Bryan: Bryant and I continue our Springsteen listenthrough with Bruce's 17th studio album, the last to feature the nevertheless-immortal Clarence Clemons. The massive tour that followed a) featured Jake Clemons and a full 17-piece band, b) included Tom Morello on the Australian leg of it (as Little Steven had film commitments for Lilyhammer) and c) lasted so long it turned into the High Hopes tour when it resumed after Christmas break in early 2014, from where this rendition of "Staying Alive" comes from. (Holy moley.)
|Jake, Bruce, and Tom.|
Bryant: R.I.P., Big Man.
"We Take Care of Our Own"
Bryan: 2.5/5 Starts with a "Wild Honey" reference, but the song quickly goes in its own direction. Not a bad production/ arrangement but not a fave. I hate when songs get picked for presidential campaigns, regardless of candidate, and this is no exception. Keep rock and state separate! An unpopular position perhaps given how popular such things appear to be. Anyway, kind of trite music/ broad sentiments, on top of that, and it equals meh for yours truly.
Bryant: I like this more than you do, perhaps if only because Brendan O’Brien was otherwise engaged during the recording of this album. Also, let’s face it, because the political stuff doesn’t gall me like it does you. Hell, sometimes it even WORKS for me! This is sort of one of those times. Although lately, it seems to me like the message of America is “We take care of our own, if you count as ‘our own,’ which a lot of you don’t. And we’d like to take you out back and beat you, quite frankly.” So while I admire Springsteen’s stance and support it and believe in it as a long-run thing, I have a hard time feeling cheered by it. Still, good song. 3/5
Bryan: It's an interesting choice, too, for a convention call-to-arms, as the verses paint a few bleaker tones into its more anthemic qualities. Much like "Born in the U.S.A." almost 30 years before it, which Reagan's people wanted to use for his '84 campaign, an idea Bruce shut down with extreme force. (Opinions vary on all of this sequence of events.) I support unequivocally his right to do whatever he wants, with either song, in any circumstance, of course.
Bryan: 3.25/5 Seems like it could've been on the Pete Seeger album. I like this one, though like the opener it's the sort of tune you can get from any number of bands/ productions.
Bryant: A lot of this album sounds like it came from the same place as We Shall Overcome, doesn’t it? Fine by me. 3/5
Bryan: You're right, it's not just this song but most of the album. Perhaps most especially...
"Shackled and Drawn"
Bryan: ... re: Bruce becoming a Celtic neofolk outfit. Music for Natural Wonders and other fine shops at the mall or Sunday afternoons on NPR. 3/5
Bryant: This is pretty great. 3/5 I was higher until that gospel vocal comes beaming in from some other planet right at the end.
"Jack of All Trades"
Bryan: 2.25/5 Fantastic outro, the rest is okay.
Bryant: Not a bad song at all. I’m with you on the 2.25/5. If this were on The Ghost of Tom Joad, it’d be a mild standout.
Bryan: 3.5/5 (Keep reading to see why this score is not bold-faced! OMG! - editor) Ditto to all of the above, but I like the sort of happy Irish music juxtaposed with the lyrics. Gentrification is the same the world over. Play this for any number of cultures in any number of eras and there'd be no language barrier. Well, beyond the actual one that might prevent them from relating to it.
Bryant: I like the attitude and sound of this more than I like the actual song, but it’s fine. 2.5/5
Bryan: You know, that's an important distinction to make. So I decided to listen again with that in mind and ended up with 2.75/5. (Here it is, kids! - editor) A bit higher than yours but not by much. Still a fun little tune.
Bryan: 2/5 I feel kind of bad only giving this one 2 stars, as it seems a rather all-on-his-sleeve confession sort of piece from Bruce and here I am saying "(shrugs) Decent." But so it goes.
Bryant: You hear this as a confessional? Hmm. I tend to assume it’s him singing about a character, like on “Jack of All Trades.” You could be right, though. But I agree this is nothing special. 2/5
Bryan: You're probably right about that, actually. I listened to it again with that in mind, and I couldn't quite figure out why I assumed it was a confessional. I mean, there's the rhyme in the chorus, but that'd be dumb of me. I hope it wasn't just that! I honestly can't remember - I assume Bruce is often circling his depression issues through song, I guess. The dangers of biography and projection. Unchanged score, alas.
Bryant: Something tells me he’s not talking purely about a stadium… 4.25/5
Bryan: Or Miley Cyrus. 3.5 Not bad and a little more punch in the lyrics than previous.
"You've Got It"
Bryan: 2.5/5 Simple little tune - I like it, tho.
Bryant: Not bad. 2.25/5
Bryan: 2.75/5 Ditto. Like the neo-celt stuff, this sort of vibe/ production seems a natural enough evolution of the Bruce aesthetic. (Even the "rap" and sampled, recurring chorus fits here - a general sort of open the doors and invite in/ elder statesman thing more than embracing a production fad, as it might have been in the 90s.) I like the horns.
Bryant: I want to love this, and can’t get there. 2.25/5 I respect it, and like it, but can’t get my arms around it.
Bryan: 3.75/5 Might be scoring this one a little too low. I like this version quite a bit, though, and it and the next are a great one-two punch to end the album. Like Bruce, when Clarence's live-sax-part is cut into this studio version and "fills the room," I get tears in my eyes. Got to agree with Will Hermes on this one: "It's an object lesson in the sort of hard-bitten pop optimism that Springsteen's made into a secular religion, and it's also a fitting farewell to a friend."
Bryant: I love the Live in NYC version, and to me, this studio version pales in comparison. But you can pale quite a bit in comparison to that and still end up in a good place. A 3.75/5, for example. I don’t think the production here is bad, but I could have lived without some of the drum loops and gospel backing vocals and whatnot. Whaddaya need a gospel-sounding background vocalist for when you’ve got Patti Scialfa at your disposal?!?
Bryan: It's a fair question. He likes the gospel backing singers the last 10 years or so, doesn't he? Like the celtic stuff, it works okay for me, myself.
Bryan: 3.25/5 I like the little breaks in this one but again it's more of a found-structure deal more than essential Bruce to me. (I like saying "it's found structure, though, isn't it? I think I know what it means, but I probably don't.) Sounds good to hear him doing it, though, and I like the lyrics.
Bryant: I’d be okay with Bruce just straight-up covering “Ring of Fire.” He kind of gets close here, doesn’t he? I don’t love this. 2.25/5
~Bryan: Total 31.5 Average 2.86
Bryant: Total 30.5 Average 2.77 My copy has a couple of bonus tracks.
“Swallowed Up (In the Belly of the Whale)” – Weird intro to this one. And it lasts for pretty much the entire song. So I guess not so much a weird intro as a weird song. I admire him for going for something different every once in a while, but this does very little for me until the violin shows up toward the end, and that’s only because I like violins. 1.75/5
“American Land” – Damn, I need to re-rip this CD. The MP3 of this I’ve got has a bunch of digital static at the beginning. That’s no way to respect this awesome song! I believe I previously stated that this version was with the E Street Band, but that’s only partially true, I guess. It’s pretty great, no matter who’s playing it. It could be a pack of leprechauns for all I care. 4.5/5 (If anything, that’d make me like it more.)
Lucky Town 2.15
Greetings from Asbury Park 2.19
The Ghost of Tom Joad 2.44
Working on a Dream 2.71
Working on a Dream 2.71
In Concert / MTV Plugged 2.82
Chimes of Freedom 2.86
Wrecking Ball 2.86
Blood Brothers 2.88
Human Touch 2.9
The Promise 3.08
Book of Dreams 3.1
Hammersmith Odeon, London 3.1
The Rising 3.3
Devils and Dust 3.36
The Wild, the Innocent, and the E Street Shuffle 3.43
Live in New York City 3.5
Loose Ends 3.63
Greatest Hits (New Tracks Only) 3.65
We Shall Overcome: The Pete Seeger Sessions 3.67
The River 3.71
Tunnel of Love 3.8
Darkness on the Edge of Town 3.82
Live ’75 - ‘85 4
Live in Dublin 4.11
Born to Run 4.41
Born in the USA 5.4
Human Touch 1.7
Hammersmith Odeon, London '75 2.04
Lucky Town 2.15
Working on a Dream 2.23
Working on a Dream 2.23
The Ghost of Tom Joad 2.46
Devils and Dust 2.48
Book of Dreams 2.58
Chimes of Freedom 2.69
In Concert / Mtv Plugged 2.75
Greetings from Asbury Park 2.75
Wrecking Ball 2.77
Blood Brothers 2.9
The Promise 2.99
The Rising 3.1
Live in Dublin 3.22
Tunnel of Love 3.35
We Shall Overcome: The Pete Seeger Sessions 3.37
Greatest Hits (New Tracks Only) 3.38
The River 3.39
Live in New York City 3.48
The Wild, the Innocent, and the E Street Shuffle 3.68
Live ’75 - ‘85 3.7
Loose Ends 3.92
Born to Run 4.35
Darkness on the Edge of Town 4.4
Born in the USA 4.88
Bryan: That's all she wrote for Wrecking Ball. Roundabout the release of American Beauty, Bruce, Inc. opened the archives for a slew of live shows and other releases. All worth listening to and all worth covering, of course, but early on in this project we decided not to dive into all of it but mainly stick to the new releases of original material (with some exceptions.) Either way, we are nearing the end of this little project.
Not quite there, yet, though, don't bang your head against the desk in despair! I'll hopefully have High Hopes (with its American Beauty chaser) up tomorrow, but if it doesn't happen, there might be a sighting of the rare Tuesday-or-Wednesday Night Springsteen round these parts. Heck, maybe there'll be both. And there'll be a couple more after that. To rock and roll!