CK Retro Review: Lucky Town by Bruce SpringsteenPosted: May 1, 2014
Everything is relative, I suppose. Relative to the rest of his catalog, 1992’s Lucky Town was a modest success for Bruce Springsteen, a collection of introspective, self-aware songs which were recorded without a lot of frills (Springsteen played just about everything but the drums himself) and removed the filters to reveal Springsteen’s own personal journey more than perhaps any of his previous works.Relative to Human Touch, the other of Bruce dual ’92 releases, it’s proof that he wasn’t completely at sea as an artist at a tumultuous time in his career. Though the highs weren’t as high as some of his past works, you might be surprised to look back and discover the consistency and solidity of this album. Here is a song-by-song review.
10. “Leap Of Faith”- Probably the most laid-back track on the album, it’s hampered by a trite message but helped by some truly wacky similes (comparing his wayward woman to a “wild pitch” is probably the foremost of these.) Nice use of the female backing vocalists to pump up the chorus too.
9. “Souls Of The Departed”- Researching the book, I read an old interview where Bruce professed admiration for the L.A. songwriting duo David & David, and their “Welcome To The Boomtown” seems like a forerunner of this downbeat track. Both are anthologies of sad stories hinting at an overall sickness infecting the nation. Springsteen’s track beats the gloom into the ground a bit, but it certainly gets its point across.
8. “Book Of Dreams”- It took some stones to write another song with a wedding scene so soon on the heels of “Walk Like A Man,” but this time it lasted, so it’s fine. And considering how often dreams have appeared in Springsteen’s work, that book must have made War And Peace seem like a leaflet. The song is sweet and relaxed, a snapshot of the evening probably more poignant than any the photographer might have captured.
7. “The Big Muddy”- Springsteen’s view of human nature here is less optimistic than in much of his work, but he certainly conveys the skepticism effectively. The song expertly demonstrates the slippery slope that even the cleanest souls can slide down until they’re muck-deep. Bruce does well in conjuring ominous atmosphere with some back-porch acoustic guitar and brooding synths.
6. “My Beautiful Reward”- I like how the refrain implies that the search for answers continues; occasionally, the other songs on the album fall into a rut of guy makes mistakes, guy learns from them, guy knows not to make mistakes again. By flipping the script just a bit, Springsteen pulls the rug out with a closer that is somewhat ambivalent and yet still uplifting in the way the narrator keeps after it, even without any promise that he will indeed find his deliverance.
5. “Better Days”- It’s got all the old techniques that worked in the past, like the soaring chorus, the guitar solo in the break, the softer final verse to maximize the impact of the final refrain, etc. As a result, it’s maybe a tad too self-consciously anthemic to be a true classic, but it’s still easy to get swept up in the emotion when Bruce shouts out “I feel like I’m comin’ home” leading into the final verse.
4. “Local Hero”- The obvious comparison is “Glory Days.” Both have that episodic structure and the big sing-along chorus, with this track taking a more light-footed musical approach. The other difference is that, while a lot of people can relate to the small-town ruminations of “Glory Days,” very few of us know what it’s like to see our likeness on a painting sold in a department store. But who says everything has to be relatable? Springsteen expertly articulates how odd it must feels to undergo a mid-life crisis, with all of its resultant insecurities and defeats, when a large portion of the population idolizes you.
3. “Living Proof”- It has a little bit of that grinding rock production that stymied Human Touch, but the power of the lyrics and Springsteen’s performance carry this one past those concerns. His emotions are palpable as he sings the track, like it’s all too much, too much beauty, too much joy, too much regret, all percolating inside him at once. The guy makes the hell he went through come to life through his words and the way he sings them, so that when his child’s birth and his own figurative rebirth arrives, it’s that much more triumphant.
2. “Lucky Town”- There’s a certain downbeat tautness that recommends this song above most others on the album. No flab in the lyrics, none in the music either. The dude telling this story is no retiring flower, as you can tell the way Springsteen snarls out the lyrics, yet you can tell as well that he’s been battered about in his recent past. Still, what shines through is his resilience, a willingness to keep scrambling through the blows to the titular place that represents the possibility, if not the promise, of something better. Excellent, tough rock and roll.
1. “If I Should Fall Behind”- I hope the folks that use this as their wedding song listen closely and heed its subtle warnings. With a tender vocal set amidst gentle, mostly acoustic backing, Springsteen sings mostly about the pitfalls of coupling, the chance that needs will diverge, that confusion will lead to acrimony, that unforeseen circumstances will interrupt their synchronized strides. He can offer no assurances that these things won’t happen, but he does promise to work the problems together rather than barreling on ahead alone. It’s a beautiful love song, one of the finest of Bruce’s career, that’s all the more affecting for avoiding pie-in-the-sky cliches and tackling love’s obstacles with honesty and insight.
(E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow me on Twitter @JimBeviglia. My new book, Counting Down Bruce Springsteen: His 100 Finest Songs, arrives in June, and pre-orders are available now.)