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The last time Bruce Springsteen ventured West for inspiration, the result was the desolate Nebraska and its tales of serial killers and used cars. On his first record in three years, Springsteen navigates barren deserts and Old West war fields for a dozen forlorn songs that co-star the artist and his acoustic guitar. Though he's always had a knack for carving out the hooks and melodies that make each journey memorable, this time around Springsteen relies on the lyrics to carry the tune-desperate tales of tragedy, heartbreak, and lust with a Latino twist, like the boxer coming home ("The Hitter"), a distressing border-crossing incident ("Matamoros Banks"), and the Nevada hooker with good intentions ("Reno," which led to the warning sticker Adult Imagery). With no E Street Band in the mix, the album is decorated with horns and strings and Springsteens novel falsetto on two his best efforts: "Marias Bed," where the narrator comes home to his woman after 40 nights on the road, and the fast-picking "All Im Thinkin About," where he has more than Carolina on his mind. A decade from now this will be an underrated record in the Springsteen chronicles. --Scott Holter
The Best of Bruce
by guest editor Steve Perry
Steve is editor-in-chief of City Pages newspaper in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
The Wild, the Innocent, and the E Street Shuffle (1973)
After a folk-rockish debut album that bubbled with ideas and dense lyrical play, this is where Springsteen began to find his voice as a rocker and as a songwriter. The prisoner-of-love romanticism of "Rosalita" and "Incident on 57th Street" hinted at what was coming, and this early version of the E Street Band--jazzier and more spare than later versions, thanks largely to David Sancious's piano--sounds great, if a little ragged, these many years later.
Born to Run (1975) and Darkness on the Edge of Town (1978)
These two records, which belong on any compilation of the top 100 rock albums of all time, sketched the themes that he would spend his whole career chasing, and defined the expectations fans would bring to his records ever after. The first chords of "Born to Run" sounded like freedom itself the first time I heard them on the radio, and the album lived up to them. "Thunder Road" is still the greatest rock & roll love song anyone's ever written. The record sounded so big and impassioned and propulsive it was easy to miss the dread running underneath it. Darkness... put the dread front and center. There are more of his best songs here than anywhere else, even if the sound is muddy and leaden at times.
After The River (the best record that didn't make this list) and the ensuing tour answered his rock & roll prayers--he was a big star now, not just a perennial critics' favorite--Springsteen holed up in a rented house on the Jersey shore, where he wrote these songs and sang them into a four-track recorder in his living room. The tape was supposed to be a demo for the band, but after several false tries he concluded that the tape he'd been carrying around in his pocket was the record. Quiet and bleak, Nebraska nonetheless grabbed you by the collar and made you listen as surely as his rock & roll records ever had.
Tunnel of Love (1987)
The glare and hubbub surrounding the Born in the USA tour (the tour was great--the record itself overrated) made him pull back again, this time to write a cycle of songs about love and fear and self-doubt. After this, Springsteen's first marriage broke up, and he started a family with Patti Scialfa, disappearing for the better part of 10 years, notwithstanding the pair of not bad, just disappointing albums he released in 1992, Human Touch and Lucky Town.
The Ghost of Tom Joad (1995)
Some call it Nebraska II, but his second acoustic album was not a repeat of his first--the characters and settings had changed, and their circumstances were more expressly desperate, and social--though it did share the same interest in what happens to people whose isolation or marginal status renders them invisible.
The Rising (2002)
Everybody--including Springsteen himself--seemed to think it was a record about 9/11, but the subject was broader: death and loss as seen from more than halfway down life's road. Dave Marsh nailed it: "A middle-aged man confronts death and chooses life." Brendan O'Brien's production sounds great.
| ARTIST: || Bruce Springsteen |
| CATEGORY: || Music |
| MANUFACTURER: || Sony |
| FEATURES: || DualDisc |
| TYPE: || Album Rock, Heartland Rock, Pop, Pop/Rock, Rock, Rock/Pop, Singer/Songwriter |
| MEDIA: || Audio CD |
| TRACKS: || Devils & Dust, All The Way Home, Reno, Long Time Comin', Black Cowboys, Maria's Bed, Silver Palomino, Jesus Was an Only Son, Leah, The Hitter, All I'm Thinkin' About, Matamoras Banks |
| # OF MEDIA: || 1 |
| UPC: || 827969390023 |
Customer Review of Devils & Dust
long time fan, very mad.
bought this cd quite a while ago. it is probably very good, but how can i tell when it won't play on my stereo? this dual disc format is the music industries way of screwing long time fans. this sticking it to the fan is about as low as it gets. after buying the disc, i noticed the tiny warning on the back that says "audio side of disc does not conform to cd specifications and therefor not all cd players will play the audio side of this disc." WHAT A GREAT IDEA: SELL A DISC TO PEOPLE THAT WON'T PLAY FOR EVERYBODY. THANKS A..HOLES!
Bruce's Two Hats
I'd like to add to the thoughtful reflections of some of my fellow Bruce fans with some observations on his harmonic progressions. On his first two records, we hear a reckless and youthful creativity, musically and lyrically, which gives way to the more targeted Anthem Rock style of "Born to Run." With "Nebraska", Bruce seemed to put on another hat altogether -- inspired by Woody Guthrie -- that of the folk-troubador. This hat, which he dons again for "Ghost of Tom Joad" and "Devils," is characterized by a simplification of both melody and harmony. While I can see the utility of paring down this way from time to time -- similar to fasting -- to issue it as an end-product can be pretentious. As Woody wrote no songs like "Born to Run", his three-chord songs were utterly genuine; he didn't know how to do anything else. The "Devils" CD consists almost entirely of Woody's same I-IV-V chords from someone who knows better. The resulting melodies are frequently as uncrafted as clip art; he might as well be speaking. But perhaps this is the point, and we should hear this as poetry recited over music and let go of our musical expectations. I must confess to being moved by that song on "Tom Joad", about the Texan who decides in the end not to murder the Vietnamese fisherman. Even though it is an example of the bland musical delivery of which I speak, it may be the lack of harmonic-melodic distraction helps pull us into the story. Then there is the early 90s song, "I'll Wait for You" which also uses only three chords [though I-IV-vi this time] with admirable Zen-like craft. "The Rising" reminds us of Bruce's objective musical mastery, while "Devils" seems principally his subjective musings. It's still worth getting for the video performance, where his persistent use of falsetto voice contributes to the subjective, dream-state quality.
Long Time Coming
During the eighties Bruce disbanded the E-Street band to record with other artists and pursue other interests. The results were two very weak albums. Although some songs on Human Touch and Lucky Town had some potential, they clearly lacked an E-Street touch. It took Springsteen nearly 20 years to realize this before he gathered them again the Rising. So when he decided to follow this up with a lo-fi project where he would record with other artists again I felt very apprehensive.
>The result is an uneven mixed blessing, but overall a stronger effort than the two mentioned records without the E-Street. Another danger looming over this album was the rumor it would be his second Tom Joad. Although Joad featured some strong songs it was overall one of Springsteen's dullest outings. Strong lyrics and absent melody characterized it. Devils and Dust fortunately is much more balanced than that. The songs are delivered in a Folk and Country like demeanor but switches from up-tempo to low, from melodic songs to declamations.
>The songwriting is much looser than were accustomed to from the Boss. It varies from Joad/Nebraska like tales of immigrants and disillusioned, too more exhilarating songs dealing with life or love's release or second chances. Only one song on the album deals with the war in Iraq, the opening and title track Devils & Dust. Seeing Bruce's involvement in the Kerry campaign in 2004 this comes as some surprise, but a welcome one. I think we al needed a break from the Boss' soapbox persona. Even this song deals more with the personal experience of a soldier than the dilemma's of America's involvement in the Middle East. The soldier shares his experience and leaves us to struggle with the bigger dilemmas ourselves.
>The album continues in a much more upbeat vein. All the Way Home is a wonderful upbeat but forgettable tale of young romance which leaves us waiting for the E-Street release that never comes. Reno the third track on the album became one of Springsteen's most controversial because of its adult context. "Two hundred dollars straight in, Two-fifty up the ass" the hooker in Reno whispers to the man trying to forget love lost with cheap sex and whiskey. The album continues with the questions of parenthood. "Well if I had one wish in this god forsaken world, kids it'd be that your mistakes would be your own" sings in long time coming. Showing the album has much more diversity than either Nebraska or Tom Joad in just four songs.
>Other strong outings are Maria's Bed and All I'm Thinkin'About. Again to up-beat love songs, Springsteen sing in a new found falsetto voice, endearing efforts that show the man in an unsuspected relaxed manor. The Hitter, left over from the Joad sessions, lacks in melody but is one of the most imaginative and cinematic stories on the record. The tale relates of a boxer beaten down by life and disillusioned, a theme very familiar for Springsteen. The album closes with a similar effort which traces the tracks of a Mexican immigrant who didn't survive the crossing of the desert. "The turtles eat the skin from your eyes, so they lay open to the stars" Springsteen sings, once again reminding us that the American dream stays out of reach for many of us.
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