New Springsteen: Love It or Hate It?

Caught in a time warp of confusion and despair? Yeah me,
too: I can’t figure out why critics are so divided on the new Bruce Springsteen
release either. It’s a real headscratcher.

Here’s Rolling Stone yammering on about why it is the golden
age of rock’s second coming (excuse the expression), and my own local paper
calling it unsatisfying and overproduced. An 8-minute epic opener, rambling
lyrical structures, tempo changes galore? It’s all hell-and-a-handbasket,
finger-pointing and caustic accusations in the world of mainstream rock, a
disconcerting time to be a lonely Obama fanboy to be sure, what with all the pervasive
federal health care we now enjoy, ubiquitous free high-speed Internet in every
state, and the historic end to world poverty and abject terrorism. You’d think
all music released after January 20 would be equally ground shattering and
monumental.

Springsteen is doing his darn-dangnabit best to fall in line
with all the political changes. Did I mention that the first song is 8 minutes
long? Now that’s EPIC, my friend, and the new U2 has not even been fully leaked
yet. I think we will all start sprouting little angelic wings and living
forever soon, but so far the music of 2009 has not exactly warmed my heart.
Honestly, I’m not even sure I want to go out on limb on this one. Working on a Dream is both unsatisfying
and spectacular. It’s sort of like driving a really hot car on an Arizona
highway with your significant other, wind blowing your hair six ways to Sunday.
It’s just an infinite blast, worth every penny if you go for the deluxe version
on iTunes.

And yet. We’re the RELEVANT crowd, we demand a little more,
right? I was listening to the lyrics and how they grab handfuls of airy sentiments
from previous Springsteen outings and sort of leave you feeling empty. All of
our hopes and desires wrapped up in a jewel case at Wal-Mart, counting the days
until the Superbowl half-time show, and all Springsteen can sing about is New
York stars and cars? He’s an icon who apparently can’t think of a better rhyme
structure than “bless” and “expect” (where expect is sung more like “espess”).
I mean, if this triumvirate of 80s revival rock (this one, Magic, and The
Rising) is truly a glorious expression, do the lyrics have to remind me of a
Hallmark movie?

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Then the guy hits you with a song like “Good Eye.” Dang if
this is not the best Springsteen song ever. It’s one part Tom Waits and one
part combustible engine, with harmonica. Who needs intelligent lyrics when you
have this emotional grit? I also love the balladry stuff, faint glimmers of
Nebraska—like Springsteen straining to find a note on The Wrestler (see
Wilco on the song Chicago), a guttural surprise. “My only faith is in the bruises
and broken bones I display” he croons, and I’m right there, wondering the same
thing. Faith reduced to marrow, physical expressions from soulless criminals.

So I’m undecided, a stalemate. I need to listen more. And,
if you know the answer, please post in comments. I’d love to hear your reasons
for loving or hating the album.

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