Bruce Springsteen – Lucky Town

Lucky Town (1992)

B

1. Better Days 2. Lucky Town 3. Local Hero 4. If I Should Fall Behind 5. Leap Of Faith 6. The Big Muddy 7. Living Proof 8. Book Of Dreams 9. Souls Of The Departed 10. My Beautiful Reward

 

This is the culmination of Bruce’s “family man” period (as opposed to his “family guy” period, during which he spent a lot of time in his basement spouting off politically incorrect non-sequiturs. This brief and unsung phase in the Boss’s career was captured by the obscure 2004 outtakes “(Rendezvous at the) Drunken Clam” and “Stewie’s Room”). He’s mostly singing about stuff like marital bliss, the birth of his kid, and domestic contentment, in the process largely turning his eye away from blue collar life and socio-economic strife and the bossman done me wrong type shit that he built his career on. Which is probably to some degree why neither Lucky Town nor Human Touch were received very well upon their release, and why they continue to generally be viewed as the collective nadir of Bruce’s recorded output. Which is probably fair, especially in the case of Human Touch, but at least on Lucky Town, Bruce demonstrates that he can do something well besides his usual schtick. Even if Lucky Town is far from perfect, I think that’s sort of refreshing, considering the fact that said schtick is inherently taxing on the listener. All that bombast and weighty themes and shit. I don’t mind some lighter fare for once. A nice salad, if you will. (In this metaphor, Born to Run is a slightly overcooked 24 oz. Porterhouse, Darkness is a perfectly boiled lobster, and Human Touch is a bowl of guacamole that expired two months ago).

I understand why some people, even big Springsteen fans, might overlook even the best songs on here. First of all, the album suffers from the same air of cheapness that Human Touch did. Starting with the cover, which features that same terrible Human Touch font superimposed over a dad-ish Bruce photo that looks like something Patti snapped quickly while they were on vacation somewhere. And while the production style is much more stripped-down and organic-sounding than that of Human Touch–almost no synths!–there’s still too much of a sheen to it. Plus Bruce is not in great voice–it sounds phlegmy and thin–and there’s a cliched gospel backup choir that keeps incongruently sticking their gigantic mouths into Bruce’s simple folk rock compositions. Beyond those issues with timbre, there’s also the fact that the ballads are really, really boring. Seriously, “If I Should Fall Behind,” “Book of Dreams,” and “My Beautiful Reward” are so sonically quiet, melodically unremarkable, and musically indistinct they might as well not even exist. They’re not offensive in the least (except maybe the saccharine lyrics of “Book of Dreams” about Bruce’s wedding); they just barely even register.

But the lyrical focus is a big part of it too. Take “Local Hero,” which Bruce wrote after seeing a picture of himself in a store window in or near Freehold, trying to buy it, and being told by the clerk that it was of a “local hero” (that’s what Wikipedia says, anyway, and I see no reason to doubt it. By the way, did you know we faked the moon landing? Crazy shit!). Obviously, average people cannot relate to this story; it’s something that could only happen to a famous person. Bruce seemingly reveling in that recognition is rather uncharacteristic; maybe even a little off-putting. But who cares? That was who Bruce at this time: a rich and famous family man who was nonetheless still putting forth an effort to dig some wisdom out of everyday experiences he had. It still feels real to me, and if you dismiss it because it’s not about some factory worker who’s about die of COPD, you’re missing out on a great, scraggly, melodically winning Dylanesque folk rocker. Honestly it might be one of the most underrated songs in the Springsteen catalog, of which there are admittedly not many because Boss fans are obsessive freaks who go apeshit whenever he pulls virtually any other obscurity out his ass on stage.

The other winners on Lucky Town are similar in scale to “Local Hero” – less bombastic than usual and built off folksy strumalong tempos and jangly R.E.M.-style rhythm guitars (for instance, “Leap of Faith,” which sounds just like “Local Hero” except a little slower and not as catchy! Woohoo!). Which, as I mentioned, is kinda what I like about them. Few if any of these songs deserve to be on a Springsteen greatest hits comp or anything like that, but would I rather listen to a straightforward, repetitive, but undeniably catchy minor key jangle rocker like “Lucky Town” than fuckin’ “Jungleland”? You bet your ass. It’s much less of a commitment. I fully realize that most people do not share this perspective, considering the fact that the two most bombastic songs on here, “Better Days” and “Living Proof,” are probably my least favorites besides the ballads. They’re fine; they just don’t have the melodic hooks that some of the other tunes here do. But what do I know. I guess people would rather hear Bruce yelling about something at the top of his lungs than wrap his voice around a catchy melody once in a while. I do think the lyrics to “Better Days” are pretty interesting, featuring Bruce singing excitedly about how happy his new family life makes him and describing himself as “a rich man in a poor man’s shirt.” That’s a pretty intriguing acknowledgment of his whole workin’ man’s hero persona, don’t you think? I mean, if you go to Bruce for “honest authenticity” or some such shit, well… there it is. That’s the most honest statement you’re ever gonna get out of Bruce Springsteen. Just one reason Lucky Town shouldn’t be dismissed as easily as it often is.



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