck Berry, or the Rolling Stones, or the early Who, or the Ramones, or Motorhead? This is friggin' Broadway show music! It's less rock and roll than Quadrophenia (the latter at least has several well-defined, riff-driven hard rock tunes, and I'd be hard pressed to come up with one existing, much less interesting, guitar riff on here), and I don't hear that one called "a great rock and roll album" too often. I can't hear the guitar most of the time, all I have is these pompous saxes blowing in my ears. Sure, rock and roll is supposed to be "rebellious" and, to a point, "exuberant", and Born To Run sort of (but rather mildly) satisfies these conditions. But you could call Wagner great rock and roll, too, or Miles Davis. And even so, (one of the) greatest rock'n'roll album(s)? Whatever. This stuff has nothing to do with Pete Townshend annihilating his guitar during the frantic solo on 'Water', or with Lemmy getting it on with his rhythm-as-bass playing. If it's rock'n'roll, it's a megalomaniacal, bombastic, musically watered-down and essentially sterile version of rock'n'roll which I thoroughly detest - not for existing, but for pretending to serve as "rock and roll". Fuck the school of criticism that dares to put down progressive rock for being too pretentious while at the same time daring to extol the virtues of albums like Born To Run: at the very least, good progressive rock has never dared to call itself "rock and roll". This stuff dares, and therefore, it sucks. Nine out of fifteen for 'Tenth Avenue Freezeout' and out of my general respect for all the talent that went in this pile of shit.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1978Record rating = 10
Lower the rating if you think this is not "the real" Springsteen. For me, it is.Best song: ADAM RAISED A CAIN
Track listing: 1) Badlands; 2) Adam Raised A Cain; 3) Something In The Night; 4) Candy's Room; 5) Racing In The Street; 6) The Promised Land; 7) Factory; 8) Streets Of Fire; 9) Prove It All Night; 10) Darkness On The Edge Of Town.
Now see, this is what I meant when I acknowledged Bruce's talents in the introduction - the man's ability to switch from a shitty, mock-but-not-quite-mock-jingoistic image to something really, really different has fascinated me from the very moment that I started digging behind the glitzy, but smelly surface of the Born albums. For instance, if all Springsteen records were like this one, I suppose I wouldn't ever feel the need to put the Boss down so viciously in that venomous introduction.No, I do not want to say that Darkness represents a totally unpredictable and radical twist in the guy's lyrical/musical/performing philosophy - if it were so, no way he could have come out six years later with an album as blatantly commercial and "American-dreamy-for-McDonalds-goers" as Born In The USA. Essentially, Bruce is Bruce, and Bruce doesn't change all that much, because for Chrissake he ain't no David Bowie! He doesn't build up on that kind of thing! BUT, for the almost entire duration of this album he manages to tone down those sides of his 'creative personality' that irk me the most, and extol those sides that make me recognize him as a serious artist after all and not just a phoney by-product of the advanced capitalist society. Yeah, you heard right. Between Born To Run and this, Bruce had fought a long legal battle with his ex-manager for creative freedom, which explains his not recording for so long. (Who's the Boss? MONEY's the boss, baby!). Apparently, the fight had worn him out so much that he decided to concentrate on the angry side of himself, and the resulting album is a far more rough, stern and even hard-rocking affair than any of the previous ones. Another explanation, very nice from an evolutionary point of view, is that Darkness shows us a mature Bruce, out of his youthful innocent 'romantic' period - the romance is over now, and all of these songs emphasize the 'arder aspects of life, all the terrors and calamities and inescapability of work and uselessness of life and suchlike. Very little (well, relatively little, compared to Born To Run) bombast on here, no unnecessary fake romanticizing, and unpretentious themes that would be much more accessible to audiences outside of America, those that are aware of the record's existence, at least. Take a song like 'Racing In The Street', for instance - one of those rare cases within Bruce's catalog where he's actually allowing himself to glance with irony at the 'blue collar hero' image. The song actually starts out in the usual way: the protagonist comes home from work and takes out his bike, because 'some guys they just give up living, and start dying little by little, piece by piece, some guys come home from work and wash up, and go racin' in the street'. The message of 'Thunder Road'? Yuck! But then Bruce suddenly switches on to the guy's wife - when the guy goes off racin' in the street, she just sits there in despair and loneliness and 'hates for just being born, for all the shut down strangers and hot rod angels rumbling through this promised land'. THIS is by no means the message of 'Thunder Road'! How many blue collar workers would be able to identify with this? Only the right kind of blue collar workers, that's for sure! The song is really moving and gets my thumbs up, for once. Not that it's all oh so very consistent - Bruce is willing to undermine his image a little, but he is still aware of his main audience, which is why he opens the album with the usual kind of hope-raising pomp ('Badlands', simply 'Thunder Road Vol. 2' - 'we'll keep pushin' 'til it's understood and these badlands start treating us good'), sort of "enticing" the listener by promising him the next installment in the beloved series. And then wham! 'Adam Raised A Cain' comes along, a song quite unlike anything Bruce ever did before. A smashing, furious lead guitar part, played by Bruce himself as my commentators have kindly explained to me - how many smashing lead guitar parts had there actually been on previous Springsteen albums? Two? Three? None? Lyrics that delve far beyond the basic "Springsteenization(message = "we gotta get out of this place") formula, dealing with the hardships of family relations and your own legacy. A non-standard vocal melody and a vocal delivery that threatens to rip the heart out of 'Backstreets', and even a meaningful "angry mob" pause between the second and third verse. It's Bruce's hardest-rocking song and my absolute favourite in his entire catalog. Some of the other better songs are often ambiguous - for instance, does the guy in 'Promised Land' actually believe in the promised land or doesn't he? Hard to tell... Is it one more bait for the working class or not? Probably is, but even so, in this context, with an arrangement heavy on mild Dylan-ish organ, it's pretty far removed from the true pomp of 'Born To Run'. Of course, the four-note piano riff would later be recycled for 'Bobby Jean', but as much as I like 'Bobby Jean' (running a little ahead), this song is infinitely better, not to mention infinitely more complex. Which brings me to a further point - my high rating is due not only to a change in Bruce's image but also to a change in some of the arrangements. 'Streets Of Fire' is sort of like a minor, less anthemic and pretentious, brother to 'Backstreets', with a quiet, relaxed organ carrying most of the melody - and another excellent guitar break to boot (the third classy solo on this record will be found in 'Candy's Room', by the way). And 'Prove It All Night', basically the same old romantic bullshit lyrically (very skillful bullshit, too! don't kill me over it), greatly aided by Roy Bittan's poppy keyboards, is the catchiest ditty written by the Boss so far. An album where Springsteen gets to really rock hard and be catchy - what's not to like? Oh sure, it would be great if he were to return to the jazzy stylistics of his second album once in a while, but I guess let bygones be bygones. Basically, if I were to summarize in one brief sentence what makes this album so different from Born To Run, it would be this: very few songs on here can serve as arena-rock crowd pleasers. 'Badlands', maybe, or 'Prove It All Night' which is sort of inoffensive anyway, certainly not anything else. It's not a record to sing along to. Isn't it sort of underrepresented in the Boss' live show anyway? I mean, you can't go to a Springsteen concert and not hear 'Thunder Road' or 'Born To Run', but how often are you gonna hear 'Adam Raised A Cain' or the title track? It's sort of a "private" album, if you know what I mean, and a risky one at that. But that's sort of becoming Springsteen's hobby - alternating "commercial" product with "risky" statements. It would certainly prove true during the next decade.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1980Record rating = 8
Double album! So much to love, so much to hate!Best song: I'd type in a title now, but I'm afraid I'll confuse it with another one.
Track listing: 1) The Ties That Bind; 2) Sherry Darling; 3) Jackson Cage; 4) Two Hearts; 5) Independence Day; 6) Hungry Heart; 7) Out In The Street; 8) Crush On You; 9) You Can Look; 10) I Wanna Marry You; 11) The River; 12) Point Blank; 13) Cadillac Ranch; 14) I'm A Rocker; 15) Fade Away; 16) Stolen Car; 17) Ramrod; 18) The Price You Pay; 19) Drive All Night; 20) Wreck On The Highway.
The infamous record that never ends. It looks like by the end of the Seventies Bruce has finally and totally split in two uneven halves. One, the Deep Introspective half, best represented on Darkness and later represented on Nebraska, was Bruce at his most bitter and dangerous, not a sound that could appeal to your, you know, average beer-drinkin' guzzards. The other half was the Populist Half, already very evident on Born To Run and later coming to fruition on Born In The USA. Partially sincere, partially not, it's the half that requires the Rambo muscles and the reckless have-at-it yell.Unfortunately, The River is for the most part an unabashed celebration of the Populist half of Mr Springsteen. Sure, it's a sprawling double album, with twenty songs going over an hour and twenty minutes, and thus it's bound to have at least a few things from Springsteen the Introspective Dude. But to hell with all those who say The River is Bruce's White Album or that you might find all of his styles exploited on here; just because an album has twenty songs doesn't mean they all have to sound different, and they sure don't. In fact, more than half of them sound totally and completely interchangeable to me. Not that it's necessarily a problem, but the overwhelming majority of songs on here do fall under the simple category that's known as, or could be known as, Stadium Roots Rock. A huge-soundin' band with a huge-soundin' lead singer; guitars that soar and roar without actually saying anything distinct, pianos that mumble and tumble without establishing anything resembling a well-constructed melody, and above all, whooshing pompous sax parts that suggest "this is catharsis if you're unaware of it" just like the behind-the-screen laughter suggests "this is humour in case you didn't know it". And it's song after song after song after song after song: on average, four songs out of five on each side, with a moodier ballad to top it off at the end. Rumours have it that one of the intentions was to recreate the jovial atmosphere at a Bruce concert (at least one song on here, 'Sherry Darling', has audience applause at the beginning and end, so it could have actually been recorded live for all I know). That's pretty ugly, if you ask me. What's the good news then? Why an 11? Well, if you ask me, I'd say that a large percent of the songs is pretty unpretentious. With rambunctious, but, well, socially mild fun-celebrating rockers like 'You Can Look (But You Better Not Touch)' and 'I'm A Rocker', this is hardly necessarily the romantic street poet Bruce Springsteen of 'Thunder Road'. Even the more 'acute' rockers remind me more of, uhm, Thin Lizzy, for instance, than Born To Run. To put it more accurate, I don't see the Boss putting his heart on his sleeve (or pretending to put his heart on his sleeve, whichever you prefer) on the majority of the tunes. He's kinda just, uh, having fun. You know, playing in a band and all. You know, lights, saxes, sweat dripping off your guitar, big big big amplifiers and a happy roaring crowd o' rednecks. Okay, skip the redneck part. Or don't skip it, whichever you prefer. There's very little pretense at social philosophy here, and that's good. This is still hardly "rock'n'roll" the way I see true rock'n'roll, but at least it's just drunk party muzak rather than a working class statement. Another thing is, The River is an obvious, open, unveiled stab at commercialism - and with the hit 'Hungry Heart', it really did finally establish Bruce as a major commercial force, although the peak was yet to come. Pretty much every second, and even more, chorus on here is catchy, a thing The Boss didn't really allow himself in the past. As much as I respect catchiness and memorability in music, even I have to admit, though, that this particular catchiness becomes mind-numbing towards the end. It's verse, verse, crash-boom-bang, catchy chorus, verse, verse, crash-boom-bang, catchy chorus, end song. Begin new song, same sound, same arrangement, slightly different guitar rhythm, verse, verse, crash-boom-bang, catchy chorus, verse, swooping sax break, catchy chorus, repeat catchy chorus, end song. Begin third one, same arrangement, same sound, etc., repeat ad infinitum. The Young brothers would be proud. Still, despite all this, and despite the fact that for the most part, the melodies themselves aren't all that creative (some are by-the-book Berryesque rock'n'roll, some based on vocal melodies that are well known already - am I the only one to notice the similarity between 'The Price You Pay' and the Kinks' 'Misfits'? both prob'ly were ripped off of the same source, but you can never tell), many of the songs are really harmless fun. 'The Ties That Bind', the rebellious 'Out In The Street', the celebratory 'Two Hearts', the barroom country rocker 'Cadillac Ranch', the ones I already mentioned, they're all okay. I can't see any of them as particularly appealing to the hardcore Springsteen fan; they don't have da sperrit in them, ye know. But if you have any problems with the Springsteen sperrit (and you're welcome in my house if you do), then The River will suit you just fine. I would still take Tom Petty over this stuff any time of day, but even in the absence of Tom Petty, it's not all that stinky. In other words, out of all Springsteen albums that stink, this one is the best one. There are some exceptions to the rule, of course. Everybody will tell you that the title track is different, an acoustic-and-harmonica ballad that's considerably darker and meaner than almost everything on here and acts as a natural precursor to Nebraska. I'd be supposed not to like it, but it's just too dark and pessimistic, on one side, and too quiet and unassuming, on the other, to irritate me the same way 'Thunder Road' does. And set here in the middle of all those good-time rockers, it acts as a pleasant unexpected surprise as well. Of course, the other "pleasant unexpected surprise" is the eight-and-a-half 'soulful' boredom of 'Drive All Night', a song that never changes pace from its snake-like crawl just because Bruce Springsteen has decided eight minutes of his wheezy voice love confessions would be just enough for the casual listener. Okay, I'm not mockin' the Boss here, I just don't see how the "soul" of 'Drive All Night' could possibly be considered better than the soul of, uh, Bob Seger, for instance. And the obligatory sax, too. Exercise catharsis, you stupid beer-guzzlers! Apart from that eight minute embarrassment, though, I don't really have any specific complaints. The River is a pretty adequate 'mood piece', you know, with every song fulfilling its - pretty obvious - purpose. The funny thing is, when I first put the album on, I was expecting something difficult and mind-wrecking, gosh, like, twenty songs, and I'm to sit through all of them? Maybe I'd better lay down some bricks or something? But then, when you do put it on and find out that it's - seriously - the easiest-going, most lightweight Springsteen record so far, it's kind of a huge load off your shoulders. It doesn't cease being monotonous and not too creative anyway, but at least it's not all that demanding. And thank you Mr Springsteen for that. As well as for finishing the record with 'Wreck On The Highway' - you probably did this intentionally, so that when another Springsteen hater like me comes along and starts cursing the Boss' populist guts, you could wink and blink and say "Hey, but I finished the record with 'Wreck On The Highway'". But I really don't mind you doing that.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1982Record rating = 8
This lonely acoustic bard thing may be pre-planned as well, but at least it leaves my stomach intact.Best song: ATLANTIC CITY
Track listing: 1) Nebraska; 2) Atlantic City; 3) Mansion On A Hill; 4) Johnny 99; 5) Highway Patrol; 6) State Trooper; 7) Used Cars; 8) Open All Night; 9) My Father's House; 10) Reason To Believe.
The rating is extremely approximate, EXTREMELY. To be quite sure, I don't have the least idea what to give this album. I am seriously torn in between the fact that I admire Bruce's competence displayed on this record, and the fact that so many of these songs bore the Woody Guthrie out of me.Here is what happened: originally, from what I hear, these songs were to be recorded as full-band creations, but somewhere at the early stages of the project Bruce just decided to go ahead with the demos, that is, him and the acoustic and the harmonica. And that's it. As if the year were nineteen sixty-two and all the world needed was another brave lonesome folkster challenging the world with a raspy voice and a six-string. And to make matters more authentic, the songs are almost entirely stripped of Bruce's witty metaphoric singer-songwriter style, with the lyrics as straightforward and simplistic as you'd expect from your average mythical folkie with not enough in the way of brains but a lot in the way of feelings. Now here's one important thing, then: Bruce sets up a task here, and lives up to the task pretty well. I don't know anything about whether these songs came straight from the guy's heart or were carefully planned and laid out as a "gimmick" and, frankly, I could care less. They sound like Bruce obviously knew his homework, and the way they're sung, played, and recorded, they can certainly speak to one too many hearts, and they do. They sound thoroughly authentic; the lyrics are well strung together, the guitar melodies are as primitive as you'd expect, and the singing at least seems sincere. The big problem is, then, if we really need these songs. Here we have our Woody Guthrie, and our early phase Bob Dylan, and, of course, zillions and zillions and zillions of 'original' folk classics, covered by zillions and zillions and zillions of folkies, country heroes, and rock'n'rollers. What does Nebraska add to this enormous repertoire that the repertoire lacks? Nothing. Wait, that's wrong. It adds a somewhat more contemporary flavour to all these things. The lyrics that Bruce composes here all deal with topics quite actual for his time. Mass murders (the title track is sung 'from the point of view' of the serial killer Charlie Starkweather); Vietnam war; gambling and death in Atlantic City; and so on. This certainly makes it easier for people to relate to this kind of things, because, hey, who wants to associate with the problems of, I dunno, 19th century immigrants or 15th century woodcutters? In the long run, however, it inevitably makes Nebraska sound just as dated as all these 'oldies' or even more so. And the fact that Bruce explicitly "simplifies" his lyrics (that weren't all that mystifying and ambivalent to begin with, you know) really works against him in a lot of cases. Oh, there's just no way, no way in hell I could ever identify with something as - sorry Bruce fans - dumb as 'My Father's House'. Not only is the melody reminiscent of a phoney mid-Sixties Elvis acoustic ballad, but the lyrical tale, with the protagonist dreaming about returning in his father's arms and then awaking only to find out that his father's house now belongs to somebody else, is merely a cliched and banal take on a subject already present in miriads of folk originals. Now what is that supposed to be, a lyrical revelation? A cathartic experience? If it's your first song of the kind, fine; I've heard lots of stuff like this. If you want to pick up an acoustic and make me cry, you gotta have more lyrical wit than that - gimme the truly majestic 'I Dreamed I Saw St Augustine' over this banality any time of day. Granted, 'My Father's House' is the lowest point on the entire album, but not the only low one. In a similar way, I really can't seriously take 'Mansion On The Hill' (very similar in flow to 'My Father's House'), and while the title track certainly has its charm, I don't know why it was necessary to re-run a similar lyrical theme in 'Johnny 99'. I count two truly great songs on the album. 'Atlantic City' is Springsteen at his most mature, and is actually more typical for his usual work, but it's really moving and really memorable. 'Everything dies baby that's a fact but maybe everything that dies someday comes back' isn't a particularly original thought, but the way it is expressed is original, and the way it is sung, in Bruce's pleading and most natural intonation (far from the overexaggerated tremolo of 'My Father's Houses'), is even more original. And then there's 'State Trooper', distinguished by its menacing repetitive four-note guitar riff... now here's a song that would have lost a lot if it were to be transferred to an all-electric arrangement, because the acoustic riff would probably be just played on the bass and the suspense would be gone. Not to mention the chilling 'HAW!' at the end. I guess 'Open All Night' isn't half-bad either, mainly because it's upbeat and fast, a real boogie tune, which sets it apart from everything else, and the 'Too Much Monkey Business' inspired lyrics are a hoot, but I'm pretty sure diehard Springsteen fans will want to take something really boring like 'Used Cars' over it anyway. Everything else... well. Okay, it is competent and soulful. And I gotta commend the pacing of the album: no two slow moody atmospheric pieces follow each other in a row, they're always separated by a hoppin' rockabilly piece of acoustic hillbilly swing, if you know what I be a-meanin' with this messy description. Overall, maybe it's just my extremely spoilt self. But you know, when Bob Dylan wanted to get back to his folk roots late in his career, he sat down and honestly recorded two full albums of cover tunes. He could have written some of his own, but he probably thought that he'd reserve his songwriting for cases when he wanted to express his own personality, not do a nice-looking, but essentially useless tribute to the "old masters". The same idea, apparently, never occurred to The Boss. Well - whatever. You make your choice. PS. Looking back several months later, I've been a bit too hard on this one. It does look heavily pretentious if you're looking at it in the overall context of the Boss' works, but taken all by itself, it's a really humble, cozy little record. 'My Father's House' and 'Mansion On The Hill' are still a bit too much for me to intake, but the rest of the songs all qualify in some way at least. I'd give it a 10 as a "normally good, nothing outstanding" record, but 'Atlantic City', as one of the man's best songs ever, pushes it forward to an 11 altogether.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1984Record rating = 6
Reagan may have misjudged it, but is it a coincidence that the album came out in the Reagan era in the first place?..Best song: BOBBY JEAN
Track listing: 1) Born In The USA; 2) Cover Me; 3) Darlington County; 4) Working On The Highway; 5) Downbound Train; 6) I'm On Fire; 7) No Surrender; 8) Bobby Jean; 9) I'm Going Down; 10) Glory Days; 11) Dancing In The Dark; 12) My Hometown.
Dump Nebraska in the toilet, don't forget to f-l-u-s-h. Burn your copy of Darkness On The Edge Of Town, scatter the ashes to the wind. Get out the "great redneck pride" of Born To Run, but this time don't bother setting it to pianos and guitars that have some tastefulness to their sound. Synthesizers will do nicely, it's nineteen eighty-four, after all, and if we have no Big Brother, we sure still have the Boss. And I promised I would have no more swipes at the man's melodic talent, but sorry, can't help myself: if you made a nice lil' 45 with 'Born In The USA' on side A and 'Glory Days' on side B, but without the vocals, you could have sworn a five-year old could have written that music.But to hell with the melodies. They're simple and occasionally - actually, often - catchy, but for the most part merely because they don't belong to Bruce, they're all just standard 4-4 arena rock or country-rock or whatever the hell, damn, on one track ('Working On The Highway') Bruce goes straight for an Eddie Cochran sound. The big problem is that this is - like anybody will tell you - Bruce's most commercial, simplistic, trivial, and argle-bargle-dumbest record ever. Everything I hate about Mr Springsteen is here, and almost nothing that I like about Mr Springsteen is. Yeah sure, go ahead and tell me how Reagan and Co. were too thick to get the actual meaning of the title track, how they took it for a rednecky jingoistic wave the flag anthem when in reality it was condemning the American way from the first to the last line. You know what? When Black Sabbath put intentionally Christian lyrics on Master Of Reality, they could hardly hope to evade the usual accusations of Satanism - just because your record says 'leave the Earth to Satan and his slaves', you can't really help yourself if it's essentially still brutal, dark, horrific style guitar riffs. Likewise, just because your song says 'born down in a dead man's town, the first kick I took was when I hit the ground', you can't really help yourself if it's essentially still a loud, cheerful, melodically dumb, emotionally uplifting tune with a rough'n'tough guy yelling 'born in the USA, I was born in the USA' at the top of his lungs. And don't tell me Bruce didn't know that. This is an intentionally commercialized album, an album whose creator knew it would appeal to the illiterate masses who wouldn't be able to take the 'subtlety' of the lyrics into account - and then, when accused of jingoism and right-wing sympathies, he could always turn around and say, 'hey guys, why doncha read the lyrics right'. It's an intentional provocation, and of the meanest kind, at least according to my personal values - which certainly put the individual and his complex problems on a higher level than this bunch of "a poor man's romantic" statements written as brawling arena-rock declarations. And almost the same kind of judgement can be applied to most other songs on here. 'Darlington County', 'Working On The Highway'... the list goes on and on. Read the lyrics sheets and you'll get these bleak pictures of hardship and toil that haven't undergone much change since the days of Born To Run. Then put on the album and get these happy cheery roll-down-the-window anthems to bawl around without even considering the lyrics. What? Not the Boss's fault? Excuse me, the Boss is not so dumb as you would like him to be, gentlemen. The Boss is smart. The Boss knows his symbols well: an American flag on the front cover, and the Boss's own ass covered by tattered jeans. Gosh I friggin' hate that hideous patch on his ass. Consider this, uhm, a very very weak nine as opposed to Born To Run's strong nine. I can't say I really hate all the songs on here - when taken individually, on their own, some of the numbers are okay (not those 'Glory Days' type of songs, though: booming thunderous drums + one guy playing a three or four note synth riff with one finger on the keyboard do not equal a good song in my book, particularly not when they're used to serve as the background for Bruce's pompous wailings. Maybe the Residents could lend a hand?). It's when everything is taken together that the album becomes a dumb redneck delight; nope, sorry, I'll take Skynyrd's debut over this stuff any time of day. At least Skynyrd could play, you know, and when they played, they didn't pretend to elevate their simple tunes to opera level. There's one of those mammoth anthems, exactly one, that actually speaks to me, and that's 'Bobby Jean'. Not surprisingly, it's perhaps the closest song in style to Born To Run on the album: a wall-of-sound production that relies on actually well-defined piano melodies rather than minimalistic synth patterns, as well as a swooping sax solo that recalls the better days. You realize how seriously this album lacks classy material when I actually praise a song for sounding close to Born To Run? But really, the piano and the sax make a great background for Bruce's soulful delivery on here - it's a bit similar to those bombastic Lennon songs of the mid-Seventies which I so adore. It feels very live and breathing compared to everything else. It's a purely subjective call, though. Important thing to state: I fully admit that no matter how strong one may hate Born In The USA, there will always be at least one or two songs on the album to speak to the hater directly, and make him come out with a reservation of the kind I just made. Just goes to show how the talent of the man is still there, despite the vomit-inducing image he's tailored for himself (or "has been tailored into", if we are to believe that Jon Landau makes all the decisions in the Bruce camp). As far as hooks go, 'I'm Going Down' is also a pretty decent number... well, actually about two thirds of the songs on here do have vocal hooks, from the poppiest stuff like 'Dancing In The Dark' to the almost Joe Cocker-style R'n'B workout 'Cover Me'. But believe me, all these hooks could have been tossed off over the course of one day; Bruce never was an aspiring popmeister, nor would anybody really want him to be one. And what use is a hook if you're way too embarrassed to sing along to it? gosh, I'd better sing along to Herman's Hermits. Look, I rarely admit that I hate albums, because generally it's a pretty stupid thing to do - to hate music. You either like it or it just leaves you cold; Born In The USA is one of those rare cases where, despite certain positive qualities, I say 'foo!' as loud as I can. This is where Bruce's populism reaches its ugly peak, and boy am I already sick to death of the man's pompous, run-of-the-mill damaged "working class poetry". Give me some Dylan, or some Peter Hammill, over this any time of day. 'Nuff said.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1987Record rating = 4
Subtract the hair from that picture and you get yourself Phil Collins. As for the music, you don't even need to subtract the hair.Best song: no way. They all suck, even if not all of them suck hopelessly. Maybe BRILLIANT DISGUISE is a tad above the rest.
Track listing: 1) Ain't Got You; 2) Tougher Than The Rest; 3) All That Heaven Will Allow; 4) Spare Parts; 5) Cautious Man; 6) Walk Like A Man; 7) Tunnel Of Love; 8) Two Faces; 9) Brilliant Disguise; 10) One Step Up; 11) When You're Alone; 12) Valentine's Day.
Given that I've already lost credibility with my Born To Run review, I'll just go ahead and add insult to injury: this record, for which even the worst recommendation from a Bruce fan would be something like "a tremendously underrated masterpiece", is absolutely unbearable. No, it is not the worst album I've ever heard. It's simply one of the longest, most pretentious, and most plain useless pieces of generic muzak I've had the misfortune to sit through. And I do mean "longest" - it may run for a basic forty-six minutes, but I'd rather sit through the entire Tangerine Dream and Klaus Schultze catalogues combined than endure one more listen, one more eternity wasted.The saddest thing is that Bruce is still working according to the regular formula: "one for the fans - one for the critics". Up til now, the "one for the critics" part of his oeuvre ranged from tolerable to excellent, whether it be the musical variety and experimentation on Wild & Innocent, the bleakness, gruffness, and "rocking-ness" of Darkness, or the stripped "honest" approach on Nebraska. With Tunnel Of Love, Bruce goes "deep" again and ends up with... an adult contemporary album. Yeah, you check out the All Music Guide and see if they dared to slap "adult contemporary" on this record. They sure didn't. But play this back to back with any of Phil Collins' products of the same epoch and tell me the big difference. This is as generic as they come, and more. Don't get me wrong, I know that Tunnel Of Love is primarily respected among fans for its lyrics. "Bruce gets mature here", they say. "He has grown up, shed a little bit of the former fury, and recorded a genius conceptual album about love, marriage, divorce, and everything that goes with it. Just listen to what he's singing, man!". Well, I don't want to. I'm pretty sure Bruce can come up with a batch of credible lyrics about love tribulations. And moreover, I'm grateful to him for coming up with this particular batch instead of singing about the pleasures of Darlington County once again. This is all fine by me. But lyrics alone, no matter how good they are, no matter who wrote them, don't do nothing for me in the context of a supposedly "rock" album. Let Bruce trod on stage with a wad of crumpled sheets of paper and read this stuff aloud to his audiences - we'll discuss this as poetry then, and that will be a wholly different story. They're good lyrics, but what are they surrounded with? Friggin' adult contemporary. "Heavenly" synths, light diluted so-called guitars, faraway echoey percussion, and the usual mid-Eighties type of production, you know, the one where all the instruments sound as if they've been recorded on a Hollywood set where the action takes place in Paradise (definitely not in Paradise itself). Melodies simpler than a doornail, even simpler than the ones on Born In The USA, and clearly secondary to the lyrics. And everything delivered in the same whiny nasal tone which Bruce fans love so much but which sort of leaves me cold cuz it never changes to anything better. It's not that I would throw excrements at the Boss for committing this mistake, no. He fell pretty much in the same trap as Eric Clapton did: "overtrusted" the "new" type of sound (which, frankly speaking, wasn't all that new by 1987 anymore), and thought it would make a good backing to his little psychological observations. The world ate it up on the wave of Born In The USA's success - and, just as it was before, some critics actually praised him for refusing to intentionally repeat the blockbusting success of that album with a carbon copy, instead veering off into an anticommercial direction. Well, excluding the fact that generic adult contemporary was hardly "anticommercial", they were probably right - Bruce definitely did not want to repeat himself. But perhaps it'd have been better if he did. I don't even want to talk about the songs, because I don't remember any of them. The percussion-and-voice-only-introduced 'Ain't Got You' starts the record deceptively on an upbeat soulful note, but then it turns out that's reall just an introduction to the whole "concept" (which includes suffering, disillusionment, questioning of values, you know the drift). From the second song on, I can't be asked to wade through the muck and fish out decent patches and pieces. I'll admit that 'Brilliant Disguise' has a really exciting chorus (immediately undermined by cheesy keyboards one second after its conclusion), and that maybe two or three other songs come close to recapturing the hooklines of Born In The USA, but that's about it. A few other songs hearken back to the days of Nebraska ('Cautious Man'), but in this context they just sound weak, repetitive, and "we've been there before"-like. Come to think of it, I didn't even like Roger Waters' The Final Cut all that much, and this... ...and while we're in the comparison alley, I have no idea how people could hate/despise/ignore Mark Knopfler and Dire Straits and at the same time praise this tuneless drivel. At least the Dire Straits records have some real guitar playing going on there (in addition to atmosphere/lyrics which could easily rival the Boss'); Tunnel Of Love (curiously, Knopfler himself had a song called 'Tunnel Of Love' several years before that - much better than everything on here, too) has jackshit when it comes to actual music. Even when Bruce pretends to be "rocking out", as on 'Spare Parts', the results are hardly above second-rate Bad Company material. Shrug. Well, guess that's just another facet of the Springsteen myth that looks out-bloody-rageous to me.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1992Record rating = 5
The album that Bruce always had in him, only you wouldn't believe it.Best song: 57 CHANNELS? Who knows.
Track listing: 1) Human Touch; 2) Soul Driver; 3) 57 Channels (And Nothing On); 4) Cross My Heart; 5) Gloria's Eyes; 6) With Every Wish; 7) Roll Of The Dice; 8) Real World; 9) All Or Nothin' At All; 10) Man's Job; 11) I Wish I Were Blind; 12) The Long Goodbye; 13) Real Man; 14) Pony Boy.
Well, at least now we know the way The Boss feels about lesbians. "Loving you baby is a man's job" - that sure is one hell of a statement of position, isn't it?Joking aside, I'm not really going to take my chance here. It's just plain not very interesting to kick a man when he's down, and Human Touch, almost universally "acclaimed" as the lowest point in the Boss' evolution, has already gotten so much bad rap that one more stone won't change anything. There are, however, a few points I'd like to address. First, people often complain about how the melodies on here are so rote and unmemorable. Well here's a big surprise: unmemorable they're not. More than half of the songs - and this here's a big record for Bruce, taking advantage of the CD era - actually feature catchy choruses and, sometimes, verse structures. Just take a listen, then take a look at the titles and don't tell me you don't exactly remember how Bruce sings "just another roll of the dice!" or "I wish I was blind..." or the already mentioned "loving you baby is a man's man's job". The problem is not with the lack of catchiness: the problem is the songs follow the Born In The USA principle: they're based on the simplest, most common, most cliched blues-rock/folk-rock structures in existence. In other words, they're memorable in the same way that any average blues tune would be memorable just because the blues structure is one of the most perfect structures in existence. But when you get this kind of material, it's vital for it to have personality: an interesting, untrivial arrangement, an eyebrow-raising vocal delivery, heck, good lyrics at least. They don't have nuthin'. Generic stadium rock anthem after stadium rock anthem, with big drums, big (but for some reason totally yawn-inducing) guitars, and a big roar from a man whose big roar is so familiar by now, he can't even scare Boo. As for the lyrics, I'm not even mentioning 'em because I never was a big fan of the Boss' lyrics even when he used to, you know, actually say something with 'em. But then again, let me ask you: have you never ever experienced, somewhere deep down in your hearts, the fear that it might come to this one sunny day? That Bruce would never pander to the lowest common denominator by releasing this kind of record? Having made one step forward with Born To Run, then the next step forward with Born In The USA? If anything, Human Touch is simply the logical conclusion to that steady downwards progression. As you near your fourties, you start running out of gas - that's inevitable, unless your spirit is strong enough to undergo a radical revolution (see Tom Waits), and so confront the danger of being stripped down to your bare, simplest essence. And I will make a daring assumption that Human Touch is just that: the barest essence of Bruce Springsteen, stripped of the puffed-up "vision", of megalomania, of desperate attempts to make himself a cool intellectual figure. At heart, the Boss is a rough, clumsy redneck. Nothing more. Not that it's a unique sin. I mean, hey, isn't Paul McCartney - when you strip him of all the endless stylistic layers - just a sappy sentimentalist? Or isn't Mick Jagger - when you strip him of all the Bulgakov influences - just a poseur living for the tabloids? The fact that I tend to be more tolerant towards sappy sentimentalists and tabloid poseurs than towards clumsy rednecks is basically just my own problem. They all got a right to be what they are. My right, then, is to proclaim their music crappy when there's nothing but sappy sentimentalism or tabloid posing to it. That's why Pipes Of Peace is shit. And that's why Goddess In The Doorway is shit. And that's why Human Touch is shit. That said, I still emphasize: Human Touch could have been better, with just a little more effort. For one thing, it's totally devoid of any kind of pretensions, and I think that's what Bruce was essentially aiming for. Just a little simple album of simple songs made for simple relaxation, you know. I don't have to scold it because of "The Boss Philosophy", and, even if it will certainly enrage the legions of fans, I actually like it more than Tunnel Of Love, if only for the reason that at least this ain't adult contemporary. No more of that oh-so-Eighties "heavenly" synth-tone, even if everything else sounds just as sterile and smooth (in the negative sense of the word). In fact, were it a good ten or fifteen minutes shorter, I wouldn't at all mind sitting through it the required three times. As far as individual songs go, '57 Channels (And Nothing On)' is pretty good for a little bit of a laugh, I guess - the combination of an old talkin' blues atmosphere, a pseudo-disco bassline and generic, but still vaguely hilarious mass media critique works in a way nothing else on here does. Also the closing number 'Pony Boy' is remarkably fresh and lively with its genuine folksy appeal and clear acoustic guitar after all the lifeless overproduction on the rest of the album. As for the rest of this stuff... well, let me just reiterate that with different production and a slightly different approach towards instrumentation a good chunk of these songs could have easily fit on The River, for instance. What, you wish to tell me there's an impassable abyss between 'You Can Look' and 'All Or Nothin' At All'? Not in my world. Message-wise and atmosphere-wise, there's only a couple songs that make me envy John Bonham, both of which have the word "man" in them. (And no, I'm not a fuckin' wussy gay homo who can't stand a good macho anthem because a bulldozer crushed my nuts at the age of five, so spare the flames). As for real rocking power, I think 'Gloria's Eyes' is done a tad above the overall level, with a better layer of guitars, a slightly rougher solo, and some "extra" passion overall. But I guess it's just because it's a little bit "darker" produced than something as cheerful and fit-for-beer as 'Roll Of The Dice', and in reality it's just the same old shit, same old shit again.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1992Record rating = 6
Look at the sleeve of Bob Dylan's "Infidels". Now look at this one. Now tell me what you think.Best song: BIG MUDDY
Track listing: 1) Better Days; 2) Lucky Town; 3) Local Hero; 4) If I Should Fall Behind; 5) Leap Of Faith; 6) Big Muddy; 7) Living Proof; 8) Book Of Dreams; 9) Souls Of The Departed; 10) My Beautiful Reward.
Bruce actually released Lucky Town and Human Touch on the very same day - turns out that the latter album was recorded as early as 1990, but was laid to rest until the Boss could come up with, ahem, something better so that Human Touch wouldn't shine on alone in all of its ugliness. As one unknown poet once said, "Human Touch stinks so much, have to lay down Lucky Town". Or something like that. Well, out of the two, Lucky Town is the better one. But not by a long stretch.It's shorter, for one thing, so you don't get that "padded out" feeling which sucks every drop of enjoyment from right under your armpit. For some reason, I can't bring myself to hate even a very crappy record when it's consciously trimmed down in the CD age; I really have yet to hear a Nineties album that would be very very bad and also very very short (although I have no idea how long a Britney Spears album is when you filter out all the twelve inch DJ mixes, but never mind). Second, it's better produced, with more acoustic guitars, fewer electronic drums, and, once again, only a more or less decorative touch of the synthesizer curse. Third, it's just more adequate. Very little of that Rambo-style macho bullshit on here, if any. The funny thing about it, though, is that it's probably the most Dylan-like album the Boss ever recorded. Maybe even more Dylanish in style than his debut, and that one was notorious for its fetishism. And I'm not really talking about the album cover, where with these huge shades you could easily take one for the other; I'm talking style, substance, and charm. (Subtle Hawkwind reference here). If anything, it reminds me of the... average crap Dylan was recording throughout the Eighties, mostly on albums like Down In The Groove (which, by the way, was also curiously short). Maybe it was a conscious answer to Dylan parodying Brucie with 'Tweeter And The Monkey Man', maybe it was a coincidence, but in any case, Lucky Town is very Dylanish. Maybe I also get that impression because the Boss sounds tired here. Tired and lazy, slowly pulling songs out of his ass - one after another, and another one, and another one... Songs that do not go anywhere in particular, but don't really offend you by being around. Songs with moderately singalong-able verses and catchy choruses. Sure thing, it begins with a sort of kick: the trio of 'Better Days', 'Lucky Town', and 'Local Hero' do begin the record on an upbeat note. 'Better Days' is probably the closest thing to a "classic" on the album and thus one that I care for the least: a typical Springo anthem with everything bigger than everything else, except that deep down in my heart I still get the feeling that Bruce just wrote this song because he, well, because he had to open the record with an anthem. Just the usual kind of anthem, you know. Verses that make you think (for the critics) and choruses that make you jump and shout (for the mass listener). To each his own. It's after the third track that the record actually starts veering into subtler directions. Well, okay, 'If I Should Fall Behind' is basically just a soft love ballad, nothing to say about it (except for the odd eerie Dylanesque wobble in Bruce's voice now and then). But then there's the echoey, gloomy 'Big Muddy', whose somber guitar interplay is quite unlike anything we've heard from the Boss in the past decade and actually echoes back to the days of Nebraska. Springsteen's lazy, slighty "disconnected", rambling vocal delivery further aids the song, which manages to sound mysterious without being overbearing. 'Souls Of The Departed' is a little overbearing, but it's also one of Bruce's most openly angry protest songs, and thus conveniently ignored by most people (Bruce himself - does he ever play this one at his shows? Or is 'Better Days' better suited for big arenas?). I also think rather highly of the album closer, 'My Beautiful Reward'. Again, nothing but an innocent little folksy love ballad, but done rather well and in a non-cliched manner if possible. That, indeed, is what separates LT from HT: the melodies are less overtly predictable and you get much more surprises in store. Still, there's no reason to deny that both albums demonstrate one thing: if there were indeed any real "demons" in Bruce's spirit, by the early Nineties they have pretty much evaporated. Here's a man who's comfortable enough to sing cozy love ballads and middle-of-the-road rockers with neutral subject matters, only once in a while diluting the flow with perky social commentary that's so way off-center that hardly anybody notices it. So Tunnel Of Love wasn't just another "change of face" - it really marked a certain change in the state of affairs. Not that I mind: you don't always have to be raving and ravaging, and certainly it's pretty damn hard to keep on being raving and ravaging when you're in your fourties (unless you're Lemmy or Angus Young). But that's not the main problem about Lucky Town. The main problem about it is that it's an album by Bruce Springsteen, a man who has long since traded an interesting music-oriented approach to art for raving and ravaging, and in 1992, even if he wanted to, it would already have been dang near impossible to go back to actually making music. So at the very best, even if you're a real solid Springsteen fan, I can't see anybody loving this album. I definitely see how one could mildly enjoy it, though. Perhaps if some of the filler tracks were thrown out and two or three of the better songs from Human Touch, like 'Gloria's Eyes' or '57 Channels', added instead, this would have made a better impression. Then again, maybe not. But thank God he's not making adult contemporary any more. (Well, strictly speaking, this is adult contemporary, but not in the Phil Collins sense of the word, at least).
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1993Record rating = 6
What you think it is. And you don't really need a review to know what this could be.Best song: LIGHT OF DAY (right up to the point he starts impersonating the speed-o-meter, that is).
Track listing: 1) Redheaded Woman; 2) Better Days; 3) Atlantic City; 4) Darkness On The Edge Of Town; 5) Man's Job; 6) Human Touch; 7) Lucky Town; 8) I Wish I Were Blind; 9) Thunder Road; 10) Light Of Day; 11) If I Should Fall Behind; 12) Living Proof; 13) My Beautiful Reward.
Don't remind me, I'm perfectly aware this is not the best live Springsteen album, and certainly not the best point of departure, and definitely not an exact reflection of the man and the E Street Band in top form blasting the roof off. Yet it is a concert that Bruce did play with 'em, a (more or less) undoctored version of it, and let's not pretend it never happened, either.Now come the dungbombs. First of all, what the heck is this MTV Plugged idea? You were supposed to come up to the studio with an acoustic guitar and play un-plugged. And that's what Bruce actually does on the first track, the little-known folksy ditty 'Redheaded Woman', which, if I'm not mistaken, he didn't write himself. But before the second track he throws away the acoustic, and with a mighty 'okay, let's rock it!' crashes into 'Better Days'. You might get the impression that he's doing something rebellious here. You might get the impression he's throwing off the shackles of convention, dares to boldly go where no "unplugger" has ever ventured to go before. In fact, this was obviously the desired effect. But it's a little sad when such a talented guy as Mr Springsteen treats his audience as dumbasses. Look, it's not like anybody ever tried to take his electric guitar away from him. It's not like the MTV bosses wouldn't want to lick his boots to get him to perform a special electric concert for the sake of their viewers. This gesture has all the boldness of a chemistry teacher suddenly interrupting his class on the second minute saying "who the fuck needs chemistry anyway?" and starting to recite John Milton instead. Not to mention I don't believe for a mini-second it hadn't all been prearranged (what were they, sneaking electric instruments into the studio while the cameraman wasn't looking? Sheesh!). And once again, we get ourselves a nice "pre-calculated package of rebellion" from Mr Springsteen. It's all the more stupid considering that Springsteen could have quite easily tossed off a real Unplugged session - I mean, most of his songs are easily translated into an acoustic environment, can they? And even if he didn't want to do any rearrangements (and he did), Nebraska alone could have sufficed for half of the set. But I guess sweatin' it is such an essential ingredient in a Springsteen concert there was no way The Wildman of Rock could tame himself with a battered stinky little six-string with no electricity to run it... And it's all the more ironic considering that even the electric setting can't save this actual performance all that much. Out of the thirteen tracks, eight are - guess where from? - yep, from Human Touch On The Edge Of Lucky Town. Yes, it's true, I won't deny it, even the worst crap off these two albums sounds better when they're doing it live, because even a very very bad synth sound doesn't sound nearly quite as bad when it hasn't been glossed over by studio wizards. But that doesn't mean that ballads like 'If I Should Fall Behind' will sound more convincing or heartfelt, either, or that self-consciously puffed-up rockers like 'Man's Job' will be, in any particular way, outstanding. Cuz they won't. He does get to at least insert a couple of really good songs from the past: 'Darkness On The Edge Of Town', for instance, or 'Atlantic City', which gets a full-band arrangement (let's rock it, remember?) and, strangely enough, doesn't sound much worse because of that. It's also kinda funny that 'Thunder Road', on the contrary, gets a 'minimalistic' arrangement, heavy on the harmonica and the organ and very light on the rhythm section. However, deflating the song pretty much takes out the only thing that was ever notable about it - the bombast and the power. Granted, it was the bombast that made me hate it in the first place, but this version, for me, simply does nothing at all. I don't hate it, I don't do nothin' of it. I just hope that one listen to it might provide a better idea of why I used to so frequently call the song "melodyless". You definitely won't notice a "classic" in this rendition. The only song on here that really rocks is 'Light Of Day'. First used in a soundtrack or something, it has since then become a major chestnut in the Boss' concert program, and one of his major "let's set all hell loose" numbers. I gotta admit, it's really good. For the first four minutes. The guitars are loud, hysterical and crunchy, and there's a lot of 'em - I like dueling rock guitars a lot, and while some people actually consider that kind of thing a cheap gimmick (which explains why great ecstatic guitar duelling is so hard to find, both these days and in the past), I don't give a damn. There's a couple minutes of real rock music out there in this whole mess that actually make the album worth owning. Really. Unfortunately, midway through Bruce stops the music and goes into his classic "are you ready to rock?"-like preacher style rant, which is absolutely ridiculous. James Brown he's not, and at times I almost feel embarrassed for him when he makes these little pauses ('I came a long long way tonight... via Sweden via Paris via Italia via France... via via... the great state of New Jersey' - sic!). Thus perishes a really good track. Still, once again, don't crucify me. It's not a fuckin' awful record. Yes, there's the bad marketing gimmick, yes, there's a rather poor selection of material, yes, there's not quite enough performing energy, yes, there are a few downright embarrassing moments, but when you get that out of your system, it's still a decent enough live album. Some of the guitar solos, like on 'Lucky Town', are, in fact, downright good. Even made me push up the rating a bit. Just don't bring it up when you're wishing to uphold the "Bruce legend" and you'll be okay. Just around the corner to the light of day.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1995Record rating = 2
Not bad for your first guitar lesson, but unfortunately, I don't have any more uses for this album.Best song: YOUNGSTOWN
Track listing: 1) The Ghost Of Tom Joad; 2) Straight Time; 3) Highway; 4) Youngstown; 5) Sinaloa Cowboys; 6) The Line; 7) Balboa Park; 8) Dry Lightning; 9) The New Timer; 10) Across The Border; 11) Galveston Bay; 12) My Best Was Never Good Enough.
This was called a "comeback". Comeback? More like crawlback, if you ask me. Not only is this the worst excuse for a record ever to come out of the Bruce camp, it's - honestly - one of the worst albums by anybody I've ever heard, and that would include Uriah Heep, Kansas, and even those early period Tangerine Dream and Kraftwerk records that sound more like farts than anything else. What makes it even worse is that so many people are ready to call it one of the best albums ever. Choose yer side.Let's just take it step by step. What this record is: a collection of slow, quiet, stripped down folksy tunes, most of which are just Bruce with an acoustic and a harmonica, although some have minor synth (or strings) embellishments and a few even feature the E Street Band, although, of course, in a very low key. Considering this, and also considering that he did this stuff in obvious contrast with the high-roar approach of the 1992 albums, comparisons with Nebraska are inevitable. Running ahead, though, Nebraska was kinda cute, where this one is kinda dung. But let's not run ahead. What Bruce sings about: stories of little men with their little lives and their little personal tragedies. Stories of losers, mostly, who work their lives for nothing and end up chewn up and thrown aside by the Big Folk and then just go and murder somebody (or maybe commit suicide), or leave town (county/state/country), or just sit there and lead their miserable lives without ever being able to get rid of the prison stench or something like that. Pretty standard lyrical territory for the Boss, neither good nor bad in itself. Some have claimed he shows an excessive amount of maturation on here, but I vehemently disagree. There's basically nothing new on this album that he hasn't already put in words on Darkness On The Edge Of Town or Nebraska or, well, Tunnel Of Love. But these are decent stories. I'll agree on that. I don't have my teeth sticking out for these lyrics. What the title implies: the title track sings about somehow channelling the spirit of everybody's famousest Steinbeck character and about somehow putting words into his mouth that he'd never have said himself, but given that it's also the title of the album, the obvious interpretation would be: "Bruce Springsteen = The Ghost Of Tom Joad". Taken together with his statements about how he's speaking for the common man and all, this is very natural. Arrogant, but natural. What the music is like: imagine your twelve-year old son or brother picking up the guitar and studying the first ten pages or so of the basic guitar playing manual, then trying to use this information to record a full-blown album. When I listened to Nebraska, I actually noticed the guitar, at least on some of the tunes. I mean, how could you listen to something like 'State Trooper' and not notice the guitar? It wasn't a complex melody by all means, but it was harrowing in a way. Quiet, but gloomy, creepy, unnerving. Here, there ain't one single song where the guitar would do anything that your average street singer couldn't do better. He might as well have done all this material a cappella. Would be more effective, I guess. Then again, maybe it wouldn't, because the vocal melodies aren't interesting. Like in, at all. It's just your basic basics. Except, of course, the cases of direct lifting: 'The Line' is almost note-for-note stolen from Bob Dylan's 'Love Minus Zero/No Limit', only rendered less entertaining and moving in the process (because the guitar lines are actually smoothed out and simplified). Even after three listens, only two songs have managed to somehow register in my head: the title track, not so much because of the main melody as due to the little atmospheric bits of whatever it is - steel guitar? - that's out there in the background, and 'Youngstown', which, believe it or not, has a kinda catchy chorus that goes 'here in Youngstown, here in Youngstown'. Interesting detail: these two songs happen to have the most distinctive arrangements on the album. Coincidence? I don't think so. Everything else was torture, plain and simple. When it comes to something like 'Balboa Park', I guess the main melody has at least three notes, but I only hear the one that is the lowest, together with bits and pieces of the Boss' mumbling voice. I tell you, this shit reminds me just of how badly I might have underappreciated Nick Drake at one time - I can't believe Bruce would do such a thing. I know he's capable of low blows, but this is the lowest of 'em all. I'm all for the little man and his problems, and I'm all for the vibe, even: don't get me wrong, I'm not putting The Ghost down for the same reason I'm putting down Born To Run, as these are obviously two very different kinds of records. I'm putting this pile of shit down because it is Boredom Personified. As in: 'wanna hear what's boring? Take a listen to The Ghost Of Tom Joad, it's so boring I had to dub Human Touch on it to make it sound better.' Evocative some of the album's defenders might call it. Emotionally engrossing. We're all free to make interpretations, but just for the record - just how many acoustic albums with folk songs have been released over the course of the XXth century? I myself am not a specialist at all, but even I have heard at least a dozen, and this number should be multiplied at least by a thousand, I guess. What makes this one special, then, apart from the fact that it comes from an already well-known star and features less notes than any other acoustic album I've heard, played by a guy whose singing skills aren't any better than many other guys', whose playing skills are worse than many other guys', and whose lyrical abilities are comparable with many other guys'? Nothing. And where such an album isn't anything special, such an album - to me, at least - is openly, plainly bad. At least when Dylan took to the acoustic once again in the early Nineties, he preferred to sing golden oldies that already had an established tradition behind them and were actual songs, not barely listenable ramblings. As you might easily understand, this one was 'for the critics' - commercially it didn't fare all that well, and for once I respect the public much more than general critical opinion. There's not a moment of doubt in my mind that the only reason this thing got positive reviews was the social conjuncture at the time. Bland, banal, boring, offensive to the true "ghost of Tom Joad" - goes without saying that I'd much better be re-reading The Grapes Of Wrath a dozen times in a row than subject myself to one more listen - this is even more of a disappointment for me than Tunnel Of Love. Paraphrasing the last song on the album, 'My Worst Was Never Bad Enough', and this is finally it.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 2002Record rating = 9
In which Christopher Robin learns there was much more under the cover than just sawdust.Best song: WAITIN' ON A SUNNY DAY
Track listing: 1) Lonesome Day; 2) Into The Fire; 3) Waitin' On A Sunny Day; 4) Nothing Man; 5) Countin' On A Miracle; 6) Empty Sky; 7) Worlds Apart; 8) Let's Be Friends (Skin To Skin); 9) Further On (Up The Road); 10) The Fuse; 11) Mary's Place; 12) You're Missing; 13) The Rising; 14) Paradise; 15) My City Of Ruins.
Some of my readers have been regularly bugging me with questions like: "If you hate Springsteen so much, why does he get such a high overall rating?". And my answer, before I became too tired to give any answer at all, has always been: "because when he's good, he's really good, and in my eyes this is more notorious than when he's bad, he's really bad, even if he's more often really bad than really good". If you don't follow me, don't blame yourself, because I don't always follow myself really well, but on this one at least I stand rather firmly.The Rising was scheduled to be very, very, very bad. No, I mean, The Rising was scheduled to be very, very, very, very, very, very bad. In fact, by all possible accounts it should have been godawful, a nightmare to end all nightmares. The last time Springsteen put out a good album was twenty - I repeat, twenty, because whatever you say, I'm not buying all the Born In The USA crap, let alone Vagina, er, I mean, Tunnel Of Love - years ago. Since then, he has been pretty crappy when working with the E Street Band and even crappier when he was on his own (even thinking of Tom Joad still makes me shiver, and I don't mean that in a good way). What right did I have to expect something really pleasant? No right at all. And of course, the minute I heard the news that Bruce's last album is practically entirely dedicated to 9/11, threatening to drown out Paul McCartney and Neil Young combined with its megalomania, I thought "now he's done it! That's a zero coming up for sure!" Of course, such an album couldn't have not appeared. After all, Bruce Springsteen is Mr America, and when his alter ego experienced this horrible tragedy, he just had to come out and have his say. That's understood. Of course, general critical reaction to his album couldn't have not been overwhelming. I mean, an album like The Rising certainly gives one plenty of opportunity to write and write and write (not necessarily about the album itself), so if you're paid by the word, this is your lucky day. Of course, commercially this record couldn't have not been successful - I mean, gee, could there be anything more actual on the market at the time, except for maybe Osama bin Laden voodoo dolls? Of course, I hated the record before I even heard the first note of it. And don't tell me I shouldn't have. About the only thing that shattered my wall of cynicism were mentions of how it provided us with a "deep" and occasionally "ambivalent" understanding of 9/11, and even that wasn't enough. Even if the lyrics would turn out to be good - and that was highly unrealistic given lines like 'may your love give us love, may your strength give us strength' or 'come on up to the rising' - that still wouldn't guarantee that the music would be on a level different from the generic mid-tempo rock of Bruce's Eighties albums, because he hasn't done anything else since Darkness On The Edge Of Town. And no, this album ain't really anything like DOTEOT, maybe only marginally. But it's still excellent - his second or third best. And you gotta believe it, because nothing would be simpler than to tear it limb from limb like I tried to do with Born To Run (and I still remind you it's up to you to make your own choice, but mine is made once and for all). Yet this would be treacherous to my own true essence, for I found myself enjoying this record, whose seventy-two minutes (yes, it is that long) I found ten times more tolerable than the twice-shorter Born To Run. It's not a major chef-d'oeuvre, no, but it's still an amazing achievement for Bruce, and final proof that the man is a major talent, he just so rarely lets it shine. It's all the more amazing considering that with a subject matter like 9/11, he could have easily gotten away (both critically and popularly, I mean) with a bunch of hastily assembled hackwork, like Paul McCartney and Neil Young did. But there's obviously a lot of heart and soul imbued in this work, and a lot of craft - I do italicize the word because this may be the most well-crafted Springsteen album since his early toyings with jazz. The guy has never been a master of form, but The Rising is practically impeccable as far as form goes. I'm still thinking it might have been a different artist who actually wrote all these songs? Or should I thank the producer? Or what? Did it take a national tragedy to let Bruce rinse and clean his creative pores? I will not take this review as a good opportunity to express my own ideas on 9/11 (most reviews of The Rising dedicate about 70% of space to exactly that very thing), because these ideas are complex, confused, and won't satisfy anyone in the first place. I also won't take this review as a good opportunity to dissect Springsteen's lyrics and describe all the methods with which he tackles the problem of writing about 9/11, because I generally dislike touching his lyrics; suffice it to say that - as you probably already know - the subject matter is approached from several different angles, including even that of the proposed Muslim terrorists, and that the covered emotional range is extremely wide, from despair to hope to religious ecstasy to love and devotion to whatever. Depressing in parts, uplifting in other parts, it never gets boring and certainly never sounds like he's just trying to drive some particular point home. (Well, I mean, he does, but these are all different points!). I do, however, want to state this: there are fifteen songs on this album, and after but two listens, I have been able to remember how every second one of them (and even more) actually goes. There are - gasp - melodies here, vocal as well as instrumental, and when I say 'melodies', I don't mean "three-chord bluesy sequences stolen from old smelly guys". I mean real interesting melodies, bluesy, poppy, even with Eastern influences (to reflect the Arabic world, of course). And next to no arena-rock tendencies. That's right: The Rising rocks, but for the most part, not in an arena-rock way. Again, perhaps we should blame it on the producers, but there's a homely, cozy sound to most of the arrangements, and only two or three songs can qualify as "anthems" - and even these do not suck so much within the overall context of the album. They'd probably suck taken on their own, but The Rising is definitely more than the sum of its parts. Special kudos to the Boss for something as interesting as 'Worlds Apart'. With its deep layers of sound, modernistic percussion, echoes of Sufi choruses, and Eastern harmonies all around, you could easily mistake the song for something out of Peter Gabriel's archive - a genre experiment totally and completely new for Bruce which he nevertheless pulls off with perfect ease. Okay, so the basic melody is not very inventive, and I guess he just listened to some Turkish pop music and lifted it straight away, but he does make it his own, and the 'la la la la la's of the chorus are definitely intoxicating. I refrain from discussing whether this story of a Palestinian man in love with an Israeli woman is but a nod to political correctness or not - it doesn't matter to me when I hear a song so well-crafted, a song that can definitely touch you on an emotional level even if your English is worse than a Palestinian suicide bomber's. My favourite song, though, is not one of the "biggies": it's the subtly hidden-in-the-corner pop gem 'Waitin' On A Sunny Day', with the corniest, yet at the same time the happiest ever string-driven melody and one of the catchiest ever verse melodies (well, the chorus more or less follows that same melody). There's something innocent and heartwarming about it, yet no open pomposity, and I'd take this song over a million 'Thunder Roads' any time of day. So much for happy; if you want 'nasty', listen to the generic blues-rock tune 'Further On (Up The Road)' - nothing to do with the frequently-Clapton-sung golden oldie of the same name - Bruce at his darkest since Darkness itself, singing about how 'one sunny morning we'll rise, I know' but not really letting the listener believe in it. You want acoustic Bruce? Take the sad, bleak, confessional 'Nothing Man', which begs for the question: what dark deep corner of his mind had this song been sitting in when he was pouring out all that crap about Tom Joad? Even the backing synths, which sound like they came directly from the back alleyways of Tunnel Of Love, can't spoil the beauty of the song when he subtly intones 'I am... the nothing man'. Of course, the album ain't perfect. 'Mary's Place' sounds like an old River outtake, not very distinguishable at that. The two most "notorious" and often-quoted - heck, I already quoted them myself - songs, namely, 'Into The Fire' (that's the one which goes 'let your love give us love') and the title track, aren't exactly your average 'Born In The USA', but still reek of the generic-'n'-stupid, or maybe it's just my cynicism that keeps getting the best of me. I reiterate, though, that these songs are much better heard within the context of the album, where their "basic impact" is hindered by the fact they're just one of several pictured 'mental attitudes', than somewhere on your local radio FM station. At least they don't distract you from giving your undiluted attention to the really good stuff. There are also a few potentially boring moments: 'Paradise', for instance, where mood for once overwhelms the search for melody, although conceptually this song is important (that's the one where he sings from the perspective of a suicide bomber). It also goes without saying that seventy-two minutes is still sort of long, and many of the tunes could have been truncated by one or even two minutes to better effect. Overall, though, if this isn't a success, nothing ain't. And perhaps the best about it is that in several years' or, in fact, decades, or even centuries' time - if rock'n'roll music is to be treasured in the first place - The Rising won't appear dated, because there are very few direct references. This is a psychological experiment fuelled by the events of 9/11 (in fact, if I'm not mistaken, some of the songs had already been written before the tragedy), not an eye-witness account or an ode to the bravery of either the unknown fireman or a guy called Todd. It's deep and stimulating, and has at least several layers of possible interpretations, unlike Born In The USA (which also had more than one layer - I'd say two - but everyone with a little more sharpness than Mr President could see that). And even when you take out the "patriotic" layers like the ones found in 'My City Of Ruins', there's still plenty left for everybody. PS. My heartiest thanks to the strongest link in the WRC, Mr Rich Bunnell, for helping me get acquainted with this record - without his initiative, I'd probably never have bothered in the first place.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 2005Record rating = 7
So The Rising made us stragetic partners alright, but that does NOT redeem two-note acoustic melodies!Best song: DEVILS & DUST
Track listing: 1) Devils & Dust; 2) All The Way Home; 3) Reno; 4) Long Time Comin'; 5) Black Cowboys; 6) Maria's Bed; 7) Silver Palomino; 8) Jesus Was An Only Son; 9) Leah; 10) The Hitter; 11) All I'm Thinkin' About; 12) Matamoros Banks.
Tom Joad, as we all know, was a fictional character from John Steinbeck's novel. Nobody knows what became of the man; few have ever supposed, I believe, that he might have any offspring. He did, however, have a ghost, which messiahnistically reappeared about sixty years since we last heard of the guy. The ghost was defiantly minimalistic, inobtrusive, ten times smarter than Tom Joad himself and about same times as obnoxious. But it wasn't too scary for a ghost, which is, I guess, why many people took a liking to it. So the ghost settled down, quietly nibbling on our conscious, and profited from the welcome by actually raising a family - unlike poor Tom Joad himself.The ghost's first son was called Devils & Dust, and it looks like it's a sweet little kid, although, of course, prematurely mature and fie-fee-fo-fum-far-from-free-from the flaws of its father. Bruce has returned to the "alternate bombast with introspectiveness" formula again, following the anthemic Rising with yet another piece of something that is as brutally honest as it is brutally inaudible. But ten years later, he's at least willing to compromise, so that only parts of the album really follow the Tom Joad formula, and by being cleverly interspersed with the more "complete" pieces manage to come off as tolerable rather than destined to test the strength of your defenses. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, context does matter; stillness and minimalism produce one kind of emotional response when they're surrounded by still more stillness and minimalism, and quite another one when they form an opposition with loudness and dynamics. (That's what makes all those AC/DC classics like 'Whole Lotta Rosie' so great, even if this observation has no use whatsoever in a Bruce Springsteen review and I know that). The E Street Band is not on the album, but that's no sin; its manly power-punch would be out of place on all but one or two of the "louder" compositions on here. There are, after all, two Springsteens: the drunk one and the hangover one, and Devils & Dust is definitely the hangover, although nowhere near as nightmarish as Darkness or Nebraska (to the latter of which the album is regularly compared) or as boring and fruitless as Tunnel Of Love (to which it is never compared, and wrongly so). The Americana hits hard once again: any attempts to incorporate "alien" influences, like we heard on 'Worlds Apart', are put aside and the world meets its own Bruce the highway bard once again. As far as I know, nobody has as of yet proclaimed the album a masterpiece, as it used to happen with almost everything Springsteen-related (with the possible exception of the really bleak mid-Nineties stuff), and there just might be an objective reason for that: the album was clearly not designed as a masterpiece. Released in the aftermath of Bruce's disastrous involvement in the anti-Bush concert tour, coming off a major force-gathering on The Rising, this is, quite officially, a breather in between the deep plunges. (I'm already building meself a bomb shelter in preparation for the next one). Very few of the songs come across as your average Bruce-preachings, and even the louder ones do not so much bellow "ROCK AND ROLL!" as simply invite you to have a decent time tapping your foot and quietly grooving in to that cute guitar groove. I like that vibe. Too bad the melodies aren't that hot to keep it up, but then Bruce has got the age distinction these days: even when he's cruising on autopilot, he's got way too much experience behind his back to put out something completely hookless and devoid of musical effort (unless, of course, this is the clearly defined original intention - see Tom Joad for details). So a song like 'All The Way Home' has already been written many times in the past forty years, but there's no particular harm in writing it one more time when you can give it a special Springsteen twist and pile a few steel guitars on top for that country touch. Unfortunately, though, some of the "loud" stuff on this album is real shitty when it comes to production - tin drums, cold nasty guitar tones, all reminiscent of the robotic interchangeable garbage we were treated to in the Nineties. "Thanks to Brendan O'Brien for bringing the best out in my music" - hmm, don't think so, a little too much honour. That said, there are really only two "bombastic" pieces on the album, 'All The Way Home' and 'Long Time Comin', and, what a coincidence, these are the two songs that are marked as having been produced by "Brendan O'Brien, Bruce Springsteen & Chuck Plotkin", so it is not excluded that Bruce is right and Brendan O'Brien does bring out the best in his music, but then a guy called Chuck Plotkin comes along and consequently brings out the worst in his music, for which he is, unsurprisingly, left unmentioned in the thanking part of the liner notes. The big question, then, is: who the fuck let Chuck Plotkin in the studio when he should have been producing, oh, I dunno, Lenny Kravitz instead? Without Chuck Plotkin, you get 'Maria's Bed' and 'All I'm Thinkin' About', two fully arranged compositions that are based on big, flat, dumb, stereotypical roots-rock hooks, and I love 'em. 'Maria's Bed', in particular, is built on one of the most overused country-rock riffs in history, and it rules, if only because it emphasizes that riff so well - it doesn't happen that often that I can just enjoy a Springsteen tune without paying any attention to the lyrics. Which, accidentally, just happen to be a joyful collection of old dusty cliches, everything from "barbed wire highway" to "fool's gold" to "sugar mountain", but rearranged in a mighty fine individualistic way. Yup, once again Springsteen is catching up with the Zimmerman guy, which reminds me - is it just me, or were there really no parallels drawn as of yet between this album and Dylan's Love & Theft? The connection is SO obvious. Still, Bruce is only having this rootsy fun on a limited bunch of tracks. There's serious gloomy stuff on here, too, in spades, and that's where you have to make the usual choice of kissing the Boss' ring or pulling out. I happen to like the title track. 'Devils & Dust' is, thematically, the only obvious continuation of the Rising line, a song written as if from the perspective of an American soldier in Iraq, pondering over the life and death issues and the rightness of choice. I should hate the song - its overblown lyricism, trying to make no less than a religious philosopher of the average G.I. Joe, is, after all, one of the primary reasons of my being alergic to Born To Run - but maybe it's the darkness of it all, or the catchiness, or the really clever arrangement, cutting down on big-band rock'n'roll and replacing it with solemn, but sparse orchestration instead, or the goddamn fact that I at least am able to identify with Bruce's liberal intentions, which really makes it work for me the way neither 'Thunder Road' nor 'Born In The USA' ever could. Maybe it will look dated in some time, but as of now, the timing is perfect, and the imagery is strong. That's about all there is to reflect politics, though; like I said, this is a breather, and there's only so much "socially relevant" material a decent artist can allow himself at one time if he wants to go on being decent. Alas, though, once the strong feelings start getting relaxed, so does the music, and there are many individual missteps. The biggest one is 'Reno', a song whose point escapes me completely. Well, okay, I get the point - to prove to the world that there's nothing wrong with "spoken pornography" as long as it serves certain elevated psychological goals (the lyrics tell about a meeting with a Mexican prostitute, in very explicit terms, for Bruce at least). But the main lyrical theme - "we met, it was formally good, but really bad" - can hardly be called an original motive, and retelling it by using amateur porn story lingo isn't gonna help that much. In fact, I can't get rid of the feeling that the song's only, or, at least, main goal was to get the "**this song contains some adult imagery" sticker on the album so that millions of extra people would flock to the counters or, at least, the listening posts: "Ooh, the Boss said "up the ass", you've gotta hear that! It'll be like seeing Janet Jackson's tit all over again!" (In fact, my original intention was not to mention this at all, pretending that I haven't noticed or something - but see, I couldn't help myself either. It's just the kind of standard reviewer-bait that every reviewer is gonna take, want it or not. In fact, if I hadn't written about it, I'd probably be receiving comments like "I can't believe you haven't even noticed the gross lyrics of 'Reno'!" by the dozen within a few hours of posting the review. That's life in the modern world, you know). As for the rest, it's take it or leave it. I like 'Matamoros Banks', don't like 'Black Cowboys'; like 'Leah', don't like 'Silver Palomino'; like 'Jesus Was An Only Sun', don't like 'The Hitter'. There's stories told a-plenty; I won't be retelling them, first, because everybody else will, second, because everybody already knows the kind of stories that Bruce likes to tell. There's these simple melodies, always better than the anti-melodies of Tom Joad, and almost always better arranged. There's nothing new, really; it's all for the established Springsteen connoisseur. But it is his best "quiet" piece since Nebraska, and that was more than twenty years ago, and this phrase alone makes this review a positive one in the end.
READER COMMENTS SECTION