Welcome to my asylum for ideas and thoughts on movies, politics, culture, and all things Bruce Springsteen.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Deconstructing Work

One thing I've found in the last four days is the fact that I haven't listened to anything else. ANYTHING. If Bruce has accomplished anything with this release, it's a record that as soon as the final song has played can easily be listened to again. I can't even say that sometimes about Born To Run. Sometimes when a record has played itself out, I need to let it be and allow the stories and music resonate. Here, I need to listen and again.

Outlaw Pete - the first track, and a return to the mini-screenplay epic song Bruce became famous for in the 70s. A grizzled old criminal both hero and villain, Outlaw Pete will probably be a crowd pleaser with its tempo changes and cinematic sound a la Ennio Morricone and even Aaron Copeland. Some are criticizing the song for hacking Kiss' "I Was Made For Loving You" which is a tad lame. Layers of sound with much success though the vocals are so muddied in the mix that the story gets lost. Rolling Stone compared this story to Jungleland which is like comparing a Law & Order episode to Twelve Angry Men.

My Lucky Day - the albums's only real rocker. 100% Bruce Pop with the chord progressions, vocal harmonies and bari sax to give fans the modern Hungry Heart. In Bruce's modern discography, this is another in the line of Waiting on a Sunny Day and Livin' In the Future. I really like this and would like to see the concert start off with this song. A Brucier opener than, say, Radio Nowhere.

WOAD - title song, which scared me when the single was first released several months ago. I only heard the song over the Internet and also on a televised Obama rally. The live version was the man and his guitar, which is never a way to fairly assess a very big band song. Over the computer was terrible as well. I was extremely underwhelmed upon hearing it and actually thought that Bruce had given Barack a pretty lame anthem for the late campaign. I've since changed and find myself singing this refrain moreso than any other lyric on the entire record. There's a bridge with a chorus of whistling that over the Internet sounded like a cameo by the Seven Dwarves. The whistling is not inappropriate for the song and was balanced properly among the guitars and sax. This should be a fun one live.

Queen of the Supermarket. This album's Girls In Their Summer Clothes. The latter was Magic's standout for its stunning Spectoresque sounds. Now it sounds like an early release of this whole record, which I hope doesn't detract from Girls. Some are saying that this is the standout of WOAD. I'm not sure. I'm not sure I really get the song. Is Bruce being humorous? Ironic? Plus, he drops a completely unnecessary F-bomb in the final verse which makes this one a skipper when in the car with the youngins. We'll see.

What Love Can Do - here, the album's done flooring you with the grandiose new sounds and settles into a song cycle of four or five songs that set with you longer than their lengths. A nice driving acoustic guitar pushes this song. Another song with muddied vocals. This one sounds like a slower version of Radio Nowhere. Similar chord progressions which makes me wonder if he simply wrote two songs with a single template. In the vein of Further On Up the Road.

This Life - One of the most interesting tracks on the record. It's the best song that Brian Wilson left off Pet Sounds. Another Girls sound; lots of glockenspiel, saxes and vocal chorus. A real sleeper. While even the first time I heard it I called out every impending chord change, the song is still fun for the sake of imagining what Roy Orbison really would have done with this. Some Hungry Heart in there for good measure.

Good Eye - Bruce finally has an original that works the band's blues jones as well as his own hankering for the bullet mike. Reason to Believe on the Devils & Dust tour threw too many people off as the vocals were unintelligible, though the stomp really rocked. The band's rendition on the Magic tour sounded like a cross between La Grange and Spirit In the Sky. That song died a quick concert death, I think, simply for the fact that a roadhouse stomp can not be played by a ten-piece band. This song, with unimportant lyrics, is a great front porch blues and could just have easily worked with just Nils on a National guitar and Bruce banging his foot for tempo.

Tomorrow Never Knows - Turn off your mind, relax and float downstream ain't coming on this one, though I was hoping for some nod to the Fab Four. It's a country song and probably came from the Seeger Sessions or even D&D. Great steel playing by Nils. Probably the least important song on the record though harmless and fun.

Life Itself - I really like this song. This record's Gypsy Biker or Last To Die in the sense of concise delivery. Lots of guitar and minor chords. Lots of lyrics but hard to listen to with again, muddied vocals. Some cool backwards guitar soloing. I'm hoping this is one that carries off well live. The two Magic songs sound great on the record but I think they got lost in the arena setting. A couple of The Rising songs suffered the same fate even though the band kept them through the entire tour. The political or personal messages were lost and instead the band delivered great sounding music that didn't grab hold of the audience. This also, I just noticed, has lots of Roger McGuinn-like Rickenbacker guitar runs.

Kingdom of Days - Bruce's love letter to Patti. Adult love contains a lot of compromises, settling, routine and settling in. I think what marks adulthood is not caring for so many minute details that one, in his or her attempt to create the perfect self in the late teens or the early twenties. Real love sees beyond the extra pounds, wrinkles and faults and is thankful to God just for someone else to love and be with you for as many years as possible. This song has a soaring bridge with strings and a chord progression similar to so many of his songs that you can't name them though you've heard them countless times.

Surprise, Surprise - someone posted on Backstreets that is probably another song for another family member. While not the most important song in the canon, it's catchy and well constructed. The outro is nothing short of Phil Spector and the Ronettes.

The Last Carnival - a revisiting of Wild Billy's Circus Story from 1973's Wild, Innocent and the E Street Shuffle as a tribute to fallen member Danny Federici. The former song was full of accordian and a story of acrobats on the high rise laughing at death with the bravado of youth. This song honors Bruce's comrade as the acrobat acknowledging the absence of his partner. The record seems to capture Bruce's dealing with Danny's death in many ways. While Danny didn't play a pivotal role in much of the E Street Band's records, his presence was undeniable. And there are certain songs that without Danny's presence, holes would exist. Unfortunately, this this the second consecutive record with a musical elegy. Instead of a personal goodbye, this is a group farewell with a gospel ending with voices and accordian, this time played by Dan's adult son.

Bruce recently penned a song for the art-imitating-life film The Wrestler starring Mickey Rourke. Noting how mightily the mighty often fall, this song is Rourke who is the character who is the film who is Rourke. While not the social statement of Streets of Philadelphia, this song is along the lines of Dead Man Walking or others from the late 90s. Bruce nails the film and the essence of Rourke's life of the last fifteen years. Should Rourke retire, this song would have helped bring about his redemption of reputation.

A DVD accompanies this album and it is simply the videos of the 'making of' though very few outtakes exist. There's a really cool song entitled A Night With the Jersey Devil which originally was a Halloween gift on Bruce's website. Fun. My biggest complaint, though, in all of this, is the packaging. WOAD comes in this format in an oversized jacket which doesn't fit in a standard shelf or case. I might be nitpicking here but it is lame. The album cover's also pretty bad. This'll make a terrible concert t shirt as well. It looks reminscent to a Mariah Carey record that I can't name but see as the crappy cover it is. As I mentioned yesterday, WOAD's strengths are Bruce's risks of sounding BIG. He's honoring his influences and showing how much of the past's music still is really timeless. I agree with the criticism that this is one record where he doesn't really say anything. Then again, have we ever really cared what Robert Plant was singing about? Just give me the SOUND of Trampled Under Foot or Achilles Last Stand. Do we really care which entrance she uses to get into the house? No, but when Paul sings that she came in through the bathroom window, I really listen and care about why he found it so important to quit the police department. The Beatles had many songs where the message took back seat to the sound and the song was the better for it. Maybe we just sit back and listen to Bruce having fun. Funny, as Bruce is taking a lot of heat with wildly mixed reviews for WOAD being too big whereas a decade and a half ago he was lambasted on The Ghost of Tom Joad for sacrificing melody for story. I guess his best just really isn't good enough.

Tickets go on sale Monday morning. I'm still debating to sit in the nosebleeds and save money in order to keep my family in our house or put myself on the floor. April Fool's Day in San Jose is also the first show on the tour which means a ton of train wrecks could happen. Or the band could be hot to trot being fresh off this Sunday's Super Bowl Halftime performance and hopefully some good sales numbers. Either way, I'm there, baby.