Wednesday, February 12, 2014
February 12, 2014: I Love the New Bruce
[Last year, I wrote a Valentine’s Day-inspired series on some of my AmericanStudier loves. I had fun, so I’ve decided to do so again this year. I’d love for you to share some of the things you love for a crowd-sourced weekend post full of heart!]
On two entirely different and equally inspiring recent albums from an all-time great.
As is no doubt obvious from this blog, many of my favorite American artists died long ago, meaning that (barring surprising rediscoveries) I have long since run out of new works of theirs to encounter and experience. As a result, I believe I get even more excited about new releases by the living artists I love—like John Sayles and Jhumpa Lahiri—than would already always be the case. There is, of course, always the possibility that these new releases won’t live up to the artist’s past work or overall career; but as I wrote in that Sayles and Lahiri post, I’m an optimist on this score as on most others. And when it comes to my single favorite artist, Bruce Springsteen, I’m happy to say that his most recent two albums have entirely rewarded my excited anticipation, if in almost entirely different ways.
2012’s Wrecking Ball is one of the most thematically unified yet stylistically diverse albums I’ve ever heard. Every song on the album, including the two bonus tracks, represents a response to the 2008 economic collapse and its many ongoing effects and meanings in American society; yet almost every one utilizes a distinct style, engages with a different musical tradition and sound, with which to do so. For both reasons the album has been compared to The Rising (2002), Springsteen’s post-9/11 masterwork; I would agree with that comparison, yet to my mind, because September 11th has inspired so many responses and representations (in every artistic genre), Wrecking Ball is an even more unique and significant social and historical document. While it might not have any individual songs that crack my Springsteen top 10, I would say it’s one of his couple best albums—and that’s pretty impressive for a record released forty years after an artist’s debut!
About a month ago, Springsteen released his most recent studio album, High Hopes. But to be honest, High Hopes isn’t really a unified album at all, existing at the other end of the spectrum from something like Wrecking Ball—it’s a collection of (mostly) previously unreleased tracks, representing the last couple decades of Springsteen’s career (if not even further back, since a song like “Frankie Fell in Love” feels more like his 1970s works). Interestingly, the most thematically unified songs, the title track and the concluding “Dream Baby Dream,” are both covers of other artists, the first time Springsteen has included covers on a studio album in his long career. And that last clause is precisely what makes High Hopes so inspiring to me—that even forty-two years into his recording career, Springsteen is continuing to experiment and innovate, trying new things, pushing himself in new directions, refusing to rest on that already impressive body of work. I didn’t really think I could love Bruce more, but these last couple albums have indeed raised the bar.
Next AmericanStudier love tomorrow,
PS. What do you love about or in American history, culture, identity, community?