Least To Most: Bruce – Human Touch

Now I can imagine that for each of the albums that precede my ‘Most’ favourite in this series there’s plenty of people that will say “actually that’s my favourite..” to pretty much all of them. With the easy and obvious exception that is Springsteen’s early-nineties output. Given the scarcity with which the tracks are touched live I don’t think even Bruce cares much for them in retrospect.

Released  on the same day in March 1992, neither Lucky Town or Human Touch have fared well with fans or critics. Perhaps it was the lack of E-Street support, perhaps it was the changing musical culture at the time but either way, I doubt that even the most die-hard will argue for their place in a Top Ten.

bruce_springsteen_-_human_touch_-_coverart_-_iOf the two I find Human Touch the overall weakest link in Bruce’s mighty discography. These were songs that Bruce had been tooling around with for some time and had, in doing so, over-cooked. If you listen  to The Christic Shows recorded in LA in 1990, many of the songs that would appear here can be heard in their early embryonic stages. They sound better. At the time it would’ve left fans eager to hear the finished result, excited by the change in direction with what sounded like some real personal stuff (though the sexually-charged ‘Red Headed Woman’ didn’t make the cut). Unfortunately when it came time to capture theses songs for release, the result was what’s now considered the nadir of Bruce’s output.

It’s not that there aren’t good songs on Human Touch it’s just that there aren’t enough of them and those that have the bones of a great song are lost under some truly awful production and sound, like ‘Soul Driver’, for example. When I do slip the cd into the car, it’s more likely that I skip through more than half of the album.

The story goes that Bruce – newly transplanted to LA – had a collection of songs that he was working on but couldn’t quite find the turning point that would bring them into a cohesive album. He wanted to continue the theme and practice of not employing the E-Street Band he’d started with Tunnel of Love and try a new approach. Then he met up with a similarly newly-moved Roy Bittan who showed him his new recording set up and synths before playing his former-Boss a few tunes he’d worked on. Inspired, Bruce went home, added a few parts and lyrics to those tracks and  a long period trying to find the ‘sound’ and working with session players followed before the album was complete*.

Of those Bittan co-writes that made Human TouchRoll of the Dice‘ is Springsteen-by-numbers but without the heart and force of the E-Street band to lift it beyond over-glossed territory. On the other hand, ‘Real World’ is perhaps the most fully-realised of his ‘men and women’ concept that many had hoped for. There’s just not enough of it and the players and production still mar what should have been a classic.

While the production (the one and only time Roy Bittan received a credit for such) is very much of it’s time and the slick sound has never suited Bruce. It would be the last ‘rock’ album he’d release before he released that he wasn’t the right person to produce his music any more. The album does have some strong contenders, not least it’s classic title track, that stand up well to repeated listens. ‘With Every Wish’ is a great tune as is ‘I Wish I Were Blind‘. They’re more relaxed, less drenched in studio-session  sound and are genuine, occasionally even tender tunes that, along with ‘Human Touch’ and ‘Real World’ are the most realised on the album. Indeed, some of his best lyrics can be found within the title track: “you can’t shut off the risk and the pain, without losing the love that remains”.

Unfortunately the remainder – to my ears – sound more like what a songwriter trying to write like Bruce Springsteen would create. They seem hollow-boned and attempts to cover the gaps with gloss and force (which may have worked with the E-Street) via top notch session players just fall flat. At the time it wasn’t so condemned but now, further on up the road, it’s blighted by dated guitar tones and synthesisers and drum beats that simply don’t measure up to Max.

Thankfully, Human Touch may have been the first release of the nineties from Mr Springsteen but from here it was only upwards in terms of quality and its sister release was a whole other story.

In the spirit of ‘what might have been’ – some of the tracks deemed not suitable for Human Touch would later appear on Tracks and, shorn of the production elements that blight it, sound (just a touch mind) a little better than those duffs rounding out the numbers here. I’d gladly swap ‘When the Lights Go Out’ for ’57 Channels’ and I still enjoy ‘Seven Angels’.

Highlights: Human Touch, Real World, With Every Wish, I Wish I Were Blind

Lowlights: Soul Driver, Man’s Job, 57 Channels and Nothin’ On, All Or Nothin’ At All



*Almost – he felt he needed one more song, wrote ‘Living Proof’ and instead dashed off enough tracks to make Lucky Town in just a few days.

10 thoughts on “Least To Most: Bruce – Human Touch

  1. Ah, yes. The much maligned (by fans) Human Touch. There’s a guy in Esquire magazine who writes (or wrote) a colunn called ‘The Indefensible Position.’ So he was often the contrarian. So let me be that guy in this case – I like this album. I listened to it again after reading your post so it’d be fresh in my mind. I think this is a good album that could be improved by shaving a few tunes, tighteing up the production, adding back in songs that were culled. (I believe that ‘Sad Eyes’ from Tracks was intended for this album).

    I like all the songs you posted. And am I the only person who likes ‘All or Nothing at All?” A catchy chorus. I think sometimes that fans slagged this album initially because the E Street band was missing and they wanted to hear that sax, those glockenspiels etc. I think if Bruce had taken Lucky Town and Human Touch, perhaps made them one album it’d be a classic.

    I’ll agree this is not a top ten album but of course they can’t all be. But if I handed this album to a Bruce neophyte and said ‘This is one of his Least,’ if he liked Bruce at all I can’t imagine him (or her) not saying, ‘If this is the worst he’s got to offer, I eagerly anticipate the rest!’

    • If this is the worst he’s got to offer, I eagerly anticipate the rest!’ – absolutely agree. And, as I said in the intro, I’m a big fan so anything Bruce puts out is likely to stand above albums by other artists. Bruce’s worst is often better than others’ finer. But, as I just said in the Lucky Town wrap – he set the bar so damn high with his earlier works not just for others but for himself, it feels a little lacking.
      I think it became a case that it was left too long to stew and there’s some great tunes on here (I like the chorus of All.. just not the overall sound) that were marred by trend and players.
      Indeed, I’ve just touched on the combination of this with Lucky Town too.

  2. I just found an interview from circa ’92 where Bruce admits that, after Lucky Town arrived fully formed he deliberated long and hard about not releasing Human Touch as that album didn’t; he spent a year and a half trying to piece parts together and working at it to find an album. However, he saw that Guns ‘n’ Roses released two albums at once, liked the album himself and felt that it was more of a chronicle as to how he got from the theme/place of Tunnel of Love to the contentment and joy of Lucky Town. Does put a little more light on it for me.

  3. Pingback: Least to Most; Bruce – I’m just around the corner to the light of day | Mumbling About…

  4. Agree with alot of the comments above – would agree with the overall placement towards bottom of his albums, and the fact that many of the songs were overproduced and cooked too long. I think it says alot about Bruce as an artist that he decided he needed just one more tune and then proceeded to write a whole album that for my money is much better. Agree with Jim’s comment that if he had combined the two album’s worth of songs into one cutting the lesser ones it would be way up towards top. I also wonder what would have happened if he had toured again with the E St band and these songs. Seeing him on that tour it just wasnt the same, and I agree again with Jim that some of the feelings towards the album had to do with antipathy towards the new band. I know that Shane Fontayne has alot of talent, but his jerky almost spastic playing style during that tour drove me nuts and having the multiinstrumentalist women (cant remember her name) come out and do Clarence’s sax solo on Baldands (or was it BTR) was almost sacrilegious.

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