Thirty years ago I would’ve had this review out the day after the album was released. I was one of those Springsteen fans.
But I’m older, Springsteen’s older and the thrill is gone. I still love the man’s work but I’ve listened to so much Springsteen over the years and little of it from the past two decades rivals the “Born to Run/Darkness” years, and how much Springsteen do you need, really? I once devoured Springsteen albums, now I listen to them for one or two great songs.
It’s not just The Boss. I feel that way about pretty much all the artists of my college years. I buy U2 albums more out of obligation than love; I didn’t even buy the last R.E.M. album; I’m pretty sure I’m two or three albums behind on Elvis Costello. Thank God Billy Joel retired before I had a chance to lose interest.
So, when I heard Springsteen had a new album out I didn’t rush to download it, I just went to the library and put it on reserve. It took a while but I finally got my turn with it a few weeks back. While it didn’t win me over immediately, it did pretty quickly. I’d say it’s his best album since “The Rising,” but — you know — still not up to his ’70s-’80s work.
The record opens with “We Take Care of Our Own,” an uptempo-rocker that — in “Born in the USA” style — features a fist-pumping, jingoistic chorus traded off with more cynical, frustrated verses. The problem with songs like this is that people rarely listen to the verses and just want to chant the chorus — utterly missing the point. I wasn’t crazy about this song when I first heard it but it’s grown on me.
The next two tunes are much better — “Easy Money” and “Shackled and Drawn” are clever, uptempo songs with fun sing-along elements. I’m pretty sure Bruce puts more “whoo whoos” in “Easy Money” than any other song he’s sung. And damn, if they’re not catchy.
Things slow down with “Jack of All Trades,” a somber tune about a working man trying to get by in hard times (like several songs on the album). It’s a good song, it’s a long song, I tend to skip over it more often than not so I can get to the Seeger-Sessions-influenced “Death to My Hometown.” It has a fun, Irish pub sound to it and Springsteen growls out the lyrics.
Then we hit the wall where things drag for a bit — “This Depression,” “Wrecking Ball,” “You’ve Got It” and “Rocky Ground” are OK but nothing special.
It picks up nicely with the long-awaited (by me anyway) studio version of “Land of Hope and Dreams.” This is one of those great Springsteen songs that makes you remember why you loved Springsteen all those years ago and make you feel guilty for ever having lost faith. I first heard it several years back in concert and have the version from “Live in New York City” is the penultimate track on my death CD. It took a while to get used to the this new version but I’ve warmed up to it.
The CD wraps up with “We Are Alive,” another OK song most notable for its instrumental flourish that reminds me of the theme from “Bonanza” or some other classic country tune.
But wait, there’s more! There are two bonus tracks — the dirge-like “Swallowed Up (In the Belly of the Whale)” and the raucous, Irish-influenced “American Land.” The former is an acquired taste while the latter is just awesome.