Trollheart's Album Discography Reviews: Bruce Springsteen - Music Banter Music Banter

Go Back   Music Banter > The MB Reader > Album Reviews
Register Blogging Search Today's Posts Mark Forums Read
Welcome to Music Banter Forum! Make sure to register - it's free and very quick! You have to register before you can post and participate in our discussions with over 70,000 other registered members. After you create your free account, you will be able to customize many options, you will have the full access to over 1,100,000 posts.

Reply
 
Thread Tools Display Modes
Old 10-12-2021, 10:41 AM   #1 (permalink)
Born to be mild
 
Trollheart's Avatar
 
Join Date: Oct 2008
Location: 404 Not Found
Posts: 24,760
Default Trollheart's Album Discography Reviews: Bruce Springsteen

No introduction needed. To take a page from Batty's book, if you don't know who Springsteen is, go **** yourself.

Starting off with a classic.

Darkness On the Edge of Town (1978)


The electric precursor to Nebraska? This certainly stands as one of Bruce's darkest, most mature albums prior to the recording of that acoustic, stripped-down effort that bared his soul, and that of middle America, for all to see. Not a commercially successful one (which must have really pleased his label after the runaway success of his breakthrough album Born to Run, released three years previously) it's still highly respected and thought of by Springsteen fans, and like Born to Run it features accessible, relatable, real characters who ride or drive or just shuffle through its songs like lost souls looking for a home. Of course, much of this could be taken to be allegorical, and in songs like "Factory" and "Streets of fire" Springsteen is obviously using the characters as examples, as metaphors for an injustice and a lack of caring far more than just personal.

But it starts off very upbeat, and through most of its run continues so, even if the lyrics themselves are pretty unremittingly bleak for the most part. A big rolling thunder drum starts off "Badlands", as Springsteen, in the guise of the protagonist, aches to be out of this small town he lives in and do something with his life: "Talk about a dream/ Tryin' to make it real/ You wake up in the night/ It feels so real/ You spend your life waitin'/For a moment that just don't come" and the energy and exuberance behind the darkness says that anything can be conquered if you have the guts, determination and the will to see your dreams through.

In many ways it parallels the opening of Born to Run, the restless excitement, the naivete that characterises "Thunder Road", before it all comes crashing down. The E Street Band is in fine form here, and it's sad to think that they'll never be again together, not in this life anyway. Max Weinberg thumps away with enthusiasm and a certain anger as Springsteen, in his characteristic drawl, spits out his fury at being trapped in this one-horse town. The song builds to a climax as Bruce snarls his challenge to anyone who cares to hear it: "For the ones who had a notion/ A notion deep inside/ That it ain't no sin/ To be glad you're alive/ I wanna find one face/ That ain't lookin' through me/ I wanna one find one place/ I wanna spit in the face of these Badlands!"

I never was crazy about "Adam Raised a Cain", with its almost negro-chorus style, but it's a grinding, angry song that certainly fits in well with the rest of the album. A thick blues guitar gets it going with a thumping bass from Garry Tallent and honky-tonk piano from Roy Bittan backed up by the late Danny Federici's wailing organ as Bruce growls the vocal out with all the defiance he can muster. Still, I find it hard to muster any real enthusiasm for the only song I feel is weak on this album. Memories of that soon disappear though in the piano and rolling drum intro to "Something in the Night", as Bruce wails like a wounded animal before settling down into the vocal. It's a slowburner, with a certain country flavour, as some of the tracks here possess, but probably the best part is near the end when everything stops bar percussion and Bruce sings the vocal in a defeated tone before the band come back in and the whole thing powers right back up to the end.

One of the shortest songs on the album then, "Candy's Room" opens on ticking drum and pattering piano as Springsteen mutters the vocal, more spoken than sung, then he switches to singing and as the percussion thunders in with rolling piano the song takes off and it's a fast rocker running on mostly Bittan and Weinberg's teamup though Steve Van Zandt throws in a fine guitar solo. If you listen to this on headphones, the sound is arranged so that when Springsteen sings What she wants is me" every second word comes out of the opposite speaker, so that the phrase seems to dart across your head, left to right and back. Very effective. One of the standouts comes next in the beautiful stark piano ballad, "Racing in the Street", which chronicles the desperate attempt to do something to fill up the hours and make something of yourself, as guys race their souped-up cars on the deserted streets after darkness. Lovely whistling keys add to this and provide a motif that runs right through to the end.

Again there's great use of a buildup in the song, where everything drops away to just Bruce and piano for the last part of the song, with a rising choral vocal which I think is created on the keys, then the drums slip in after one final solo flourish from Bittan, the whistling keys painting the signature across the song while the rest of the band comes back in and the whole thing fades out perfectly. "Promised Land" is another uptempo song full of hope, with a big bluesy harmonica from The Boss leading the way as Bittan's piano again drives the song matched closely with Federici's organ. A song of dawning adulthood and the responsibilities that come with it, Springsteen sings "Mister I ain't a boy/ No I'm a man/ And I believe in a promised land!" If there's something missing from this album I feel it's the Big Man. He's just not as visible on this as he was on "Born to run", but here he storms back in with the kind of sax solos we've come to know him for, and it really adds extra heart and passion to the song. Rest in peace, Clarence: you're missed.

That country influence is back, and never stronger for "Factory", a short song, shortest on the album, barely two minutes. A simple song of working men, it chronicles the people Monty Burns once called Eddie Punchclocks as they eke out their existence, working on the assembly line like robots and drinking to cover the pain and the numb tedium and the hopelessness of it all. Like I said, it's not just about those factory workers: this is literally a song for America, and everyone who wastes their life in a job they hate, simply because there is no choice and men must eat. "Streets of Fire" is led in by Federici's sonorous organ before it explodes into life and Bruce screams "I want streets of fire!" It's Danny's chance to shine and he really does drive the song, helped by Bittan on the piano and then Bruce weighs in with an almost industrial strength guitar solo.

A simple song of passing the time making love in an attempt to leave the darkness behind, "Prove it All Night" is uptempo but its lyrics speak of desperation, as do many songs on this album, an almost willful reluctance to face the bleak reality of life and a grim determination to enjoy it as much as possible, with a perhaps fitting motto of "not here for a long time, just a good time". Clarence is back with another sweet funky solo which metamorphoses from sax to guitar as Bruce takes over. The title track then is a dour, bitter, country-styled total classic, again driven on slow piano, slow and measured, almost defeated in tone, something of a contrast to the raucous, defiant tone of the preceding tracks. There are explosions of anger and passion in the song, but they're quickly subsumed as the chorus ends and the verse goes back to a slow, sullen tone, with the song fading out at the last.

TRACK LISTING


1. Badlands
2. Adam Raised a Cain
3. Something in the Night
4. Candy's room
5. Racing in the Street
6. Promised Land
7. Factory
8. Streets of Fire
9. Prove it All Night
10. Darkness On the Edge of Town

I got into Springsteen late, through Born in the USA, not the best introduction to the complex songwriter and performer this man is, I know, but I quickly decided I loved his music and went back through his catalogue, right the way to Greetings from Asbury Park, NJ, which I must admit I found mostly quite staid and boring, but that's another story. But of the triumvirate of albums that make up what I think of as Springsteen's golden period, this is the one I like best. Of course I love Born to Run - what Springsteen fan wouldn't? - but although I also like The River I find it a little overlong ( it is a double album, of course) with some slightly below par songs, I believe this is where Bruce finally found his voice. After declaring his intentions in no uncertain fashion with Born to Run, it was I think suddenly a case of yes, born to run, but where to? And in this album I think he realised that destination was, in fact, nowhere.

It's well named as an album, because it really is dark, and as I say there would be nothing like it in his catalogue until 1982, when he would unleash the quiet monster that is Nebraska upon us, and Springsteen fans would never quite be the same again. Even the love songs, the have-fun songs here are tinged with sadness, desperation, bleak humour and an unremitting recognition that all our struggles in the end come to nothing. The darkness is always waiting, there on the edge of town, for us to move towards it, or let it move towards us. A serious, mature rock album that has deservedly taken its place in the pantheon of classics, if you haven't heard this album before, where have you been, and why are you still here? Dark emo-rock? Pfft! The Boss was doing it, and doing it better, thirty years before any of those bands were even alive.

Rating: 9.7/10
__________________
Trollheart: Signature-free since April 2018
Trollheart is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 10-12-2021, 10:51 AM   #2 (permalink)
Call me Mustard
 
rubber soul's Avatar
 
Join Date: Oct 2017
Location: Pepperland
Posts: 1,922
Default

You're not doing this in order, huh?

Anyway, I did my own reviewing Bruce Springsteen thread in the WF if you remember. I may have to go back into the archives for my own thoughts. It's incredible how he never really lost his edge as he grows old gracefully.

And, yes, Darkness is a great album.
__________________
Quote:
Originally Posted by Pet_Sounds View Post
But looking for quality interaction on MB is like trying to stay hydrated by drinking salt water.
rubber soul is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 10-12-2021, 11:27 AM   #3 (permalink)
Born to be mild
 
Trollheart's Avatar
 
Join Date: Oct 2008
Location: 404 Not Found
Posts: 24,760
Default

No, I'm not doing them in order. More fun this way - which album will pop up next and so on - though it may give rise to some odd comments such as "this was the last album by [insert artist here]" (i'm a big fan of [insert artist here] as it goes) and then my review of their third album of nine or something, but this is how I'm going to do it.

Also, for the likes of The Boss, there are many albums I have not written reviews for yet, so I need to buy time so I can write them. So there is that, too.
__________________
Trollheart: Signature-free since April 2018
Trollheart is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 10-12-2021, 11:41 AM   #4 (permalink)
Call me Mustard
 
rubber soul's Avatar
 
Join Date: Oct 2017
Location: Pepperland
Posts: 1,922
Default

You might also note, in the case of darkness. It was released three years after his previous effort, Born To Run, because of a legal dispute with his original manager/producer, Mike Appel. No, this wasn't the smash Born to Run was, but I think I recall the album doing fairly well commercially, at least here in the States.

Of course, in a way, he didn't really explode commercially until Born In the USA. That made him about as big as Michael Jackson for a while.
__________________
Quote:
Originally Posted by Pet_Sounds View Post
But looking for quality interaction on MB is like trying to stay hydrated by drinking salt water.
rubber soul is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 10-12-2021, 01:11 PM   #5 (permalink)
Born to be mild
 
Trollheart's Avatar
 
Join Date: Oct 2008
Location: 404 Not Found
Posts: 24,760
Default

Yeah I get what you say, but from my memory of reading one of his biographies when I was in my twenties, BTR was his last chance. The first two albums had bombed and he was going to be dropped, then he had his big hit. But Darkness did not, to my knowledge, yield any hit singles and it wasn't really until The River that, commercially, he came back at all. Given that BTR was his breakthrough album I imagine they hoped this would sell better. I know it has sold well over time, but in 1978, it would have achieved some sales due to being bought by those who had got into BTR, but I don't believe it was the follow-up smash the label had expected.
__________________
Trollheart: Signature-free since April 2018
Trollheart is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 10-12-2021, 01:26 PM   #6 (permalink)
Call me Mustard
 
rubber soul's Avatar
 
Join Date: Oct 2017
Location: Pepperland
Posts: 1,922
Default

Darkness did real well on AOR radio, especially the title track and Badlands. I don't even think Born To Run was all that big a hit despite all the hype at the time (I do remember hearing it on AM radio). He made the cover of both Time and Newsweek like he was the second coming of the Beatles and it didn't quite turn out that way. Luckily, Columbia proved to be a patient label and it paid off grandly in the end.
__________________
Quote:
Originally Posted by Pet_Sounds View Post
But looking for quality interaction on MB is like trying to stay hydrated by drinking salt water.
rubber soul is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 10-12-2021, 03:06 PM   #7 (permalink)
Music Addict
 
bob_32_116's Avatar
 
Join Date: Mar 2016
Location: 32S 116E
Posts: 323
Default

I'll be interested to read all the reviews here. I call myself a casual Springsteen fan, which is to say that I like many of his songs, dislike some and am neutral about others. I do respect the fact that he sings about real places that he has known, and people who live the kind of experiences that he is familiar with.
I only own two Springsteen albums; those are The River, and The Rising. I am not in a hurry to get more, but I may at some stage. One I won't be getting is Born In the USA, which I thought was tiresomely bombastic.
bob_32_116 is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 10-16-2021, 02:34 PM   #8 (permalink)
Born to be mild
 
Trollheart's Avatar
 
Join Date: Oct 2008
Location: 404 Not Found
Posts: 24,760
Default

Wrecking Ball (2012)


The first new album from Bruce since 2010's The Promise, the first thing I notice about this album may not be all that significant, but I'd like to mention it anyway. It's the first time I've ever seen his name spelt in two separated words, as if his name were Bruce Spring Steen, and the way the album cover is created makes it look like spraypaint on a wall, which is probably intentional. The stylised wrecking ball behind the words seems to be trying to knock down the name and title: not very likely! This is also the last album to feature the great Clarence Clemmons, Bruce's longtime sax player who has been with him as part of the E Street Band since, well, forever. Clarence sadly passed away the year before this was released.

It starts off with heavy drums pounding on a real anthem, “We Take Care of Our Own”, which is also the lead single from the album. The whole theme of this album is rage against Wall Street, bankers and the pure greed and shortsightedness that led to us being where we are today. It's a powerful rocker, with Bruce in fine voice as ever, even at the ripe old age of sixty-three: he certainly takes care of himself, whatever about the acid sarcasm of the title of this opener. It's got the power and anger and determination of “The Rising”, but with a real sense of raging disappointment that things have been allowed to get so out of hand.

“Easy Money” has a very Celtic feel about it, hard folk rock with tinges of Texas country, attacking the suits on Wall Street who caused the present crisis which seems like it will be with us forever. There's a great sense of excitement and abandonment in the song, as the suits go in search of profit, believing there will never be an end to the ride. More folk rock in “Shackled and Drawn”, and the somewhat simple arrangements on many of the songs echo his acoustic masterpiece, Nebraska, but with an electric edge this time. More Celtic fusion on this song, with accordion, celesta and violins; there's a huge entourage of musicians helping out on this album, including the New York Chamber Consort and the Victorious Gospel Choir, as well as longtime members of the E Street Band Steve van Zandt, Max Weinberg and Patti Scialfa, though everyone does not play on every track. The fifties-style ballad “Jack of All Trades” recalls the real working-class blues with which Springsteen made his name, the songs of ordinary people struggling through sometimes extraordinary times. It has a very waltz style to it, with some nice but sad horns, particularly trombone from Clark Gayton, clarinet and sax from Stan Harrison as Bruce sings ”You use what you've got/ And you learn to make do/ You take the old/ And you make the new” though almost immediately he betrays simmering anger boiling over as he snarls ”If I had me a gun/ I'd find the bastards and shoot them on sight.” A fine electric guitar solo from Tom Morello sets off the song perfectly at the end, crying out the frustration of a million Americans who are highly skilled but can't find work in the so-called land of opportunity, and echoing that of the rest of us across the world.

Gospel themes merge with celtic for “Death to My Hometown” - perhaps back-referencing the closing track on Born in the USA - a stomping anthem laced with pure rage and frustration, and you could definitely see this being a major part of future concerts as people vent their anger and dissatisfaction - and let's face it: no matter what country Springsteen plays in, there are going to be people angry at their government. A slow, crunching ballad then in “This Depression”, just to underline the point, and where Bruce sounded angry but determined to survive on The Rising, here he just sounds angry: livid, in fact, looking at what his home country has been reduced to. Sentiments we all echo, no matter where we are.

Tom Morello again lets loose with some angry, almost feedback guitar through this song, though Bruce himself is not content to just sing and play guitar, adding banjo, organ, piano, drums and even loops to his repertoire. Is there anyone who works harder at his music? The title track is a folky, Guthriesque country rocker with great violin and a fine chorus. Halfway through it kicks totally into life, rocking along like a good thing, and featuring a glorious sax solo from the late Clarence Clemmons, the Big Man giving it all he has. This song was recorded in 2009, two years before the E Street Band legend's death from a stroke.

There's a great sense of defiance about this track as Bruce shouts ”Come on! Let's see what ya got!/ Come on and bring on your wreckin' ball!” Starting off as an acoustic song then, “You've Got It” is the closest to a Nebraska track, with pedal steel from Marc Mueller and lap steel, banjo and mandolin from Greg Leisz, great horns again from Stan Harrison as the song takes off halfway, ending on a great guitar solo to fade. “Rocky Ground” opens with deep, heavy synth and drum loops, a gospel anthem and even features a rap, of all things, courtesy of Michelle Moore. It's a new style for Bruce to try, and it's nice to see the old guy ain't afraid to branch out and try something different. The Victorious Gospel Choir add a whole new dimension to the song, and indeed apart from having gospel themes, the lyric is actually based in religion, something Springsteen has previously shied from, even on The Rising, where you thought if he was ever going to reference Jesus or God that it would be there. Given the desperation and frustration evidenced all through this album though, it really fits into the structure, and doesn't seem out of place or odd.

Written way back in 1998, and featuring the last of Clarence's solos, “Land of Hope and Dreams” manages to completely encapsulate the feel and aim of this album in one track, a powerful, anthemic, air-punching song of hope and faith that is sure to rock every stadium in Bruce's upcoming tour. Echoing the best of albums like Born to Run and Darkness On the Edge of Town, with lines taken from Curtis Mayfield's “People get ready”, you can't help but feel uplifted by its power and grace, and the album closes on “We Are Alive”, a boppy, uptempo folk rocker with great banjo and mandolin from Greg Leisz, a real upper to end the album, with a sharp message in the lyric.

This is one very angry album, which is just as it should be. If there's one man who can claim to speak for the dispossessed, the poor and the disenfranchised, at least in America, it's the Boss, and here he vents the anger and frustration and dismay and disbelief in just about every American heart, at least those of the ninety-nine percent. His land of dreams has become a broken land, and he damn well wants to know why, and what the people in power intend to do about it!

If I were them, I'd come up with an answer pretty damn quick!

TRACK LISTING

1. We Take Care of Our Own
2. Easy Money
3. Shackled and Drawn
4. Jack of All Trades
5. Death to My Hometown
6. This Depression
7. Wrecking Ball
8. You've Got It
9. Rocky Ground
10. Land of Hope and Dreams
11. We Are Alive

Rating: 9.3/10
__________________
Trollheart: Signature-free since April 2018
Trollheart is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 11-02-2021, 03:15 PM   #9 (permalink)
Born to be mild
 
Trollheart's Avatar
 
Join Date: Oct 2008
Location: 404 Not Found
Posts: 24,760
Default



Human Touch (1992)

Ah yes. Described as Bruce’s happy album. The only time he veered away from the gritty, antagonistic single-finger-salute-to-the-flag moralising and tried to write an album of love songs which, according to critics and fans, was very much a failed experiment. I’m not sure I agree that fans have the assumed right to decide what an artist writes about: surely if Morrisey suddenly brought out an album of upbeat pop songs everyone would start buying hammers, nails and enough wood for a cross, or if Robbie Williams decided to write a dark, melancholic album charting the state of the world the same reaction would be engendered, but is that fair? Just because your favourite artist writes about certain things or in a certain way, is it up to you as fans to decide that’s all they should write?

At any rate, Springsteen seems to have realised this didn’t work, and it is certainly what could be described as a more lightweight album, but I don’t have too much of a problem with that. I’m more concerned, if that’s the word, with the idea of his bringing out two albums on the very same day. I mean, I see where it happened - he was working on this but put it aside for two years while he worked on another album, then released the two together - but was this not a little of a kick in the teeth for the hard-pressed fan, having to buy two albums? Would it not have been better to have released both as one double album? I actually never heard before of anyone doing this, but whether or not it’s unique in the history of music I have no idea. Seems to me something of a cynical ploy though to get more money out of the rubes.

But again, those are, I suppose, questions for another time. Personally, I was just glad to be able to have a new Springsteen album after five years, so at the time I had no problem with it. It was, in fact, a bonus for me to have not one, but two albums to listen to. 1987’s Tunnel of Love, despite the title, had continued Springsteen’s tradition of cataloguing smalltown America through the eyes of its people, whether that was men on strike, men on the dole or men just trying to make it through another day. I suppose as an aside, and as it just strikes me now, it must be admitted and accepted that the Boss rarely if ever writes a song from a female point of view, the only one coming to mind being “Candy’s Room” from Darkness on the Edge of Town, and even in that the eponymous heroine is sidetracked by the male narrator. But yeah, a man’s man I guess, and he writes about men, for men and from a male standpoint almost exclusively.

While the songs on Tunnel of Love could be said to be more personal and intimate than those on the flag-waving/burning (take your pick) anthemic indictment of America that was Born in the USA, they still retained Springsteen’s somewhat hard-bitten, man-in-the-street, realistic or fatalistic view of the Land of the Free that had characterised all of his work up to this point, culminating in the lonely dark and bleak roads that wind themselves torturously through the hollow landscape of Nebraska, so yes, this was a change. A good change? Ah...

It starts off well enough I think, with the title track kicking proceedings off as Springsteen laments about “the streets of this town” and things “all slipping away”, but unlike other songs of his, “Human Touch” seems to put behind him all the politics and messages and settles back in the easy chair, waiting for his girl to sit in his lap and kiss away all the bad stuff. Sure, it’s simplistic, but for a man who’s spent his life bleating about the injustice in America and the world, haunting Jungleland, racing in the streets, and running down empty highways without getting anywhere, maybe we can allow him a little world-weariness and a slight attitude towards let the world take care of itself.

The music is as good as ever, and though critics snarled at the departure and break-up of the E Street Band and their replacement with session musicians - including the late Jeff Porcaro, not long for this world at the time of recording - I don’t see it. The E Street Band has of course always been part of Bruce’s music, but they weren’t on Nebraska and it stands as one of his finest works. In the end, it’s Bruce who makes the music, Bruce who sings it, and Bruce who sells it, and I think he sells it well here. The guitar is more to the fore in this opener, despite the almost co-helming of the project by Roy Bittan, the only remaining member of the band, and it has a fresh, punchy feel which was somewhat lacking on the previous effort. It’s less polished, more raw, perhaps more emotional. It’s universal. Don’t we all, when all is said and done, want that human touch?

It doesn’t last sadly, as the next track is a serious dip in quality from my point of view. “Soul Driver” I feel wastes and squanders the powerful feeling we’ve got from the opener, dragging everything down with a pretty formulaic pop song that does nothing for me, rather like “Skin to Skin” on The Rising. It’s something of a comedown after an impressive start. There’s an almost new-wave-like opening on moody synth and then the song takes off on a rocky footing, but there’s something missing for me. I mean it’s not a terrible song by any means, but it’s much weaker than the opener. A sense of gospel running through it with some good backing vocals from Sam Moore (the liner notes call them “harmony vocals”, shrug, backing to me). Much more stripped-down and gritty, and returning a little to his dissatisfaction with America is “57 Channels and Nothing On”, with an almost Nebraska-style melody, sparse and echoing vocal, more spoken than sung against acoustic guitar, kind of rockabilly in its way. There’s dry humour in the song, especially when he mentions his “Japanese car” and when, losing patience, he does a Dirty Harry on his TV, blowing it to pieces and enacting a fantasy I’m sure many of us have entertained from time to time.

Tunnel of Love pokes its nose back in for “Cross my Heart”, which oddly enough co-credits Sonny Boy Williamson. As the blues legend was thirty years dead at this point I wonder if he co-opted some of the lyrics of one of his songs? It doesn’t make it clear, but it’s a half-decent song, with a punchy, steady beat and some nice slide guitar. It does sound like it would have been happier on the previous album though. The vocal gets pretty intense about halfway and some of Springsteen’s emotional fire begins to burn through, and this continues and grow in “Gloria’s Eyes”, which takes the tempo back up with some pretty ferocious energy, rocking along nicely with a slightly angry vocal line. Again, the song rides very much on the guitar riffs, with little if any place for Bittan’s piano or keyboards.

Realistic fatalism comes to the fore in “With Every Wish”, a story of ordinary people and ordinary things that go ordinarily off the rails, as Springsteen sighs “with every wish there comes a curse.” After the exuberance of “Gloria’s Eyes” it’s a much slower, downbeat approach, again very much with its roots in Nebraska’s simple acoustic lines, and also to some extent looks back to his classic The River. Perhaps in deference to “The Big Man” there’s no sax on this album, but trumpet (called “muted trumpet” in the notes) from Mark Isham adds a lonely idea of the ghost of Clemmons silently watching proceedings, whether with approval or not we’ll never know. Soft breathing touches on the keys from Bittan add another phantom layer to the song.

Speaking of Bittan, one of only two songs on which he co-writes is next, the upbeat rocky “Roll of the Dice”, one of the songs previously submitted by the ex-E Street man to Springsteen which, according to Wiki, provided the impetus for this album to be recorded. It’s certainly more in the vein of the less political songs on Born in the USA or even The River, and would not be out of place on later album The Rising or even previous Tunnel of Love. Unsurprisingly, it’s piano and keys-heavy, and this gives the track a very full, solid feeling, whereas some of the previous ones, as mentioned, have come across as a little sparse, a little barebones. Probably one of my favourites on the album, allowing Bruce to really let loose with that famous growl of his. It’s really the bright, punchy piano though that makes this song for me.

His other contribution is next, as “Real World” keeps the tempo up, with bells sounding a triumphant note from the beginning, and somehow a feeling of trains and railways about it. Might be just me, that. This I find very much a Born in the USA song, reminds me a little of “Cover Me” or “Bobby Jean”. I’m not sure if it’s intentional, but on these two songs - the only ones he collaborates on with Bittan - Springsteen comes across to me at his best, looking back to the power and energy of the last few albums. He also seems to enjoy himself more on them. Maybe Bittan knew him better than he knew himself? At any rate, that’s all the impression or influence, songwriting-wise, the “professor” has on this album, and we’re back to solo Bruce compositions, with the rockabilly “All or Nothin' at All”, a very substandard “Open all Night” clone which I feel lets down the overall quality the album has been building up to now. The lyric says nothing new, the guitar line is bland and seems forced, the vocal is, at best, boring, and I’d consider this one of the worst tracks on the album. Otherwise it’s great. As far as this track is concerned, I would have gone for the second part, thanks.

There’s something vaguely misogynistic (probably unintentional) about “Man’s Job”, where Bruce does his best (not so good) Elvis, but at least it’s a (slightly) better track than the previous, though that would not be hard. Good ringing guitar running through it, not sure if there’s anything else positive I can say about it. Perhaps it’s significant that the backing vocals here are provided by another man, Bobby King, and more to the point, that Patty Scialfa is not to be heard on the song at all. Has the album reached a nadir here? I think the answer to that is yes. Does it recover? Well, sort of.

I wouldn’t be so crude or cruel as to say the title of the next song could have had the last word changed to deaf, in terms of the last two tracks, but thankfully “I Wish I Were Blind” grabs the tiller and manages to force the craft away from the rocks it’s been headed for, providing us with a sumptuous and simple Springsteen ballad, one of the things he does so well, though not as often as perhaps he might. Sounding uncannily like a Tunnel of Love song, even reminds me of one in particular, it has a nice yearning sound about it, even if its sentiment is hardly original. Springsteen’s voice is clear and wounded as he sings, and the percussion from Porcaro is just perfect counterpoint to his voice. The Conservative Christians will no doubt be gratified to hear Bruce sing of “the grace and beauty of God’s hand”, but it’s sort of one of the seven deadly sins he’s singing about isn’t it? Jealousy? Good synth lines from Bittan help move the emotion through the song.

Back to hard rockin’ with “The Long Goodbye”, which again for me evokes the ghost of Nebraska and also sounds a little close to “You Can Look (But You Better Not Touch)” from The River, if slowed down a little. Good snarling guitar here, not much room for keyboards or indeed much else other than the rhythm section. Also touches on the melody from the title track if I’m honest. “Real Man” sounds like a Huey Lewis song with its bright parping keyboards and measured drumbeats, also reminds me of “Darlington County”. Certainly gives Bittan a chance to shine for one more time on the album as well as David Sancious, making a welcome return for his first contribution since 1975’s stone cold classic Born to Run - sounds like he was never away!

And there it should have ended and I would have been happy, but for some reason the Boss sees fit to close with a cover version of an old song from the turn of the century, used in the musical Miss Innocence (yeah I know - I haven’t heard of it either; well it was 1909). “Pony Boy” is an acoustic folky number which perhaps points the way towards later albums The Ghost of Tom Joad and Devils and Dust, and the harmonica is a nice nod back to Bruce’s beginnings, but for me it ruins the album, and a record that had started well and, while losing its way slightly along its run, could have finished strongly, bows out with an apologetic grin instead of a triumphant roar. Meh.

TRACK LISTING

Human Touch
Soul Driver
57 Channels (And Nothin’ On
Cross My Heart
Gloria’s Eyes
With Every Wish
Roll of the Dice
Real World
All or Nothin’ at All
Man’s Job
I Wish I Were Blind
The Long Goodbye
Real Man
Pony Boy

I think I’d have to take issue with the label of “happy album” applied to this recording. Sure, it has its share of love songs and upbeat ballads, but then so does Tunnel of Love and even Born in the USA and there are more than enough downbeat tracks here for me to keep bringing up the N-word. If this album can be compared, more than once, to Nebraska, then I don’t see how it can be characterised as a happy album. In fact, the last bunch of tracks are all pretty cynical and morose (look, just forget ****ing “Pony Boy”, will you? It wasn’t even written by him), and really you can trace this kind of disillusionment with love and live right back to the midpoint, from about “With Every Wish” on.

I guess you could say it’s more commercially-oriented (i.e., looking for hits) than other albums he had recorded prior, but after this there seems to have been a shift - conscious or not - away from feel-good songs into more raw, gritty, realistic fare, and in general this direction has, I believe, served to make Springsteen’s music, on the whole, less enjoyable. I certainly hate The Ghost of Tom Joad and I only listened to Devils and Dust twice at best. Some of his more recent albums I have not even heard yet, and I’m a fan. Of course there was the excellent The Rising and Magic was very good, then there’s the odd collection of rarities and re-recordings that goes under the title of The Promise, but overall I would have to say that after Wrecking Ball it wouldn’t be fair to say I lost interest, but I have not been as anxious to listen to his albums as I used to be.

I think this was a good effort. Obviously it was never going to be a Born to Run or even a Tunnel of Love, but I don’t get the hate directed at it and its sister album by the fans. I mean, let the man kick back once in a while, no? You can’t be dour and serious and angry and accusatory all the time. Got to be a point at which you walk out onto the porch, stars and stripes blowing gently in the summer evening wind, sit down with a cold beer and say “**** it, it’s not all bad really.”

And this really isn’t. All bad I mean. Despite what you may hear. From the title, it seems Bruce set out to explore the human condition with, for once, little or no reference to politics or the state of the nation. The human touch, you know? Mostly, though apparently unappreciated for doing so, I think he achieved his objective.

Rating: 7.4/10
__________________
Trollheart: Signature-free since April 2018
Trollheart is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 03-04-2022, 06:39 PM   #10 (permalink)
Born to be mild
 
Trollheart's Avatar
 
Join Date: Oct 2008
Location: 404 Not Found
Posts: 24,760
Default



Magic (2007)

I'm ashamed to admit it as a Springsteen fan, but there's a small gap in his later catalogue that I have yet to fill. I've heard everything from his debut right up to The Rising, and then Wrecking Ball, but there are a few albums I haven't heard even once, and this is one of them. Somehow, I just never got around to it. I suppose that's the problem with the internet, you can find, download and forget, whereas when we used to buy CDs (or LPs) we almost invariably listened to them if not right away, at least within the first week after purchase. The physical presence of a disc or record was hard to ignore or forget about, but a file squirreled away on your hard drive with thousands, perhaps tens of thousands of others? Much easier to overlook.

And so I did, with the result that I'm trying to address that lapse now. And as disappointed as I was with the two albums either side of The Rising, I'm expecting big things from this. I'm not let down, I have to say. From the off it's power proto-blue-collar rock, the sort of Americana we've not only come to expect from the Boss, but which he helped to create on albums like Born to Run and The River. Laden with the usual political statements and raging against injustice, this album has many messages, but there's room for fun too, like "Girls in Their Summer Clothes", which nestles quite comfortably among big heavy topical fare like "Livin' in the Future" and "Your Own Worst Enemy". One thing I found missing off the two acoustic albums was the familiar sound of Clarence's wonderful sax breaks, God rest his soul, but they're here in all their glory, evoking memories of Born in the USA and Born to Run, while the album itself for me most closely resembles Lucky Town or Human Touch.

Bruce has always sung about real people and real situations, and peppered that with sometimes veiled or sometimes pointed political commentary. "The Last to Die" is one of the latter, referencing the Vietnam war, with a lovely strings backing, while the title track is the only acoustic one on the album, dark and heavy with a brooding sense of menace that wouldn't be out of place on Nebraska. Although an upbeat, breezy song at heart, "Gypsy biker" mourns the death of an Iraq veteran as his coffin comes back to his homeland, while in something the same vein musically, "Long Walk Home" reeks of paranoia and fear.

It's great to see the E Street Band back together, for the last time, as the following year Danny Federici would leave us, followed by Clarence two years after that. Though the “Big Man” would play on Springsteen's next outing, 2009's Working On a Dream, Federici would be dead by then, so this really marks the last time the guys all played together on a Springsteen album. Poignant and bittersweet really. There's also some beautiful violin from Soozie Tyrell, and even Nils Lofgren is back to play guitar, for the first time since The Rising.

TRACK LISTING

Radio Nowhere
You'll Be Comin' Down
Livin' in the Future
Your Own Worst Enemy
Gypsy Biker
Girls in Their Summer Clothes
I'll Work for Your Love
Magic
Last to Die
Long Walk Home
Devil's Arcade
Terry's Song (hidden track)

Rating: 9.1/10

__________________
Trollheart: Signature-free since April 2018
Trollheart is offline   Reply With Quote
Reply

Thread Tools
Display Modes

Similar Threads



© 2003-2022 Advameg, Inc.