Bruce Springsteen Devils & Dust
CD Review by Mike D'Ariano 6/2005
1. Devils & Dust 2. All The Way Home 3. Reno 4. Long Time Comin' 5. Black Cowboys
6. Maria's Bed 7. Silver Palomino 8. Jesus Was an Only Son 9. Leah 10. The Hitter
11. All I'm Thinkin' About 12. Matamora's Banks
Sony Records / Release Date: April 26, 2005
Okay, I'll start with an honest admission . . . I'm really not a Bruce Springsteen fan. In fact I'm something of an anti-Bruce Springsteen guy. In my CD collection, which is about 2,000 discs strong, I have just two Bruce Springsteen albums. One of them is the single-disc Greatest Hits album, which for a long time I considered the only disc anyone would ever need by "The Boss." One day I told someone that theory, and they recommended that I check out the Nebraska album.
Now, normally I would just nod and smile and promise to run right out and get the disc, and then do nothing of the sort. But this particular friend happens to have stellar taste in music, and is also something of an anti-Boss kinda guy. So I did it. I went out and spent the $8.00 (the CD had long been in the value price range) and brought home my copy of Nebraska. It was a good purchase.
Nebraska is the masterpiece of the Springsteen catalog. On this record there's no trace of that bullshit Glory Days 1980's posturing which followed it. It's a soft record about hard people in a harder world. The songs are about people who, although they are inherently good, have been pushed so far back into the corners of the world, that they have to come out bad. There are characters with "debts no honest man could pay," characters who accidentally commit murder while they're drunk, and perhaps the most compelling, a character in the song Highway Patrolman, who envisions his life going to ruin if just one simple thing goes wrong.
It's as brilliant as it is unique, because it was one of the first times, if not the first time that Springsteen recorded an album by himself just Bruce on vocals, guitar and harmonica, with no other instrumentation or contributions from that guy in Conan's house band or that pirate on the Sopranos. I've been told that he recorded the album alone in his basement, but I couldn't tell you if that's truth or legend. All I know is that the album is exceptional in it's sound and it's content.
So now, 23 years after the release of Nebraska, and four years after the Boss' album, The Rising, which exploited . . . oh I mean honored the memory of those who lost their lives on September 11th, Springsteen is back with a new album called Devils and Dust. All of the above ranting about Nebraska has inspired a lot of critics to compare the new album with it. A lot of critics are wrong.
I've read things like "If you liked Nebraska, you'll love Devils and Dust." Bullshit. If you liked Bruce Springsteen, you'll love Devils and Dust . . . fine. If you specifically loved Nebraska, then you probably aren't into the highly stylized sound that the Boss is perpetrating this time around. You probably liked the raw honesty of Nebraska, and the feeling that whether it's true or not, it's possible that the album really could have been recorded in Bruce's basement. You probably liked the idea that since it was such a personal statement, he chose to perform it without backup musicians, but Nebraska is in direct contrast to Devils and Dust which features a full band (sans horns) on all but a few songs. There's even overdubbed backing vocals on some tracks. I don't recall Woody Guthrie ever using overdubs, but maybe Bruce has some rare bootleg I never heard.
Now the lyrics. First song, first thirty seconds . . . "I'm just trying to survive." . . . no you pretentious bastard, you're a multi-millionaire who charges hundreds of dollars per ticket when you perform. You're not struggling to do jack shit you could spend the rest of your life just sitting on a couch eating potato chips with nothing at all to worry about. YOU'VE GOT IT MADE, Boss. I just can't seem to get beyond that. The album is just not honest, and honesty was the cornerstone of Nebraska's greatness. Maybe I would respond to Bruce's album better if it was called "I tried to swing a presidential election but no one gave a shit about my opinion other than the people that already felt the same way in the first place!" (Maybe that title's a bit too long).
Anyway I think it's pretty clear, Devils and Dust is not Nebraska. Nor is it "the most intimate and personal offering from Springsteen since Nebraska." It's just the latest Bruce Springsteen album. It has some good songs and some bad songs, but on the whole, it's just mediocre, like everything else he's ever done save the one album they're desperately trying to compare it with. I understand that Springsteen fans won't agree with me, but in keeping with the theme of honesty . . . I don't give a shit.