Listened to Springsteen's new album streamed at NPR, and here are my initial thoughts...
1.) "Outlaw Pete." Love the strings in the beginning as the song builds, but it gets weak when Bruce's voice is isolated -- and cracks. When it picks up, it's a salvageable opening track.
2. "My Lucky Day." I love the tempo. Was just OK with this on first listen, when the video was posted online. I think it will grow on me.
3. "Working on a Dream." NBC did a terrible job of "premiering" this song during halftime of a Sunday Night Football game. The network spliced together bits and pieces to play over football highlights, and it was horrible. That said, even upon hearing the full version, it may be one of the worst title tracks in the Springsteen catalog (up against "Human Touch" and "Lucky Town"). I'm fine with the verses, but the choruses grate on me a bit.
4. "Queen of the Supermarket." The fourth track? Really? Something like this is probably best left for a hidden "bonus" track. "I'm in love with the queen of the supermarket"? Kind of ridiculous. If he plays this on tour, it'll be the biggest rush to the bathroom of any song.
5. "What Love Can Do." A pretty good recovery after "Supermarket." Upbeat, layered vocals, some guitar licks that stand out, a short solo ... and some train imagery. Bruce goes back to his reliable building blocks.
6. "This Life." Definitely feels like a cousin of Magic, which is what this album essentially is. Several tracks stand apart from that sound, but this one is very similar to "Girls in Their Summer Clothes."
7. "Good Eye." The bullet microphone is back. It must be on a lighter setting than when he used it on his solo tour following Devils & Dust or "A Night with the Jersey Devil" last Halloween, because it's not as annoying. This is a bit of a honky-tonk rocker.
8. "Tomorrow Never Knows." Easily my favorite track. I slid the bar back to hear it again. A folksy, toe-tapping tune that brings to mind several other artists: Arlo or Woody Guthrie, Jakob Dylan, even the railroad-like guitar work of Johnny Cash. Could have come off of The Seeger Sessions.
9. "Life Itself." Again, echoes of Magic. Another one about which I had doubts when hearing online a few weeks ago. But I think it, too, will grow on me.
10. "Kingdom of Days." Meh. After the first listen, can't tell if I hate it or could come to like it. One thought: On the "Walk away, walk away, walk away" refrain, I actually could see young white teens singing along, heads bobbing back and forth, eyes closed, hands held high, in one of those "Songs 4 Worship" commercials. That's probably not good.
11. "Surprise, Surprise." I can live with this one. It's peppy and upbeat, with a guitar solo in the middle. No real -- ahem -- surprises.
12. "The Last Carnival." Ending -- at least before the bonus track that we've all heard already -- with a quiet, slow number. A bit ethereal, with shades of Toad the Wet Sprocket (to me). This one, of course, is Bruce's elegy to departed bandmate Dan Federici.
13. "The Wrestler." Right behind "Tomorrow Never Knows" for favorite status, and I haven't even seen the movie yet. The emotion of the words and music fit the images in the trailer so well, just as they did in the video for "Streets of Philadelphia," so it's no wonder this song won the Golden Globe. I expect an Oscar nomination on Thursday and a likely win in February.
My issues with this album may stem from its release so soon after Magic, which I felt was his best work since Born in the U.S.A. That album sat so well with me that this one had a lot to live up to before I ever pressed -- er, clicked -- play. We'll see how it sounds when I can take it with me -- listening in the car, on a run or on the way to work. It will almost assuredly sit differently with me when I'm not tied to my computer to hear it.
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