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Mike Dow Mike Dow
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edge staff writer


New Bruce - Boring in the U.S.A.

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The marriage of music and politics is tricky. For each instance where it works, (Neil Young's 'Rocking in the Free World' - as good as it gets), you could cite 10 where it doesn't (including Neil Young's 'Living With War' - ugh). On Tuesday, March 6, Bruce Springsteen will issue his 17th studio album, 'Wrecking Ball' - a collection of mostly angry songs with Springsteen assuming the role of various characters who feel betrayed by the promise of the American Dream. After I listened to 'Wrecking Ball,' I felt betrayed by the promise of a good Springsteen album. It hurts to admit that - I'm a fan and I sometimes wonder if I'm the only one who feels let down by most everything Bruce has issued over the past 20 years.

Over the last 40 years, Bruce Springsteen has delivered some of the most vital, joyous, engaging and thoughtful songs in rock. Now that I think of it, most of those songs appeared during his first 20 years of recording.

I remember the first time I heard Bruce's 'Born to Run.' That 4 and a half minute ball of energy came crackling out of a crappy little AM radio sitting on top of an overturned potato barrel. I was 11 years old and had no idea who Bruce Springsteen was or where he was running to or from, but I knew I loved it. 'Born to Run' was the perfect synthesis of rock and masterful songwriting wrapped up in an elegant wall of sound production.

Next to 'That's The Way ( I Like It)' by K.C. & The Sunshine Band, 'Rhinestone Cowboy' by Glen Campbell, 'Love Will Keep Us Together' by Captain and Tennille and 'Convoy' by C.W. McCall, 'Born to Run' was as startling as sitting in a movie theater watching 'The Apple Dumpling Gang' only to have the projectionist suddenly switch reels to 'Monty Python and the Holy Grail.'

The 'Born to Run' album stands as one of rock's perfect albums. Every second of every song is essential. Bruce wrote songs that were fierce, mysterious, dramatic, dangerous, exciting and fun. That was a long time ago.

He kept it coming with 'Darkness on the Edge of Town' (1978), 'The River' (1980) and a stylistic shift to acoustic folk with the home demo album 'Nebraska' (1982), and then saw his greatest commercial success with 'Born in the U.S.A.' (1984). That record provided him with seven radio hits (eight if you count the B-side 'Pink Cadillac,' which many stations played as if it was a hit). Prince, Michael Jackson and Van Halen may have had great years, but 1984 really belonged to Bruce.

More albums followed, including 'Tunnel of Love' (1987), which had a few hits and a lot of filler - something that had never troubled a Springsteen record to that point. Five years later, he pulled the unusual move of releasing two different albums on the same day. 'Human Touch' and 'Lucky Town' had only a few decent songs between them.

The wheels came off the bus in 1995 when Bruce issued 'The Ghost of Tom Joad' - an album of acoustic bummers inspired by 'The Grapes of Wrath.' If executives at Columbia were cranky about issuing two competing Bruce albums on the same day, they must have been apoplectic at the prospect of another 'art album' from one of their shining stars.

'The Rising' appeared in July, 2002. A musical reaction to the events of 9/11, it went straight to number one and earned him a Grammy for best rock album - an award based more on sentiment than musical merit. He may have had the best intentions but, clearly, Bruce didn't have any good songs.

'Devils and Dust' was a 2005 acoustic tanker. The fact that it was one of his worst albums to date didn't keep it from hitting #1. 'Magic' (2007) and 'Working on a Dream' (2009) had their moments and gave me a glimmer of hope that he could still write a song to make me care, but he wasn't there yet.

'Wrecking Ball' is a plodding mess, full of plaintive dirges that attempt to make up in eagerness what they lack in substance. Worse than that, it's boring. If it had been issued by an unknown artist, I can almost guarantee we would never have known about it. The message isn't the big problem here - I'd be happy to listen to Bruce sing about anything as long as the songs are good.

At this point, it's too much to expect Bruce Springsteen to deliver a record as valuable as 'Born to Run.' He's not the same, we're not the same. In 1975, he was young, hungry and had everything to prove. The album came from its time, place and circumstance, and if Bruce's finest songs are long behind him, that's OK.

For many fans, the best music he has released in the last 20 years are outtakes, alternates and B-sides in the form of 'Tracks' (4 discs of unreleased material from 1971-1995) and 'The Promise' (2 discs of outtakes from the 'Darkness on the Edge of Town' sessions). He was having fun in those recordings - something that has been sorely missing from most Springsteen albums over the last 20 years.

Rumor has it, Bruce has enough quality unreleased material in the vault to issue a new album every year for 20 years. I hope he keeps playing those amazing shows, but as for future albums, it might be time to sit back, open the vault and give his fans what they really want: the glory days.

Mike Dow is part of 'The Mike and Mike Show' airing each morning on Kiss 94.5. Connect with him at and


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