A little too wild, but sincere and it shows. Let the band play, Brucey.
Review by: Charly Saenz (Out of competition!)
Assigned by: Marissa Ashenfarb
There was once an American Rocker, with big hearted dreams and small pubs gigs, his relentless band with great musicians, and his own music to go along. No, I’m not talking about the Piano Man (Elton John!). This is not the arena rock Bruce you’ll get to know (and love, I bet), mind you. This is a wild and innocent young man who played as hard and as black as he could (Dream on White Boy…). Innocent young man I said? Well it’s hard to be a saint in the city but.. that’s a story from the future.
Bruce tastes all kind of flavours in his debut. Which is fine, it’s a candy store (rock) and you gotta see what’s your thing. The opening song “The E-Street Shuffle”, is quite the R&B affair, heavy bass, all horns, Motown in the chorus. Fabulous song if you ask me, full of space for the band. God, these days Bruce was not that far from Paul Weller.. in 5 years.
I gotta tell you about Garry W. Tallent (adequate last name): what a bass player! and he played the tuba too. Smart guy, the boss, saving money in the horns section.
In other spots, Bruce starts to develop his traditional style. It doesn’t always work for me. Sometimes I feel Bruce sings too many words, and sometimes there’s too much of a big, convoluted sound (dangerously close to that ugly mammoth called “Born To Run”), as in “Rosalita”, which in fact has no spanish (or mexican or whatever) musical tone in my opinion to go along with the title. Well, the slower parts work much better, I’m not such a fan of the E-Street band rave-ups. I try to dance to it, but my head hurts. Worst thing is, this is “la piece de resistance” in this album. It’s not bad at all, but a little underwhelming for me.
Other classics here like “4th of july, Asbury Park” work better – I’ve always loved Sandy and Mary and all her sisters and their stories: sue me. But I think at this moment Sandy wasn’t ready for the prime time, in lyrics terms. There’s too much words and I don’t feel moved (Compare “The aurora is risin’ behind us/The pier lights our carnival live forever” with any bit in The River or Darkness In The Edge Of Town and you’ll see). Still it’s a nice lullaby and I’d play it in the porch while waiting for.. Sandy, you know. Random thought: In a way Mark Knopfler might be more of a Springsteen son than Dylan’s if you think about it. There’s that italian canzonetta feel in the chorus: Good.
Another highlight is “Kitty’s Back” – This would have fit snuggedly in Shaft’s soundtrack, my God. This is good, as “Born To Run” can’t even dream to be (though the lyrics were better there: you can’t have it all). The groove is fantastic. I can almost hear “Heatwave” in parts. WAIT is that Clarence at 6:35? You betcha. Taking control, the man. Goosebumps.
“Wild Billy’s Circus Story”? I’m on the fence about this one. This is all about the lyrics now, and this goes like what? “Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts” all over! (OH WAIT Dylan hasn’t released that yet?). One thing I’ll tell you: the tuba is amazing: Tallent. And about 3:00 there’s some delicious guitar plucking, some mean harmonica and a sweet banjo. I’m sold, alright, you get a pass. Anyway, “Incident on 57th street” is more directly engaging, and I love what Vini Lopez did here on drums, but the whole band shines after Bruce runs out of lyrics, finally (that lonely bass & drum at around 4:00 with Bruce smoothly crooning, well done) Bruce plays that guitar solo on the end? Really? that’s slick. And the piano coda is a little delight too.
To wrap things up, “New York City Serenade” starts on a mystery classic tone. Film Noir Springsteen, you know. A different scene indeed. Bruce’s voice is different too (A motorbike accident? Woodstock retirement?). Well after all it’s a serenade. And all of a sudden at 5:20 there’s a gospel surge! Just a bit. And then some soul, jazzy piano and that magnificent bass. It’s a cute little (but long, yet not overlong) song to say goodbye for now. Clarence does his bits too. Wasn’t he a little underused? Or misused? I’m never sure, but he was a heck of a player.
All in all this is a humble, heartfelt album. Some songs might use a little trimming? I don’t know, it would break the freedom feeling, perhaps. The lyrics are traditional Boss stuff but, the expertise is not there yet, for sure. I like the soulful parts. A lot. It will be better by the second album. Then eventually it will all become too much: Landau, you ruined my boy!