Saturday, September 1, 2007

Gritting his teeth as if, tired of the wisdom he's carried, he wants to make sure we listen real good this time, Bruce Springsteen-the-vocalist is the first thing that makes us prick our ears when listening to "Radio Nowhere," the first single from his forthcoming Magic (and available for a limited time free on iTunes). The second oddity: Springsteen has written a genuine hook -- I mean, hook, as in "I'm Goin' Down" and "Glory Days"-style hook. Too bad radio's changed so much; he'll probably have as much trouble getting this on the airwaves as "Human Touch" did in 1992. Blame Brendan O'Brien's typically sludgy mix (whether it's Pearl Jam or the Chili Peppers say this about O'Brien: he's a real auteur); the thing sounds like Bryan Adams produced by Daniel Lanois.

Speaking of radio, something about it has pissed Bruce off. Admittedly, the lyrics don't help, as Bruce has come up short in that department and regressed into life-is-a-highway banalities and flung the phrase "mystery train" at Greil Marcus to make sure he's listening. He's too savvy to resort to mean old Tom Petty Last DJ tactics, but it's a shock to hear this most dedicated believer in rock mythos mutter miserabilist sentiments over such rousing music (yeah, yeah, but "Born in the U.S.A." was 23 years ago). Which is to say that Springsteen's conviction pins down this amorphous late-middle-aged angst. After years of Dust Bowl sagas, rediscovering Pete Seeger, and pre-empting Paul Greengrass, he still understands that what we most want from radio isn't a song so much as a sound: he's back to hearing cathedrals in his head and Roy Orbison singing "Only the Lonely." Beyond sense, it's what what we want out of Phil Spector, "Sister Ray," Funkadelic, My Bloody Valentine, and Lil Wayne. If this sounds sentimental, it is -- but Springsteen and sentimentality aren't just inseparable, they know how to bring the best out of each other.

If I'm rendering "Radio Nowhere," more delicious than it is, that's my particular sentimentality. It's too tentative a performance; like The Rising's "Lonesome Day," it would work perfectly as the first song on Magic. He's testing his audience's ability to reconnect with megastar-era Brooose as much as he's attempting a mood and a stance for which he may be, ultimately, temperamentally unsuited. Mostly he sounds like Little Steven hasn't played him the new Arcade Fire.


JoyceDanelen@YAHOO.COM said...

Could someone tell me what this has to do with Phil Spector?
It came in as an alert.
Thank you,

Joyce Danelen at yahoo dot com

Alfred Soto said...

You tell me.

M said...

in pure biz terms what strikes me after looking for the song (must've missed the deadline, oh well) is that the advance-purchase price for the full album is $8.99. Springsteen would surely be able to jack the price up to the $14 range online if he really wanted to. it's not even a big deal, but when you compare it to artists with similarly large followings, it's kind of cool.

Alfred Soto said...

He's pulling a Tom Petty!

M said...

hahaha he would be if he were making an issue of it. what I like about him is that he isn't.