Monday, April 30, 2012

Album Reviews

It's been about four and a half years since the last White Stripes album and over a year since their breakup, but really, it's not like anyone has been really hurting for Jack White material.  The guy is in, like, 13 other bands and is a regular guest performer and producer on just as many more albums.  Still, Jack White releasing a proper solo album is an exciting prospect, since it's White unfiltered.  White as part of the Dead Weather or the Raconteurs or whomever is fine, but in those projects, he's purposely putting himself into a larger collective.  With a solo album, we get closer to the White we saw in the White Stripes' music, which are among my favourite recordings ever.  Not to discount Meg's contribution and influence, of course, but there's no denying that Jack had total creative carte blanche in that band and I think most would agree that the Stripes' material was Jack White's best work.

So here we have 'Blunderbuss,' and just to keep the inevitable White Stripes comparisons going a bit further, it's comparable to 'Get Behind Me Satan' in musical form --- fewer straight-up guitar rock songs (though there are some) and more instances of Jack branching out with a more varied mix of rock, country and indie pop-tinged music.  I liked the disc quite a bit, and I think I liked the fact that it's an actual ALBUM most of all.  I can't pick a single favourite track since the songs all compliment each other so well.  The iTunes-ification of music is clearly having an effect on me since I probably shouldn't be so impressed by "hey, these songs really have a good flow, man!"  In any case, it's a very good record and I'm glad that we're going to get Jack White music in tons of different forms for years to come.  I look forward to him being the next Ryan Adams in terms of sheer prolificness, except with the added bonus of my actually enjoying White's music.


Whereas White putting out a solo album is a novelty, Bruce Springsteen has made a whole secondary career of it.  For as closely as the Boss is tied to the E Street Band, only three of his last nine studio records have included the entire E Street crew.  As with White and the White Stripes, this is kind of splitting hairs, since Springsteen held as much creative control over all of his material, E Street Band or not, as White did with Meg.  That's actually a major point of discussion amongst Bruce fans, since now that both Clarence Clemons and Danny Federici have passed on, it's possible we've seen the last of the E Street Band as a studio entity --- it'll be interesting enough to see how the band performs without Clemons on their upcoming tour, as Clarence's nephew is apparently stepping into the fold to play saxo-ma-phone.

It's gotten to the point, though, where Springsteen's solo ventures are more interesting than his E Street material since, frankly, his last few albums with the E Streeters were pretty average.  "Magic" and "Working On A Dream" each had a couple of standout tracks but were on the whole nothing special.  Compared to the energy of Bruce solo outings like his Pete Seeger-inspired cover album, "Devils & Dust" and now "Wrecking Ball," it's almost as if Springsteen himself enjoys the freedom of not always having to write full band, E Street-style rockers.  For instance, "Wrecking Ball" includes a song that has the first rap break in Bruce's long songwriting history.  (No, he doesn't do it himself, as hilarious as that would've been.)

"Wrecking Ball" is, dare I say, Springsteen's best album of any kind since at least "Tunnel of Love" in 1987.  It's essentially a record fuelled with the same idea of the Born In The USA track --- seemingly patriotic, but really rather upset and somewhat bitter about how things are going in his country.  As always, Bruce sides with Americans, not necessarily America as an entity unto itself.  The Seeger influence is very strong on this album, with the Boss writing modern folk songs to illustrate the times. 

There's also the interesting decision made to include two older songs on the disc.  The title track was written a few years ago about the destruction of the old Giants Stadium in the Meadowlands and it's telling that the imagery of the old stadium defiantly accepting being torn down was expanded as the theme of the entire album.  The other old song is much older -- "Land Of Hopes And Dreams" was written about 13 years ago and released as a new track on a Springsteen greatest hits album.  After years of being played during live shows, it finally makes its proper album debut and has been remixed to include a gospel choir and what sounds like some electronic elements.  I can't help but think it was included both because it fits thematically with the rest of the disc and because the song's saxophone solo (retained from the original version) is a final tribute to Clarence Clemons.

The final verdict on the 'Wrecking Ball' era will come when I see Bruce live this summer (my third Springsteen concert!) but since I have little doubt that these songs will kick ass in a live setting, the album stands on its own as a real gem.  The old Boss still has it.

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