Quick List: A French Top Five

So as the news arrives that France has decided not to vote in a fascist president* (even if 11 million of them did vote for one –  what the fuck mes amies?) I thought that I’d revisit the Top Five / Out of Europe format with a quick list of those songs – a sort of “this is what we’re saying goodbye to” from those countries that will remain part of the EU long after our pathetically ego-driven and pig-ignorant leader has ripped us from it.

Already covered: Sweden

France is, of course, our closest neighbour. Living down in Kent I’ve always been aware of that proximity and, when I worked down by the coast I’d see it on a daily basis, the rising of the North’s cliffs and coast on the horizon, often pulling up for lunch, looking at it across the Channel and wondering about the culture that dwelt over such a small stretch of water and just how close, within reach exploring it was. It was my first taste of wanderlust.

As it would happen, I ended up spending a large amount of time in France and Paris a few years later as my wife was still living there for the first year or so of our relationship. As such, while you end up with mixed feelings about any country / place you spend a lot of time in, I hold many a fond memory for the place and most of these songs are tied up in that.

So…. in no particular order and trying to cover as good a spread of genres as possible….

Noir Désir – Lost

Yeah…. so; this kind of enters into the whole separation of art from artist and whether you a) can and b) is the art more important than the artist. Given that everything Noir Désir recorded preceded Bertrand Cantat’s violent and fatal assault of his girlfriend** it should be the case that one of France’s biggest rock band’s work remains free to stand alone but it’s a heavy shadow that’s been cast over it. Still, as I’ve said before – I wasn’t aware of this when I got into the band and I still enjoy the music as it reminds of me of my time there, having discovered them while sat in traffic in Paris and listening to the radio. This one comes from their final album des Visages des Figures, a more brooding affair than previous efforts but a successful one.

MC Solaar  – Nouveau western

A genius recasting of Serge Gainsbourg et Brigitte Bardot’s 1968 classic French song ‘Bonnie and Clyde’ – that song itself reportedly based on a poem Bonnie Parker had written moments before she and Clyde Barrow were gunned down. MC Solaar – or Claude M’Barali to give him his full name – was one of the first to get rap through to the mainstream in France. ‘Nouvaeu Western’ tackles racism and colonialism, is catchy as hell and features an absolutely brilliant video.

M83 – Kim & Jessie | Air – All I Need

If we’re talking French electronic music (and not discussing Jean-Michel Jarre) there’s got be three bands that will come up: Daft Punk, Air and M83. I like a bit of Daft Punk but couldn’t really say I listen to any of it enough to warrant a place for it here. M83’s ‘Kim & Jessie’ had me hooked from the opening with those monumental electric drum hits. There’s something so surging, nostalgic and warm about this song that’s irrefutably good. Air’s ‘All I Need’ from their first album Moon Safari (nearly 20 years old ffs) has a similar effect on me, just bliss.

Yann Tiersen – “J’y suis jamais allé”

Man I could probably fill another post with rambling about French films and their soundtracks and may well do at a later date when you know… procrastination allows.  I’d have to talk about Eric Serra’s soundtrack work and give off gas about Subway or how addictive I find from Enae Volare from Les Visiteurs and….  Let’s get this list finished first though.  Probably the most well known soundtrack and most obviously ‘French’ of the lot though is this piece from the mighty Yann Tiersen’s second album Rue des cascades as it would go on to feature in his soundtrack for Amelie five years later, catapulting it and Tiersen to a much greater audience. I still love it though, cliché as it may be.

This is, of course a quick list – ie; those that came to me first. If I sat down and gave it more thought then a) this would never get finished and posted and b) I would likely swap a few but then….

Honourable mentions:

Yael Naim – Paris

Alain Bashung – J’écume

Charlotte Gainsbourg – 5:55

Eric Serra – Guns and People

*I’m trying (clearly not completely succeeding) to avoid politics on this blog but I will say that while I celebrate any victory over far-right, holocaust-denying fascism I don’t believe Macron is a strong result either and the thing with his wife….. forget about it.

**Cantat was sentenced to 8 years in prison for Involuntary Manslaughter and was released on parole having served 4. During his time in prison his house was burnt down. After his release – much protested by the band made a brief attempt at returning but the guitarist called it quits citing  “emotional, human and musical differences” with Cantant and the band announced it was done. Cantant has continued in music though this remains a controversial discussion point in the musical press and community.

Colin Hay…

“All around is anger, automatic guns
Death in large numbers, no respect for woman, or our little ones
I tried talking to Jesus, but he just put me on hold
Said he’d been swamped by calls this week
And He could not shake his cold…”

This was going to be another instalment in the “Tracks” series I started sometime ago -and have added to sporadically since -about Colin Hay’s ‘Beautiful World’. Except that every time I listen to ‘Beautiful World’ I end up cueing up another Colin Hay song and another… so I thought I’d have a bit of a ramble about and around the fella and his music. Or the bits of it that I know / like at least.

You see and there’s something so mellow and addictively charming about Colin Hay’s work that it’s something of a go-to when I feel the need to chill a bit and feel the air going in… and out… It’s also something of an uncomplicated palate cleanser as I wind down after the Springsteen marathon. He’s a bloody fine acoustic player and has a way with a song that’s both simple and affecting as well as a fair bit of humour. Perhaps it’s also the Australia connection to it that I enjoy like so many other things from Down Under.

Born in Scotland before moving to Australia with his family when he was in his teens, Colin Hay is perhaps best known to many for the pop-rock / new wave band he formed with his new mates; Men At Work. Aside from their ubiquitous hit ‘Down Under’, Men At Work rode the wave of interest in all things antipodean in the 80’s and scored international hits with songs like ‘Who Can It Be Now?‘ and ‘Overkill’ – of which Colin Hay would make a cracking acoustic version during his solo career:

Which is probably how Colin Hay solo found a larger audience courtesy of his playing it throughout an episode of ‘Scrubs’.  Hay went solo after Men At Work called it quits in 1985, his first album on his own following a couple of years later. Like all band leaders who go solo, it took him a while to find his own way, as Wikipedia has him saying: “After Men at Work, for the better part of a decade, I was stumbling around being unfocused. It was pre-internet, I really had to try to find my audiences by going out on tour. Men at Work really didn’t build a foundational audience. We came in as a pop band with enormous radio success; once that goes away and the band breaks up the audience tends to go away with it. You’re left with what you want to make of it. ”

Another Zach Braff vehicle – the 2004 film ‘Garden State’ – is where I, and I’m sure countless others, first became aware of Colin Hay, though. The film and its high selling (1.3 million copies) soundtack features Hay’s haunting ‘I Just Don’t Think I’ll Ever Get Over You’:

The song itself is from Hay’s 1998 album and my favourite of his, Transcendental Highway. It’s on this album – and it’s predecessor Topanga – that Hay really finds his voice as a solo artist. He even manages – with ‘My Brilliant Feat‘ – to muse on his former success and current situation; “A jack to a king and back, then you have to pay to play”. There’s not a bad tune on it and every album since has been what I’d call ‘solid’ to ‘pretty bloody good actually’, each delivering a few nuggets to add to the iPod at least. Occasionally bordering on ‘adult contemporary’, more often acoustic with wry lyrics and always offering proof that Mr Hay has a way of creating a catchy tune.

So, along with those included above I think I’d also give a shout out to those tunes gathered below.

25 Years of Alive

Blimey… 25 years?

Where does time go? Anyway, a quick share in between editing other posts: I’m loving this video that  Kevin Shuss (Pearl Jam’s videographer) put together to celebrate Pearl Jam’s induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (thoughts here).

Pearl Jam are right up there at the top of my Unimpeachables list (I ought to write that list down really). I’ve been listening to the Vs/Vitalogy box (and the live album included) in the car for the last week or so and given that I believe this era  represents peak Pearl Jam I was most definitely heartened by the band’s published response to the ‘drummer debacle’ that had been stirred by their induction*:

This brings three things to mind:
1. Just how many years I’ve been loving this band.
2. They are a decent bunch of guys really
3. It’s been three and a half years since Lightning Bolt! What the fuck, guys? Get your arses in the studio already ffs.

*Though I, and many, are certainly not impressed by their cropping out of former drummers when it comes to photos on social media etc.

Current Plays

I’m still on a bit of a Bruce break before delving into the Top 5* next week so here’s a little of what I’m playing at the moment.

Jets To Brazil – Wishlist

After the demise of the punk-leaning Jawbreaker, Blake Schwarzenbach went indie-rock with the more melodic Jets To Brazil. I love the line “If ever I should seem to take for granted, this lovely life that I have been handed, darling don’t just stand there, come knock me around.”

JJ Grey & Mofro – King Hummingbird

A band I found via House of Cards and have explored a little more since. A real earthy, blues/rock jam band feel with plenty to enjoy. This is from their fifth album Georgia Warhouse and is the kind of ballad that Chris Robinson would have given his right arm to write / sing.

Chamberlain – Lovely and Alone

On the subject of bluesier sounds…. I got into Chamberlain thanks to one of those long-since departed record shops that had notes / guides from the staff: “for fans of…” “..latest project from…” sort of thing. Formed by members of hardcore band Split Lip, Chamberlain saw them move into a more mature sound and focused on the vocals, never really cut through despite getting a pretty solid fan following. I got hold of Exit 263 while they were still around and later found out that it’s actually a collection of demos they compiled for release after it was rejected by their label. Shame…

Talking Heads – And She Was

Because nothing beats a classic.

One more?

Prince – Sometimes It Snows In April

Because his music is now up on Spotify I’ve been building my own Purple play list. Sat at the piano saying goodbye to his alter-ego from the Under The Cherry Moon film…

 

 

*Tricky as, definitely for the Top 4, the order from this point could change daily.

**They’re like buses: you wait years and then two Black Crowes references in as many posts. Maybe I’ll dust off The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion

Least to Most; Bruce – Magic

“I tried to combine personal and political, so you can read into the songs either way. You can read the record as a comment on what’s been going on, or you can read it just as relationship songs.”

bruce_springsteen_-_magicIn December 2016 Bruce sat down with Brendan O’Brien at his home, handed him a book of lyrics and then played the tunes on his guitar, offering the producer the pick of the litter. The two then decamped to Atlanta again and with a core band of Springsteen, Weinberg, Bittan and Tallent, laid the basic tracks for the album. Other band members were called in to lay down their parts as needed and sessions were complete within two months. Another example of the pair’s more precise recording practice, it meant that without the opportunity to spend protracted amounts of time exploring alternative avenues and ideas, all effort and concentration focused on the one group of songs and bringing them to perfection. Shorn of the fiddles of Seeger Sessions and the acoustic dirge of Devils and Dust, the resulting Magic is the high benchmark of Springsteen’s second chapter and bursts with a fire and passion that sets a lot of his work in the shade.

I’ll be clear – as if it wasn’t already – I fucking love this album. The songs here are harder and sharper than on The Rising, the E Street Band – during its late peak – is playing tighter than a duck’s arse and the result is a joy to behold. The sound is ridiculously lush and there’s more revealed with every listen; the mandolin on ‘Magic’, Federici’s organ on ‘Livin’ In The Future’, the moody atmospherics of ‘Devil’s Arcade’ but I’m jumping ahead….

It starts with guitars. A thousand guitars and pounding drums, as ‘Radio Nowhere‘ leads an impassioned, energetic blast of all the E Street’s finest qualities and Bruce growling out his call to arms “Is there anybody alive out there?” against a thumping beat and euphoric blast from Clarence Clemons’ sax. Magic is Bruce and the E Street tuned in and meaning business as they bore through a new Springsteen classic and straight into ‘You’ll Be Coming Down’ which sounds like a blast of Bruce’s sound from earlier decades:

Indeed, Bruce spoke of how for this album he tried to get back to his earlier, romantic sounds last heard on Born To Run and there’s a wealth of nostalgia in the sound*.

“There’s some classic Sixties pop forms. California-rock influences –Pet Sounds and a lot of Byrds. I wanted to take the productions that create the perfect pop universes and then subvert them with the lyrics – fill them with the hollowness and the fear, the uneasiness of these very uneasy times.”

Take ‘Girls In Their Summer Clothes’ – which, apparently, Bruce had little interest in but O’Brien pushed for its inclusion – as an example of this; the doubling up of Bruce’s voice for the first time in goodness knows how long against a gorgeous backdrop (and a great rhythm guitar part) . Or the horns of ‘Livin In The Future’ that blast like a Freeze-out on a certain avenue. Or the out-and-out joy of ‘I’ll Work For Your Love‘.

But even here, the fire lurks beneath the surface. Bruce is angry and the pain and disbelief are shot through every song no matter how much he may have tried to allow the songs to be taken without them. There’s the groundskeeper who “opened the gates and let the wild dogs run” in ‘Livin..’ or  how the “city of peace has crumbled, our book of faith’s been tossed” in ‘I’ll Work For Your Love’, there’s no getting around it and it makes for some of his finest and most pointed lyrics in a long time. Certainly the best of Bruce V.2

I’ve mentioned before that  ‘Gypsy Biker’ shares a lot of ground with ‘Shut Out The Light’. The earlier track was one of Springsteen’s Vietnam tunes, ‘Gypsy Biker’ is one of a more modern war – Johnny gets to pull out his Ford and polish up the chrome in the former, the biker in the latter is coming home in a coffin; “Sister Mary sits with your colors”. It’s one of his best.

I remember at the time of release, Magic was referred to as being about “love in the time of Bush” **. There’s no direct references here, no mention of specific wars or Bush (though it may well be his “boot heels clickin’ like the barrel of a pistol spinnin’ round” on ‘Livin In The Future’) but he doesn’t need to.  The threat he felt in 2006 is there throughout.  Perhaps its most telling on the beautiful title track. Quiet, gentle guitar and chamberlin undercut with strings and Van Zandt’s mandolin make for a soothing, hypnotic stroll or dance as Springsteen lists ‘magic’ tricks but then it’s there in the last verse:

“Now there’s a fire down below
But it’s comin’ up here
So leave everything you know
And carry only what you fear
On the road the sun is sinkin’ low
There’s bodies hangin’ in the trees
This is what will be, this is what will be.”

If there was any doubt left about this album’s thrust it’s obliterated by what comes next. ‘Last To Die‘ takes it’s lyrics from John Kerry’s testimony on Vietnam (“How do you ask a man to be the last man to die in Vietnam? How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?”) and straps it to a howling, fierce track.

The album’s closing track*** ‘Devil’s Arcade’ is a dark bruiser of a tune that’s perhaps the most literal on it. A lover’s recall of portentous earlier memories and passion before her love enlists and winds up being wounded “the cool desert morning, then nothin’ to save, just metal and plastic where your body caved” and in a hospital while she waits for his touch –  Weinberg hammers home the rhythmic thump against the repeated “The beat of your heart, the beat of your heart”.

Again; it’s one of the finest things Springsteen has written and this album is chock-full of them. It’s strange to listen to this album again (though it’s rarely out of rotation) now as we find ourselves staring down even darker corridors than GW had lead the world. Then, as now, this album’s warmth and spirit remain a lighthouse; there is love, there is light and it needn’t be the monsters that call the tune, we have the choice.

Highlights: ‘Radio Nowhere’, ‘Livin In The Future’, ‘Your Own Worst Enemy’, ‘Gypsy Biker’, ‘Magic’, ‘Last To Die’, ‘Devil’s Arcade’.

*Something which would lead to a burst of writing just as the Magic sessions wound down and form the basis of Working On A Dream.

**Not the working title of a late-night Gabriel García Márquez adaptation.

***Officially. Following the death of Springsteen’s long-time assistant Terry Magovern, ‘Terry’s Song’ was added.

Least to Most: Bruce – The Rising

“I need your kiss, but love and duty called you someplace higher
Somewhere up the stairs into the fire…”

I’ve mentioned before that I think the negative reaction to Human Touch and Lucky Town gave more of a knock to Springsteen’s confidence than he’d be willing to let on; rather than follow Greatest Hits with a full blown reunion and band album he went the solo route and still wasn’t convinced that the Reunion Tour was a good thing practically up until the last minute. When that tour finished in July 2000, many assumed the next logical step would be to get the reconstituted band into the studio for a new album, presumably featuring some of the new songs they’d aired during that tour.

springsteen_the_risingBut… not quite. Instead Bruce spent roughly half a year logging up solo recording sessions, perhaps wary of going for another ‘rock’ album after so many years. Indeed, during press for The Rising he admitted hesitancy at returning to his ‘rock voice’.  Then, in March 2001, Bruce assembled his then core production team of Landau and Chuck Plotkin with Toby Scott recording and bought the E Street Band into New York’s Hit Factory. A handful of songs were recorded but the results… didn’t jump. It seems hard to think that with the band at full power a recording could be flat but it had happened before when he struggled with the sound on The River and Bruce has admitted that he realised he was now a better writer and singer than he was a producer and that modern techniques and equipment were simply unknown to him. He also felt that there was no unifying theme to bind the tracks written thus far into a ‘record’. If Bruce and the E Street Band were to move into the new millennium as anything other than an oldies touring act, he needed a new sound and a subject.

Then everything changed one terrifying and tragic September morning.

On his way home to his wife and kids that morning Bruce was sat at a stop sign. The driver of a car hurtling down the off-ramp recognised him, wound his window down and, as he drove past, shouted “Bruce, we need you now!” Bruce got the message, he just didn’t know how he could respond. Whether it was the call from the car or Bruce reading obituary after obituary mentioning victims being his fans*, but as he found himself glued to footage and, watching the firefighters making the ultimate sacrifice, climbing up the stairs, bidding goodbye to this world and stepping into the unknown… the songs started coming with ‘Into The Fire’.**

Some years prior, the president of Sony Records had mentioned to Bruce that producer Brendan O’Brien (Pearl Jam, RATM, STP amongst many others) had mentioned a desire to work with him. The two connected, met up and Springsteen played him a couple of tracks he’d written. Now, O’Brien is a very hands-on producer, in search of the ‘song’ he’ll roll up his sleeves and get stuck in. This doesn’t always please the artists. By all accounts his sessions with Aerosmith in 2009 were fraught with tension between him and Tyler partly due to the frontman’s displeasure at O’Brien’s methods**. When Springsteen played him ‘You’re Missing’, O’Brien jumped straight in re-arranging. Initially he believed Springsteen was impressed, though he later found out The Boss wasn’t so happy at the idea but realised this might be needed: “At one point Brendan said, ‘Well, I think we should find another chord for this spot.’ I said, ‘Find another chord?! Wait a minute, now! Hold on, hold on! Those are the chords!’ But then I’m thinking that my job now as the producee, is to say yes.” They cut the demo and Brendan told Bruce “this is good, now go write some more”.

When recording on The Rising began in late January 2002 at Southern Tracks in Atlanta, it was out with the old and in with the new. Brendan O’Brien produced and mixed and recording was handled by Nick DiDia. In the past Springsteen album sessions were long and laborious. As Van Zandt, back in the band sharing second guitar duties with Nils Lofgren, Bruce would “write a bunch of songs, we’d record them, then, you know, hang out for a bit. He’d write another bunch of songs, we’d record them. What would happen is, we’d always do two or three or four records before one finally came out.” For The Rising the band would run through the song a couple of times and O’Brien would call time to record. Recording sessions for the last E Street Band album, Born in the USA, took over two years. Recording sessions for The Rising took seven and a half weeks.

urlThe first new Bruce Springsteen album I bought on day of release, The Rising is the sound of Bruce and his band embarking on a new era, re-galvanised and sounding tighter and tougher than before, songs focused and punchier than in over a decade. Bruce said of the change in sound that “I heard the way we sound right now. Today. And I said, ‘Well, that’s what we need to do.’ If somebody has all our other records, I want to make sure they don’t have this one. You can’t replace this one with some of the other ones.”

O’Brien’s touch isn’t as heavy-handed and obvious as a later producer would be, the altering of the band’s sound more of an update than an overhaul. His work seems to be more in finding the essence of a song, distilling it down and bringing different sounds to the forefront – the guitar tone on here eclipsing that of Lucky Town / Human Touch for example – and adding subtle touches to the overall palette.

The Rising never tackles the theme of September 11th directly, but it’s shadow can be felt across the album. With ‘Your Missing’ and ‘Into The Fire’ nine of the album’s fifteen tracks were written post 9/11 while ‘Nothingman’ and ‘My City Of Ruins’ fit the overall feel perfectly.

While not quite the finest record of the Bruce V2 era it’s certainly up there higher than most of his recorded output since and marked a fine return to form. I’m not a fan of ‘Waitin’ On A Sunny Day,’ nor am I that bothered about ‘Lets Be Friends (Skin to Skin)’ but I find it hard to find a fault with the rest of the album and it gets many a play. These are songs of loss, sure, but they’re also songs of finding strength in that loss. Songs of love, faith and power. Themes Springsteen had sung of throughout his career and, with the rejuvenation offered by The Rising, would go on to do so into a new chapter of his career.

Highlights: ‘The Rising’ ‘Into The Fire’ ‘Worlds Apart’ ‘Mary’s Place’ ‘You’re Missing’ ‘The Fuse’

*Bruce would reach out to the families of those victims, talking and consoling at length.

**’Into the Fire’ wasn’t finished just yet so come the A Tribute To Heroes concert it was ‘My City Of Ruins’, written previously for Asbury Park, that Bruce played.

***The band was already fraught with tension, Tyler was using again and were abandoned much to the chagrin of other members even after, according to Brad Whitford, O’Brien “bent over backwards to do whatever he could to make Steven comfortable”.

Least To Most: Bruce – “halfway to heaven and just a mile outta hell”

Ok, so I’ve just looked at my (much revised, scrawled over and rewritten) list and realised we’re at the half way point in my rambling about Bruce’s albums in Least to Most Favourite order. We’re ten down with ten to go and that feels like a good point to take a breather* and talk about some Springsteen songs (a couple of favourites amongst them) that wouldn’t otherwise get a mention and take a look at those releases that don’t qualify for the list.

Compilations 

Bruce was twenty three years into his recording career before he decided it was time for a compilation. 1995’s Greatest Hits oddly didn’t get the best reviews – many felt that by omitting anything prior to Born To Run, Bruce was cutting out an important part of his history (“no Rosalita?!” was a common cry in reviews I’ve found in archives**) and others suggested that these songs simply didn’t belong together and performed better in their original album sequencing… though isn’t that the case with all such compilations? Seems like a trite comment to make.

Personally, this was my introduction to Bruce Springsteen so I’m a little biased. I was a little put-off by the sounds of ‘Born In The USA’ and it’s kin (this was 1995, after all, and such sounds weren’t ageing well) but there was no denying the draw of songs like ‘The River’ and ‘Atlantic City’ which were the big hook for me.

I’ll also make a fight for the new songs included here that many a critic argued were weak. I think ‘Blood Brothers’ remains an essential Bruce Springsteen song and both ‘Streets of Philidelphia’ and ‘Secret Garden’ are strong tracks and that’s without the dusted-off and revisited ‘Murder Incorporated’ (which saw Steven Van Zandt return to the fold for the video and would become a real blazer on the Reunion Tour) and ‘This Hard Land’ – both Born In The USA cuts that didn’t make selection, the latter of which was Max Weinberg’s favourite tune. For a one-stop sampler of Bruce Springsteen V1***, Greatest Hits is still a damn good start for any Bruce newbie.

Strangely enough, just two studio albums later and with the successful launch of Bruce Springsteen V2 cemented, it was time for another compilation.

This time more space was allotted to it and the selection was allowed to span out across two discs so that The Essential Bruce Springsteen kicked off with ‘Blinded By The Light’ and wrapped it up with cuts from Live In NYC and The Rising making sure to include ‘Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)’, all the hits, some fan favourites like ‘Jungleland’ and ‘Nebraska’. Of course, the fans would already have all of these so a limited run with a third disc of rarities was offered and some of those are none-too shabby either. I particularly enjoy Springsteen’s live take on ‘Trapped’:

Odder still, in 2015 the track listing was revised. Out went ‘Jungleland’ and ‘Tunnel of Love’ and in came ‘Tenth Avenue Freeze Out’ and ‘One Step Up’ and a handful of other tracks were shuffled / cut in order to make space for a couple of bolted-on post-The Rising tunes. Bonkers, if you ask me; cutting ‘The Darkness On The Edge of Town’  to make space for something from High Hopes?! Why bother?

On the ‘Why Bother’ list is the 2009 Greatest Hits which was billed to Bruce and The E Street Band (is that only their second billing? Though they didn’t get the US cover) which strips it all back to one disc and adds a couple of newer tracks – presumably released to catch the newer casuals after Superbowl and festival appearances.

Chapter & Verse was released this year to coincide / accompany Bruce’s Born To Run book. It’s somewhat linear and obvious in its song selection and only really stands out in as much as being more ‘personally’ selected than the above comp and featuring a handful of pre-Columbia Recording Artist Bruce. The best of which being ‘Ballad of Jesse James’. I’ve yet to add this to the shelves as they’re not what you’d call ‘required listening’ for anything other than an intro to the origins story.

Live

In terms of live albums, while there’s certainly a couple listed on Bruce’s discography, Live 1975-85 is inarguably the best way to get a take on what makes Springsteen live so legendary. Sure, Live In NYC is a good capture of the reunited E Street Band (and the best place to hear its new songs) but it’s strange sequencing and fading out have hampered it and interrupt the flow.

Live 1975-85 contains 40 songs recorded with the band in its prime, a wealth of classics, Springsteen pre-song story telling and, in ‘Seeds’ another great original:

It’s only downfall – and one that was much picked up on by fans I’m given to understand – was that it didn’t include ‘Prove It All Night’ in the live reshaping (or at all, in fact) that had acquired a massive fandom. So here it is:

Worth mentioning that Bruce is more than savvy to the current musical buying trends and has made many a current and classic concert available for download at http://live.brucespringsteen.net/

EPs

1988’s Chimes of Freedom was released to tie-in with the Human Rights Now! tour. The live rendition of ‘Tougher Than The Rest’ is suitably girded by the E Street Band’s backing, ‘Be True’ is a decent enough tune but the flip side with Bruce’s take on Dylan’s ‘Chimes of Freedom’ and the acoustic ‘Born To Run’ and still captivating stadium-size crowds is the strongest, in my opinion:

Blood Brothers originally came with the film of the same name (in a very limited pressing) that documented the mini-reunion of the E Street Band. While the tracks included are certainly interesting there’s nothing really here other than curiosities – like the ‘alt’ version of the title song.

Which brings us to the last release of new Bruce Springsteen material – American Beauty. Now, if High Hopes was made up of songs that didn’t make the cut for The Rising or Wrecking Ball then an ep of songs that didn’t make the cut of THAT might be stretching it a bit….  Indeed it is. Nothing on here is particularly essential in its listening and there’s chunks of all that were salvaged and better used elsewhere, it’s release remains something of a mystery to me, almost an example of a big artist and major label slapping something together to cash in on Record Store Day and it pains me to say that as a fan. That being said, ‘Hey Blue Eyes’ is a very good song and I do play it a fair old bit on stream. One of Springsteen’s angry Bush-era political songs that isn’t mired by over-production – almost demonstrating in on four-track EP how clearly Brendan O’Brien is the better set of hands for Springsteen’s songs over Ron Aniello.

 

*Whether I’ll manage to finish this series by the New Year remains to be seen.

**Bruce made reference to this in the linear notes for The Essential and, if you watch the accompanying ‘Blood Brothers’ DVD, there was plenty of discussion against the inclusion of earlier tracks

***Bruce Version 1 extends from his debut up to the conclusion of The Reunion Tour. The Rising marked the emergence of Bruce Springsteen Version 2.0