Bruce Springsteen – In Concert/MTV Plugged

In Concert/MTV Plugged (1993)

C+

1. Red Headed Woman 2. Better Days 3. Atlantic City 4. Darkness On The Edge Of Town 5. Man’s Job 6. Human Touch 7. Lucky Town 8. I Wish I Were Blind 9. Thunder Road 10. Light Of Day 11. If I Should Fall Behind 12. Living Proof 13. My Beautiful Reward

 

What compels legacy artists to release live albums of the tours supporting their worst albums? This is the same shit R.E.M. pulled with Live. Is it, like, and “I’ll show you!” type of thing? Like, “I know these new songs were critically panned and all my fans hate them, but… you’ll love them this time, even though I’m just playing them exactly like the studio versions! I promise!” Sure, Bruce. The only thing preventing me from recognizing the genius of “I Wish I Were Blind” before was the lack of crowd noise. You got me.

Anyway, this was supposed to be an MTV Unplugged thing, but Bruce was apparently displeased with how his Lucky Touch touring band sounded in an “unplugged” setting, so he said “fuck it” and just played a regular electric show. Well, except for two songs anyway: an actually pretty neat stripped-down, church organ-endowed rendition of “Thunder Road,” and an otherwise unreleased solo acoustic show-opening song called “Red Headed Woman,” which is a ridiculous piece of crap that consists of Bruce alternating between grating rednecky whooping and mumbling out a bunch of absolutely painful sexual innuendo. Ugh.

The rest of the show is pretty straightforward though, which would be fine if it had taken place ten years earlier. But this was the early ‘90s, so we get to hear rote versions of Bruce’s most boring, shitty songs (eight of these thirteen goddamn songs are from either Human Touch or Lucky Town, and, with a few exceptions, he didn’t even choose the good ones! Motherfucker!). Hooray! There’s absolutely nothing to elevate or otherwise distinguish these versions of these songs from their dull, dull studio counterparts, since Not The E Street Band is ultra-competent but completely personality-free (even Roy Bittan, who had apparently transformed into Cheesy Synth Man at this time) and Bruce’s voice sucks. He sounds tired and out of breath, and seems like he’s compensating by doing an annoying Dylan impression. I mean, nobody wanted to hear this shit at the time, and I sure don’t now. I think my favorite part of the album is near the beginning, after they’ve played two older classics, and the crowd gets all excited and is so worked up they join Bruce in unison on his count-off to the next song… and the band launches into fucking “Man’s Job.” Talk about a momentum killer. If I was there I probably would have flipped Bruce the bird. And by “the bird” I mean “Big Bird.” I was like one and a half at the time so I probably would have just thrown my Big Bird toy at him to express my displeasure. I doubt I knew what a middle finger signified at that point. Cut me some slack.

OK, so the Lucky Touch songs are virtually useless, but there are a precious few older songs songs on here that I guess are of some minor interest if, you know, you’re a Springsteen fan or whatever (though if you are a Springsteen fan, you’re probably very old and smelly, so go away). I already mentioned “Thunder Road,” which is probably the only song on here that’s worth listening to instead of the studio version on occasion. There’s also a full band electric version of “Atlantic City,” which is pretty good, I guess, even if that chintzy synth tone kinda puts a damper on it. We also get “Light of Day,” a generic gospel-y rocker that Bruce originally wrote for a movie of the same name (in which it was performed by Joan Jett, apparently) and here is elevated by some nicely crunchy lead guitar dueling between Bruce and Other Band guitarist Shane Fontayne. It’s uncharacteristic, but in a surprising and pleasing way, unlike the rest of this album and a lot of what Bruce did during this era, which was uncharacteristic only in that it wasn’t all that good.



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