Years ago, in the days before I really “got” Bruce Springsteen, I stopped by the Columbus Flea Market on my way to my Grandfather’s shore house on Long Beach Island, New Jersey. There’s no better way to start a trip to the shore – great food, thrifty deals, and old records. Browsing through the vinyl, I came across the 1st two Bruce Springsteen records. “Honey,” the woman in charge of the stand said “those early Bruce records are the essence of New Jersey. If you don’t have them, make sure you grab them.”. And so began a journey that continues to this day. A word to sum it up? Fanaticism.
The press for Springsteen’s new record has focused quite a bit on which recording sessions the songs originate from or how Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine fame has added his own feel to some of the songs. I saw this described in a negative connotation as “David Gilmour (of Pink Floyd) sitting in with Cinderella (the great hair metal turned hard rock blues band from Philly)” Honestly, some of the guitar tones on the record could be described that way, but in a positive way. If I had to think about which album this reminds me of though, I’d look towards John Mellencamp’s 1996 record, Mr. Happy Go Lucky. On that record, Mellencamp embraced dance music production methods which added a nice new vibe to his tried and true sound. The same here with Mr. Springsteen. Tom Morello adds a metallic edge not before heard on a Bruce Springsteen record, and there are actually tape loops throughout. Despite various re-recordings, cover versions, and recording logs spanning a period of over a decade, the record holds together quite well. Is it a masterpiece? Not really. But if I were Siskel & Ebert I’d give it 1 1/2 thumbs up (if I could partition my thumbs).
We gotta keep the light burning (highlights)
High Hopes is a great opener and serves as the 1st single off the record. A shuffling beat with angst ridden vocals, an almost shouted chorus “I got high hopes!”. Harry’s Place is a brooding piece, almost funky. Bruce drops the “F Word” two times and introduces us to our 1st extreme Tom Morello influence of the record. The metallic guitar fade out at the end of the song is unlike anything I’ve heard on a Springsteen record. Favorite line of the song? “Downtown hipsters drinking up the drug line / Down in the kitchen working the coal mine”. The re-recording of American Skin (yes, there was a limited edition studio version released in 2001) adds a little tension to the repeated chorus, and sound f/x to the vocals. The Ghost of Tom Joad seems like Bruce covering the Rage Against the Machine cover of the Bruce Springsteen acoustic original. Sounds like it wouldn’t work, but it does – and beautifully so. Tom Morello takes over on vocals for a few verses, and its nice to have an electric version of this (you can make a geek Bruce mix opening with the original acoustic version and ending with the new version now). Dream Baby Dream finds Springsteen covering the Suicide classic, and its truly a delight to hear Bruce Springsteen singing Alan Vega’s words “Come on and open up your hearts / Come on dream on / dream baby dream”. Thankfully the cover doesn’t completely abandon the song’s electro-punk roots, there are loops in the background that enhance the atmosphere without detracting from the passionate performance. Muted yet alive with hope, this is a perfect closing song.
So many great songs on this record, I could have broken down just about every song. There are 2 or 3 that just don’t work for me, but I’ll let you decide for yourself. I was thrilled to see Bruce covering The Saints and Suicide, and I wonder if the song Frankie Fell in Love is slotted in here as another wink and nod to Suicide’s Frankie Teardrop? One things for certain – this will be on my playlist all throughout the year.
Verdict: The Boss Strikes Again
For Fans of: John Mellencamp, Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, Rage Against the Machine, Mark Lanegan
- High Hopes
- Harry’s Place
- American Skin (41 Shots)
- Just Like Fire Would
- Down in the Hole
- Heaven’s Wall
- Frankie Fell in Love
- This is Your Sword
- Hunter of Invisible Game
- The Ghost of Tom Joad
- The Wall
- Dream Baby Dream