Tuesday, October 2, 2007

The masterpiece business

EW avers that Bruce Springsteen "is back in the masterpiece business," as if Springsteen's masterpiece manufacturing firm was depressed and in decline since Rolling Stone's last 4.5 star review. Springsteen himself agrees -- "I wrote a lot of hooks," he told A.O. Scott in Sunday's NYT feature. The truth, unfortunately, is closer to what Theon noted in his review of Magic today: magic tricks "are so thin and fragile—let the light touch them the wrong way and the audience won't even understand what they were meant to be." I'll go farther: the audience understands, all right, and so does Bruce, but the messages aren't interesting. Twenty three years since Born In The U.S.A., he's still most compelling when, like the Prince of "1999," he's dancing at the edge of apocalypse. He's too old to write teary-beery anthems and not intelligent enough to illumine those post-Dust Bowl with which he delights the editors of Rolling Stone and scares the rest of us. After a few plays "Radio Nowhere" starts to sound like somewhere -- the demilitarized zone that Bob Dylan saw from a tour bus window which inspired the dessicated songs on Time Out of Mind. "I'll Work For Your Love"'s is unintentionally prophetic, as Springsteen works too hard to summon the magic. "...Love" even returns to Mariolatry City (thanks to Michael Chabon for the phrase), where "She's The One" was situated. The real keeper is the insinuating title track, on which Brendan O'Brien's gauche mix fits the spooky vibe.

I'm a casual fan of Springsteen's. I like a handful of songs from every album before 1980, Born in the U.S.A. a lot, and love Tunnel of Love. I profess not to hear what Greil Marcus does in 1978's "The Promised Land" (cue lyric about knife cutting pain through the heart). But as I admitted in my reassessment of Tunnel of Love, lots of his subsequent records sound like good ideas rather than finished statements. At their best they remind me of John Mellencamp records, which is odd because Mellencamp's had a far more interesting post-1987 career (the year in which he released his critical breakthrough The Lonesome Jubilee) than Broose; his double-disc comp holds up end to end better than Springsteen's Essential set.

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