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Wednesday, June 24, 2009

O' Brother Where Art Thou? The Apparent Musical Death of Bruce Springsteen

While enjoying a solid lunchtime meal at the Palomino in Calgary recently, a familiar song came over the weathered sound system - Bruce Springsteen's "Countin' On A Miracle" from his fantastic 2002 album The Rising.  Suddenly, all of the other great songs from that album ("Lonesome Day", "Nothing Man", "Worlds Apart" and the title-track being the best among them) came flooding back into my mind, followed by the classics ("Thunder Road", "Badlands", "The Promised Land", "My Hometown", "Brilliant Disguise" among many, many others) and the less obvious, yet outstanding, tracks ("Valentine's Day", "With Every Wish", "My Beautiful Reward", "Downbound Train" and the list goes on) that Springsteen has penned.

Then, between mouthfuls of pulled pork, the fleeting and wistful memories of great times and great music in my mind were washed away by the grim recollection that since The Rising, Springsteen's albums have been progressively worse, peaking with Working On A Dream and the Superbowl soul-selling that followed before a worldwide TV audience.  Don't get me wrong, the Superbowl show itself was solid, as are all of his live shows, and it represented a refreshing departure from the usual halftime lip-syncing that goes on at the Superbowl or Grey Cup (I still remember Shania Twain's guitar player "playing" with ski mitts on - embarrassing), but the post-Rising material released out of the studio has been nothing short of wretched.  However, every grim, formulaic, unimaginative cloud has its silver lining - the Magic album had "Last To Die", "Long Walk Home" and "Devil's Arcade", but apart from those songs, few have warmed Knox's heart or have even started his toe a tappin'.

All of this begs the question - what happened? Where did it all go wrong? Or has it? Do Devils & Dust, The Seeger Sessions and Working On A Dream truly represent the fall, burnout or sellout/cashing-in of a legend and one of the greatest singer-songwriters and performers of all-time? Or will we see a Johnny Cash-esque late-career resurgence? While I certainly go back to the Springsteen well often, and have plenty of old material to keep me quenched for probably the rest of my life, it would sure please me if there was another offering, or offerings, from one of the all-time greats.  A guy might die of thirst if the current drought continues........

Posted by Knox Harrington on June 24, 2009 | Permalink


1. "Soul-selling"??? Playing the Superbowl is not soul-selling. It's a live show for 100,000 people in the stands and millions more on TV. It's one of the biggest sports events in the world. We all could have done without the crotch shot slide, but that was a legit gig. When he shows up on American Idol (as Little Steven did - and just to sit in the audience!), then you can talk soul-selling.

2. Bruce's recent few albums have all been great and all successful (four of the last five have been #1, the other was #3 on Billboard). Your assessment of them is wrong and out of step with what millions of fans think.

3. Johnny Cash's final few albums worth of recordings are unlistenable junk. If it were not for his name recognition, no one would have bought them. They sound like someone wandered into an old folks home and started recording a karaoke night.

Posted by: Fact Check | 2009-06-24 3:52:38 PM

Have you listened to E Street radio, on sirrius satellite? One channel of 24 hour Springsteen. I don't listen often, but it has a cross section of live performances, mainstream, and oddball recordings.

His live recording of "Trapped" is a favourite of mine.

An ex-employee of mine spent a month in NYC a couple years ago. He's a Springsteen fanatic, and went to an outdoor concert in Central Park. The opening act was The Almann Brothers. He told me later that, to his surprise, the Almanns put on a better show. I guess Dickie Betts still hasn't gotten dental implants.

Why don't you just face facts? Nothing lasts forever. I was a kid when "Born to Run" came out, and I'm no spring chicken.

Posted by: dp | 2009-06-24 8:40:11 PM

Just saw him in Nashville last week. Awesome show!

Posted by: Jim | 2009-06-25 12:14:25 AM

The Rising was his best album. I love virtually every song. I think we can expect more great things from Springteen once we get a Republican back in the Whitehouse. Like Hunter S. Thompson, Springteen preforms best when he thinks the American dream is under assault.

Posted by: Matthew Johnston | 2009-06-25 1:22:06 AM

"Johnny Cash's final few albums worth of recordings are unlistenable junk. If it were not for his name recognition, no one would have bought them. They sound like someone wandered into an old folks home and started recording a karaoke night."

FC, you are soooo going to be in trouble when the man comes around.

Posted by: Terrence Watson | 2009-06-25 1:49:04 AM

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