Bruce Springsteen – Human Touch

Human Touch (1992)

C+

1. Human Touch 2. Soul Driver 3. 57 Channels (And Nothin’ On) 4. Cross My Heart 5. Gloria’s Eyes 6. With Every Wish 7. Roll Of The Dice 8. Real World 9. All Or Nothin’ At All 10. Man’s Job 11. I Wish I Were Blind 12. The Long Goodbye 13. Real Man 14. Pony Boy

 

Bruce jettisons the E Street Band for no reason, and along with them his apparent sense of taste and ability to edit himself. Indeed, Bruce released not one, but two albums on the same day in 1992. No, not a double album, but rather two separate albums with different names and everything (but the same exact terrible-looking, poorly sized font and bordering on both covers! What the fuck is up with that??). If this sounds like a stupid idea, that’s because it was, but it was just one of many stupid ideas Bruce had while making the Human Touch/Lucky Town duo. For instance, most of the music.

You know what, though? Human Touch, which I’m reviewing first because it was recorded earlier, is not as bad as I thought it would be, at least in some respects. It’s pretty much universally derided at the nadir of Bruce’s recorded output, so I came into my first listen a few days ago with low expectations. Because it’s not like Bruce had suddenly forgotten how to write songs when he made it. After all, most of it was recorded in 1990, just three years after the release of Tunnel of Love, on which he had displayed as firm a grasp on how to construct an effective pop song as he ever had previously. So it’s not like his songwriting had suddenly dropped off the table or anything. In fact, there are some good melodies on this thing. Catchy ones that will get stuck in your head. I swear! If you’ve heard this album, don’t tell me you’ve never caught yourself singing “All or Nothin’ At All” or “Real Man” or “Human Touch” to yourself. Because I sure have! And all my experiences are universal for all of humanity, which is why I know that because I’ve never had to use food stamps, no one else needs to use them either and everyone who does is a lazy moocher and should be thrown in a volcano. In other news, I will be running for Congress on the Republican ticket. What do you think of my slogan: “Fuck You, Empathy Isn’t Real 2017.”

So this being the case, the main problem with Human Touch as I see it is two-fold: 1) those reasonably strong melodies are usually paired with some of the most generic blues-based chord progressions and simplistic tuff rock riffs known to man 2) their impact is severely diminished by the grossly slick and comically dated production/arrangement choices. The result of this is an album that sounds like what I imagine people who hate Bruce Springsteen hear when they listen to any Bruce Springsteen album. You know, wildly overblown, over-adorned cheese piled on top of basic, unimaginative songs that sound like Elvis C-sides, soulless guitar twiddling, forced “average guy” lyrics, and Bruce hoarsely shouting unintelligible exhortations every five seconds. Seriously, not only is he over-excitedly screaming “WOAH YEAH,” “UH HUH,” and “WOAH-WOAHHHHHHHH” even more than usual, but he also hired some backup singers to echo every one of his “WOAH YEAH,” “UH HUH,” and “WOAH-WOAHHHHHHHH” like assholes. It is: grating.

Even so, coming after the adult contemporary-skirting Tunnel of Love, it’s sort of nice to hear Bruce rocking out and having fun again in a sorta Born in the U.S.A. type of way. And he’s clearly having a ball on the rockers. Granted, there’s almost no reason why “Gloria’s Eyes,” “Real World,” “All or Nothin’ At All,” “The Long Goodbye,” and “Real Man” should all be on the same (way too long) hour-long album, since they’re all basically the same generic ‘50s-style rock song that Chuck Berry probably accidentally sharted out one day before it made its way into Bruce’s head. But that aside, from a purely compositional standpoint, I enjoy each of those songs individually. I really do! I like the title track, an anthemic sort of cross between “Tunnel of Love” and “Like A Rock,” more than that, even, despite the fact that it goes on pointlessly for two minutes too long. Seriously, it starts winding down around four-and-a-half minutes in, and you’re like “Oh, this is clearly the logical ending of the song.” And then it kicks back up again and keeps going and going and you start to wonder if the studio intern accidentally sat on the fader or something and they just decided to go with it.

Alas, that’s not all there is to Human Touch. There’s much, much more. Too much more. Less figuratively, there are a bunch of late ‘80s-style cheesy synths, unnecessary instrumentation, and other slick studio tricks that probably sounded extremely dated when this album eventually came out in ‘92, much less 25 years later. I mean, “overproduced” is one of the most overused and thus meaningless descriptors in music criticism, but I’m not sure how else to describe this stuff. Like, this is the sound Bruce was going for when he decided to break up the E Street Band (not permanently, as it turned out)? I guess, because it’s hard to imagine Little Steven et al. standing for this shit. Granted, Roy Bittan is still around, playing keys and synths and even co-writing “Real World” and “Roll of the Dice,” which has an E Street-style roaming piano line that could have fit on Born To Run or The River. So is Patti Scialfa, singing backup vocals and boning Bruce between takes. But otherwise, Bruce is joined by a bunch of nameless studio musicians, including future American Idol judge Randy Jackson on bass. Randy clearly didn’t have enough influence on how this album sounded, though, because if he had he would’ve warned Bruce that his singing was a little pitchy, dawg.

Seriously, though, there are so many terrible production choices on this thing I don’t even know where to start. From a compositional standpoint, “Soul Driver” is a perfectly adequate slow blues, but with the synths and everything it sounds like something from the soundtrack to a direct-to-video Karate Kid sequel. Then there’s “With Every Wish,” which starts out lovely with a nice acoustic fingerpicking pattern and Bruce managing some of his usual evocative blue collar imagery (rare on this album, which is composed mainly of uninsightful love songs). But before the first verse is even over, some dickwad starts noodling obnoxiously on his alto sax (definitely not in a Clarence Clemons style – more like a Kenny G style), and soon enough synth pads begin to envelop the entire mix. Ugh. The only relatively unmolested track on here is the closing, mostly solo acoustic “Pony Boy,” but I don’t recall ever asking to hear Bruce sing a dumb kids’ song, and now having heard it, I am displeased that he disregarded those wishes and went and did it anyway. In fairness, I was one year old at the time, so based on my age he might have thought I would enjoy it. He was wrong though. Stupid Bruce, never considering my feelings, or those of toddlers he doesn’t know in general. What an asshole.



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