Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Bruce, The Hold Steady & The Gaslight Anthem

While The Boss gets alternately skewered and lauded for his Super Bowl performance and his new album, his acolytes continue to spread the word. For the record, the Super Bowl performance was fantastic. Sure Bruce was a little winded and I've got a strong feeling the slide into the cameraman was choreographed, but compressing the greatest rock and roll show of the last 35 years into 12 minutes was a daunting task. He gave the biggest audience of his life the biggest thrill - just by reminding us that rock and roll should be F-U-N.

As for Working On A Dream, I think the jury is still out. Some days it seems like a sweet and optimistic homage to the 60's as well as a celebration of a new beginning, and other days it seems like a lyrical trite fest.

In an L.A. Times review on 1/24/09, critic Ann Powers wrote:

"More a pile of exuberant initial forays than a fully realized statement, Working on a Dream rejects the finer points of literary-minded album rock and aims for the instant effect of a string of hits."

Ms. Powers states the above like having a string of hits is a bad thing only to be aspired to by the likes of The Jonas Brothers (whose latest album is full of giddy, fizzy power pop). I truly don't undertstand that logic - the problem with most of today's albums is the dearth of hits. If more albums had 10-12 songs and clocked in under 40 minutes, we'd have better albums. The compact disc format has allowed and even encouraged self indulgence so that artists don't feel the need to edit themselves anymore, to hone songs to perfection. Textbook examples are Adams, Ryan and Collective, Animal - both would be served by more concise writing. As would Springsteen himself - Working on A Dream would be a much better album if it was shorn of three or four of its clunkier numbers.

WOAD is a middling Bruce Springsteen disc - it comes nowhere near the artistic sweep and abundance of great songs (and it's always about the songs) of his 70's and 80's output. But slowing down after that artistic run only puts Springsteen in the same company as every other major artist with more than half a dozen albums under their belt (OK, I'll give you Tom Waits). But WOAD still contains a clutch of great songs ("My Lucky Day", "Surprise Surprise", "The Last Carnival" and "The Wrestler" among others) while also containing arguably the worst song of his career in "Queen of The Supermarket" - "57 Channels" send its thanks.

Enjoy WOAD for what it is - a woozy C+ effort from the most consistently electrifying rock and roll performer of the last 35 years.

Oh yeah... those acolytes - check out The Hold Steady's powerful version of "Atlantic City" (courtesy of Stereogum, as is the picture at the top) from the upcoming War Child benefit cd, out 2/24. And here's Brian Fallon of The Gaslight Anthem and his spare take on "Backstreets" (don't forget, Gaslight Anthem at The Troc in Philly on 3/28):


Kevin McClatchy said...

That is the clear-headed, musically intelligent and (most important) useful review of Bruce's record that seems to elude the people who, ya know, get paid to write about music.

Philijams said...

My daughter started off the halftime show by wondering why we were so excited. After the 12 minutes she said that that was pretty cool and 'he's so random'. It was classic Bruce.

The album on the other hand is as you say not a classic. Although I'm not going to follow your line that trying to fill a cd time frame is its downfall. I can't accept the idea that this album is weak because it doesn't have enough hits. Magic had what one radio ready song. I had no problem enjoying that CD. I'm not rejecting the hits idea because there is a lack of cohesion or it’s not a concept album. With Bruce I expect 10-12 strong songs, and I look forward to listening to the whole CD. I don't want to pull out a couple of cuts and play them in some rotation. If I'm listening to a Springsteen album, I'm not listening to the radio. The Rising and the Seeger Sessions were enjoyable all the way through. There are a number of songs on this album which I hope I never have to listen to again. I'd rather take 41 shots than hear surprise 42 times, again. And Queen of the Supermarket is just flat out bizarre. (Good Photoshop shot of Bruce. Would have been great if there was the queencheckoutgirl that inspired the tome.) How does this song avoid coming across as a lecherous old man song? To the other extreme, what supermarket has he been in lately? I'm betting Sandy is still way better looking. Anyway out of the 16 studio albums he's done I'll rank this one 13th. I only really like one song on this CD 'Life Itself' although 'Good Eye' is a FUN song.

Andy Whitman said...

Well, I've publicly trashed the album, and I'll stand by my assessment. I love Bruce Springsteen. Really I do. But I don't like WOAD. At all.

I don't have a problem with albums that are designed to spin off "hits." Bruce has done this before; "Born in the U.S.A." is a "hits" album, and a great one. To some extent, "Magic" is a hits album. There are certain songs that are just begging for radio airplay. I don't hear any such songs on WOAD. The songs that sound like they want to be hits -- the title track, "Lucky Day," "Surprise, Surprise" -- simply aren't very good. They sound like some generic bar band, fronted by a songwriter who can only write trite lyrics, attempting to sound like "classic" Bruce Springsteen, and failing. The experiments -- "Outlaw Pete" and the wall-of-sound "Queen of the Supermarket" -- are embarrassing. And the best two songs on the album -- "The Last Carnival" and "The Wrestler" -- don't sound like hits at all. But Springsteen finally remembers what it's like to write something other than what should have appeared in a Hallmark Card.

I'll get over it. I've hung with Springsteen too long not to know that he occasionally feels the need to release cheese. He's had a number of masterpieces in him, and he still might have some more. But sorry, my fandom isn't enough to overcome the disappointment of how these songs sound, and what they say.

Anonymous said...

"But slowing down after that artistic run only puts Springsteen in the same company as every other major artist with more than half a dozen albums under their belt (OK, I'll give you Tom Waits). "

You backed off on that claim just in time, boyo!

jayhonk said...

I always thought it was "high on the backstreets".

Oops. There goes my card for another 6 months.