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  1. It’s now 2012 and, after a couple of less than stellar records, “Wrecking Ball” sees The Boss reunited with his mojo…There are some real standouts, songs that tell you The Boss is back on it, “Rocky Ground”, “Land Of Hope And Dreams”, “Jack Of All Trades”, the title track…

    “Jack Of All Trades” is built out of what Springsteen calls his “magic trick”. In his “…On Broadway” solo show he explained how he wrote all those song about cars and girls and escaping and everyone ate it up and…he couldn’t even drive, that’s the magic trick. He’s so locked into and understanding of his audience that he can write about their hopes and fears and dreams, their lives, that he can work his magic with words. This “Jack Of All Trades” will mow your lawn and mend your roof, he’ll harvest your crops and strip your engine down and rebuild it ‘til it runs sweet again, he gets angry at the world but he can mend and make do, he and his will be alright. Springsteen can’t/doesn’t have to do any of those things but he sings it so convincingly you think he can, like the cars and the girls, the magic trick…and that’s why his audience, why I, love him.

    “Rocky Ground” is quite unusual, it’s heavy on religious imagery again (“Forty days and nights of rain have washed this land, Jesus said the money changers in this temple will not stand”), features a gospel choir (the Victorious Gospel Choir) along with excerpts/samples from "I'm A Soldier In The Army Of The Lord", a gospel song by the Congregation of the Church of God in Christ and recorded by folklorist Alan Lomax in 1942 and, for the very first time on a Springsteen song, a section of rapping. He allegedly attempted the rapping himself (!), but, dissatisfied with his attempts, left it to backing singer Michelle Moore. 

    “Land Of Hope And Dreams” was written as far back as 1998. It was played on the 1999 “Reunion Tour” with the E Street Band, it’s on the 2001 live album “Live In New York City” and a version was recorded in 2002 during the sessions for “The Rising”. I’m not sure when this version was recorded but it was definitely prior to June 2011 as it features The Big Man, Clarence Clemons, on Sax. It is a Springsteen, nay, an E Street Band classic. There ain’t many bands that can bring this huge panoramic sound to a song but the best little bar band from New Jersey really can! When Bruce hits the section that starts with “This train, Carries saints and sinners…” and at the end Clarence makes his presence felt its eye wateringly wonderful. It’s also one of Bruces’s great road songs, he’s still travelling just like he was in “Born To Run”, there are still wheels, this time they are “Big wheels rolling through fields where sunlight streams”, but now he knows where he’s going even if that place is the undefined land of hope and dreams. It was in the set when we saw them at Nowlan Park in Kilkenny in 2013 and it felt like righteous modern day gospel music, something to make you believe…in something.

    The title track is a tribute to The Meadowlands or to give it it’s actual name, Giants Stadium, an 80,000 seater football stadium in East Rutherford New Jersey (“I was raised out of steel here in the swamps of Jersey, some misty years ago”) that was originally home to the NFL’s New York Giants from 1976 and later shared with the New York Jets from 1984 to 2009 when both teams moved next door to the purpose built MetLife Stadium. Springsteen and the E Street Band played many, many shows at what came to be known as The Meadowlands and there are recordings from the stadium on “Live/1975-85” from the “Born In The USA” tour. As a Jets fan I’ve never been a fan of the lyric “Here where the blood is spilled, the arena's filled, and Giants played their games” but it’s a bloody great song.

    There’s more, “Shackled And Drawn” and “Death To My Hometown” and the shockingly honest "This Depression" in particular. The Wrecking Ball tour was a joy to see when we had a great weekend away in Ireland for it. The gig itself featured video tributes to Clarence Clemons and Danny Federici who both had passed away. 

    Some fans regard "Wrecking Ball" as being right up there with Springsteen's classics of the '70's...it's good but to these ears not quite that good. But from here on Bruce Springsteen is back and on a creative high. His next three albums are absolutely superb and in between those he manages to squeeze in a solo residency on Broadway. Let’s get into it shall we…

    Land Of Hope And Dreams - https://youtu.be/KHpJhS99Q60?si=s12QWb8o-oeA0fBN

  2. “Working On A Dream” was recorded right after the tour to support “Magic” and Springsteen said of it “I hope ‘Working on a Dream’ has caught the energy of the band fresh off the road from some of the most exciting shows we've ever done”. I didn’t see any of the “Magic” tour so can’t comment on the shows but the album itself I don’t find at all exciting. 

    Having said that the opening song is f*cking incredible. “Outlaw Pete” is so good it was turned into a book…OK it was a graphic novel primarily aimed at children but my hardback copy of it is a treasure. Inspired by his Mom reading him tales of “Brave Cowboy Bill” as a child it tells of, well, Outlaw Pete, a hereditary bad boy who at the age of 6 months had spent 3 months in jail and robbed his first bank in a nappy and bare feet ! He eventually settles down with a Navajo girl but is hunted down by a bounty hunter. It really tells you that if you spend you time worrying about your past then that will eat up any hope you have of a future. Have a listen below if you want to know the rest, it’s epic. 

    Past that and penultimate/final song “The Last Carnival” (it is really the last song of the album but on most copies you also get Bonus Track “The Wrestler”, theme tune from the film of the same name starring Mickey Rourke who asked Bruce to write a song for it. Trivia for the fans of that Stourbridge sound…the remainder of the soundtrack for “The Wrestler” was composed by one Clint Mansell) “Working On A Dream” is real slim pickings.

    The two “Life” songs, “This Life” and “Life Itself”, just like much of “Magic” are OK and you already know I expect more than that. “Good Eye” is a thumping bluesy (I hesitate to call it the Blues) thing featuring distorted Bullet mic vocals and a looped harmonica wail. Most unusually for the verbose Springsteen it only has 6 lines of lyrics to fill up its 3 minutes. “Tomorrow Never Knows” is a gentle country-ish shuffle that sounds startlingly like Jason Isbell ! “Kingdom Of Days” may as well be “Your Own Worst Enemy” from the previous album.

    Then there is “Queen Of the Supermarket” which is, in all good conscience, best forgotten about. The Philadelphia Inquirer newspaper said of it “It just might be the worst song Springsteen has ever released on a studio album” and I’m inclined to agree (yes, even in the face of “57 Channels And Nothing On”, this is worse). How it made the album and (rumoured) outtake, if it was actually from these sessions, “Frankie Fell In Love” didn’t shall remain one of life’s great mysteries (“Frankie…” later turned up on “High Hopes” thankfully). Bruce overstretches his vocal capabilities and the song consequently sounds bloody awful.

    Between this and previous album “Magic” there’s most of a decent-ish (but not great) album to be found. Many of the songs from this album and “Magic” haven’t been performed live for 10 years or more, only 2 or 3 in the past 5 years, none at all on his current world tour and three songs from this album have NEVER been played live. We’ll simply mark these two albums down as Bruce’s “wilderness period”.

    Outlaw Pete - https://youtu.be/QRA6lWzCpCQ?si=YbW76En5maBzV3YE

  3. Here we are now in 2007. Since 1995 Bruce Springsteen had released 3 albums of new music (“…Tom Joad”, “The Rising” and “Devils & Dust”). We are about to enter a busy period with 4 new albums in the next 8 years. Sadly, the first 2 of those 4 are, to my ears, 2 of Springsteen’s weakest records, were you to ask me to rank all of his 20 studio albums the bottom 3 would certainly be “Human Touch” plus these next 2. Both of them feature 3, maybe 4, songs of a standard we’ve become used to  and thereafter seem to be padded out with the sort of things that in the past would have been shelved for the next iteration of “Tracks”. 

    “Magic” was Springsteen’s first album with the E Street Band since “The Rising” in 2002 (betwixt had been the afore mentioned “Devils & Dust” and “We Shall Overcome…”). When you read about it’s making a couple of things stick out to me. All the songs were written at the end of 2006 but Springsteen allowed producer Brendan O’Brien (who also produced “The Rising” and “Devils & Dust”) to pick which songs should go on the album. Secondly, the E Street Band never played together as a unit on this record. Some of them now had other commitments, primarily Max Weinberg who was the drummer in the house band on the talk show “Late Night With Conan O’Brien” from Monday to Friday. So while everything else was worked on during the week, Springsteen, Weinberg, bassist Garry W Tallent and pianist Roy Bittan would convene at weekends to record basic backing tracks which the rest of the band would add to during the week. It may be that this is why I always think the album has a disjointed feel to it. When you have a band as good as that you really want them all in the room together, that’s when the magic happens.

    It starts with “Radio Nowhere” a nice enough rocker but the opening riff is is so closely related to “Shame” by Eat (who I’m in absolutely no doubt Springsteen had absolutely no knowledge of but…) it’s always felt a bit off to me just because of that. “You’ll Be Coming Down” is one of the better songs on here but it still feels like an OK “Sprinsgteen by numbers” number, a good singalong live I’d imagine, not that I’ve ever heard it live. “Livin’ In The Future” starts well with a good ol’ blast of Sax from Clarence but it degenerates into something that sounds like it would have been a discarded outtake around the time of “The River”.

    Side One closes out with 2 of the better songs on “Magic”, “Gypsy Biker” and “Girls In Their Summer Clothes”. “Gypsy Biker” is suberb, an angry song, a song about loss with a moody setting and a wailing harmonica throughout giving the whole song an uncomfortable, ghostly feel. Conversely “Girls In Their Summer Clothes”, one that my wife absolutely adores, is a bang-perfect summer pop tune, on a sunny day it makes for another good old singalong. Even so you still get the feeling the singer isn’t a part of the scene, he’s looking in from the outside (“The girls in their summer clothes pass me by”) he’s not part of that crowd, just an observer.

    Over on Side Two “I'll Work For Your Love” starts with a classic Professor Roy Bittan piano intro but doesn’t really go anywhere after that. The title song would have sat easily on “…Tom Joad” or “Devils & Dust”, it’s a quiet, eerie song with a lyric that draws an outline of the likes of Trump and Boris Johnson years before they were suffered upon us (“Trust none of what you hear, And less of what you see, This is what will be”), conmen, liars. “Last To Die” is kinda formless and rushed. There’s the germ of a great song somewhere inside “Long Walk Home” but it never really breaks the surface.

    The final two songs are where it’s at. “Devils Arcade” is a pointer to the future. Here is the embryonic sound of “Western Stars” fully 12 years before we heard that album, that big orchestrated sound that made up “Western Stars” was trialled right here. It’s a song of loss, heroism, and defiance, and unusually for Springsteen is seemingly sung from a female perspective, it’s a beauty. 

    Lastly, after a long silence, is “Terry’s Song”. It was added to the track listing so late that on some initial CD copies it’s not on there. It’s a tribute from Springsteen to his long-time personal assistant Frank “Terry” Magovern. The two had met in 1972 when Bruce played the bar that Terry was managing and they clicked immediately. “Terry’s Song” was written and performed at his memorial service within 3 days of his passing. A heartfelt eulogy from one friend to another “The Taj Mahal, the pyramids of Egypt are unique, I suppose, But when they built you, brother, they broke the mould”.

    “Magic” is OK. The trouble for me is I expect better than OK from Bruce Springsteen. It’s a problem of mine more than anyone else’s. I’m sure the themes of the album and the songs themselves are things the writer is proud of, it just doesn’t move me so much. Some guys you just have to stick with even through the less than stellar times.

    Devils Arcade - https://youtu.be/zOuj5NjAJRI?si=NOKnFbEIsjqKn_Lr