April 29, 2005

DISC DISCUSSION

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Bruce Springsteen -- Devils & Dust

Devils & Dust (Columbia) isn't a typical Bruce Springsteen album -- and for multiple reasons. Staffers Chris M. Junior and Mike Madden take a look at the latest from the Boss.

Chris M. Junior: Since February, the common belief -- or fear, depending on one's Springsteen allegiance and musical preference -- was that Devils & Dust would be a solo acoustic album, with the Boss in full-fledged folkie mode. While the E Street Band does sit this one out, and while Springsteen does pick and strum unplugged, other musicians contribute a definite full-band feel to the songs "All the Way Home" and "Long Time Comin'," the latter of which can be described as a scaled-down anthem.

Mike Madden: Not only are there those two full band songs, but elsewhere, "Maria's Bed" and "All I'm Thinkin' About" are both prime candidates for a fleshed-out, live-band treatment. They work here for two reasons: Springsteen has the ability to write songs that have great adaptability, and he's singing higher than usual, which keeps the tempo up.

Junior: Well, any potential fleshing out of those songs will have to wait until his current solo tour is over. As far as singing higher than usual: Producer Brendan O'Brien should have stopped Springsteen from doing that. The end result is laughable and an embarrassment. If he wanted to sing falsetto, he should have studied such masters as Smokey Robinson and Barry Gibb.

Madden: But by breaking his usual acoustic album vocal formula of gruff and mumble, this makes the album that much more memorable. For better or worse, those falsetto songs stand out. Similarly, the biblical imagery in "Jesus Was an Only Son" is the most straightforward Springsteen has ever been on an album about religion. It's been alluded to and referenced before, but never as literal as it is here.

Junior: Those so-called falsetto songs are memorable in that they'll be hard to forget just how ridiculous he sounds singing them. Springsteen's vocals are an issue elsewhere, too. His volume and phrasing are far from smooth on "Reno." While the lyrics about an encounter with a prostitute are vivid, he sounds bored as he practically talks his way through the story.

Madden: If anything on the album should be considered a mistake, it's "Reno." That isn't what longtime listeners come to expect from Springsteen. Sure, he's sprinkled some innuendo throughout his work before ("Red Headed Woman"), but never as blatantly and unnecessarily as he does here.

Junior: Again, depending on one's love of Springsteen, "Reno" could either be considered a lyrical triumph or tragedy. What's most surprising about the racy song is how it didn't warrant a "Parental Advisory: Explicit Content" sticker on the cover of the CD. Apparently the line " 'Two hundred straight in, two-fifty up the ass,' she smiled and said" isn't as bad as a rapper dropping a few f-bombs.

Musically speaking, the album's string parts are a nice touch. In fact, the instrumental arrangements are solid throughout, and they probably will be overlooked by those fans who are consumed with dissecting every word that comes out of Springsteen's mouth.

Madden: O'Brien deserves a Grammy for the production on this album. "Long Time Comin' " is a crowning achievement and should be considered one of Springsteen's best songs over the past decade. However, it is true that he usually is under the microscope for what he's singing. Those who see him primarily as a songwriter can look at Devils & Dust and take solace in the fact that Springsteen has done his job. He tells his stories, he preaches his sermons and he paints those lyrical pictures.

Posted by medleyville at April 29, 2005 09:11 PM
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