Tuesday, January 21, 2014

A Dashing of Hopes

Einstein and Shakespeare, sittin' havin' a beer
Einstein tryin' to figure out the number that adds up to bliss
Shakespeare says, "Man it all starts with a kiss.
Einstein is scratchin' numbers on his napkin
Shakepeare says, "Man it's just one and one makes three,
That's why it's poetry."
-Bruce Springsteen

Approximately six weeks ago in this space I revealed my lack of enthusiasm for "High Hopes", latest Springsteen release, which dropped on Tuesday, January 14.  I acknowledged that - at the time I expressed my concern I had not the record.  The opinion I expressed was not well-received in some circles - although that particular post has inspired an extraordinarily freakish level of interest.  Since writing it in late November 2013 it has been viewed close to 2,000 times....or more than five hundred times more than any other thing I have ever written.  Quite odd.  I have been filling this space for close to six years now.  It never ceases to amaze me when a post somehow takes on a life of its own.  I have never understood it.   

I ordered my copy of "High Hopes" through Amazon and it arrived at my house on the 16th.  Courtesy of the incredibly cheesy cross-promotion that ended up with several of the album's tracks airing as part of an episode of the CBS Sunday night drama The Good Wife I had taken full advantage of the free streaming of the record on cbs.com for a week or so prior to its release date. 

As is my habit when I get my hands on a new Springsteen release I play it to death.  I have listened to it - any only it - in my car since my CD arrived on Thursday.  I have listened to the entire record - end to end - dozens of times thus far.  To no small degree it breaks my music-loving heart to say this:  I am not a fan.  I do not like this record.  Springsteen's music has been an integral part of my day-to-day for fast approaching four decades now.  This "miss" (as I perceive it) shall not dilute that passion.  I remain an enthusiastic Springsteen fan.  This collection however is one that shall not ever occupy a warm place in my heart. 

If you have listened to it, are listening to it and you enjoy it, then I hope you continue to do so. I hope it continues to bring you listening pleasure.  I am not a music critic.  Unless we are counting the kazoo I can not play a single musical instrument.  I make no pretense about my personal take on this record being a definitive, holier-than-thou expression on the subject.  I am not Dave Marsh.  I am simply one man.  These thoughts are simply my thoughts.  Nothing more.  Nothing less. 

As someone who considers Springsteen to be his musical hero and the principal occupant of slots in the jukebox of his life, it gives me no great pleasure to express how disappointing a record this one is to me.  Worse than my feeling of disappointment over what is to me an assemblage of utterly non-memorable tracks that occupy space on it is my anger at the fact that one of my favorite Springsteen songs, "The Ghost of Tom Joad", has now been bastardized.  The lead vocal-swapping between Springsteen and Tom Morello irritated me sufficiently in and of itself.  However, Morello's two-minute guitar solo that overewhelms the song's final two minutes complete with chirps and other inane whammy bar-style sound effects was enough to make me think that Springsteen recorded this track with Van Halen in the 1980's.  Truth be told, it is worse than that for me.  The guitar solo's special effects reduces a great song to something akin to a shitty Steve Miller Band song - as if there is any other kind.  Worse yet from my admittedly selfish perspective:  it does not make "Dream Baby Dream" the most difficult song for me to listen to on this record.  That, I assure you, is no small accomplishment.

Perhaps it is a reflection of how far he has come in the past forty years that the same master craftsman who oversaw the Big Man's saxophone solo note by note on "Jungleland" appears as if he ceded control of the studio to the man he refers to in this record's liner notes as "his muse" and went out to take a leak while Morello was doing whatever the f*ck he felt like doing.  For the past three decades, one of the all time virtuoso guitar players in rock and roll has shared the stage with Springsteen.  To my knowledge, Nils Lofgren has never had free rein to make noise for noise's sake.  Yet, for reasons that make little sense to me (and I realize they do not need to as my name appears nowhere on the record) someone who is not even a member of the E Street Band was given just that type of carte blanche here. 

"The Wall" is, for me, a stand-alone masterpiece.  For me, it so far exceeds everything that comes before it and after it on this record it is as if it parachuted in from someplace else and ended up here by pure happenstance.  A few of the other tracks are - for me - fine as well.  "Frankie Fell in Love", "Just Like Fire Would", "Harry's Place" and "This Is Your Sword" merit a mention.  Too many of them give off the unmistakable aroma of "filler".  In my opinion - and that is all this is and not a damn thing more or less - it is a record replete with songs whose recording was wholly unnecessary and whose legacy shall be mere gossamer....

....or in the words of the Bard himself, "Sound and fury signifying nothing." 


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