I come to praise Working On A Dream, not to bury it. Maybe that makes me a lonely rider in the world of Springsteen analysis, but I love the looseness of this record, which shines through both on the out-there experiments and the more somber songs. The E Street Band sounds fully at home on loving throwbacks to 60’s pop and rock, while Bruce subtly constructs an overriding theme on the autumn years of life and all of the struggles and triumphs that go along with that time period as convincing as the youthful narratives he spun in the early days. Here is a song-by-song review.
13. “Tomorrow Never Knows”- No, it’s not a Beatles cover, although that psychedelic Revolver tune wouldn’t have totally out of place on this collection. Instead, it’s an acoustic shuffle that’s amiable enough but feels a bit underwritten.
12. “My Lucky Day”- The theme about taking a chance on love is one that’s been said many times before, including a few times by Bruce himself, but the hard-charging music, reminiscent of something that might be heard on The River, is effective. Props to Garry Tallent, who gets a chance to flex his muscles a bit more on this album than usual, for his nimble, melodic bass that propels this one.
11. “Good Eye”- I’m not sure straight blues is a strong point for The E Street Band; the rhythmic chops that they show on their soulful numbers sort of disappears here in favor of a more locked-in approach, to the detriment of the song. Springsteen, on the other hand, proves to be an expert blues belter, muscling out his lines as if trying to exorcise any demons temporarily lodging in his soul.
10. “Life Itself”- Although the whooshing chorus keeps trying to lighten this one up, the darker undercurrents of the verses and the moody music don’t really allow that to happen. The Byrds-like middle section with the backwards guitar is a bit out of left field compared to the rest, but it is intriguing.
9. “What Can Love Do”- Again, it’s a case of downcast verses and an anguished, almost desperate chorus, as Springsteen testifies on the power of love to cure even the worst ills. There is real sting in some of the imagery that Bruce uses in the verses, which makes his promise in the refrain all the more redemptive if he can indeed deliver.
8. “Working On A Dream”- It was probably miscast as the first single, which may be why the album seemed to fade from the public attention span faster than most Bruce releases. It is, however, a simple, affecting paean to resilience, with an Orbisonian tear in Springsteen’s voice that demonstrates just how hard that work can be.
7. “Queen Of The Supermarket”- The production sounds like something that the great songwriter Jimmy Webb might have spun back in the day, while the lyrics have some Randy Newman in them in the way they portray a character who borders on the unsavory as he leers at the checkout girl. It’s a bit wacky, and the f-bomb at the end is an uneasy fit with the orchestration, but there’s an honesty in the writing that sneaks up on you.
6. “Surprise, Surprise”- Some may find this slight, but that’s like saying early Beatles songs are slight. The optimism provides a real jolt, as does the lovely vocal interplay toward the end of the song. (On the whole, Working On A Dream is a treat for lovers of harmonies and sweet vocals.) Not every song has to solve the world’s problems. Some can just project good vibes into a world that needs them, and “Surprise, Surprise” does that better than most.
5. “This Life”- There’s a fine line between homage and copycatting. Springsteen and the band always seem to be on the right side of it on this album. The Pet Sounds open and the “ba-ba-ba” backing vocals near the end pay their respects to The Beach Boys, but it’s just a quick dip in the West Coast pool before we’re back on E Street thanks to Clarence Clemons wonderful solo. The narrator preoccupies himself with the heavens and spectral matters, realizing that there is nothing out there quite like what he’s found on Earth. The immortality mentioned in the bridge certainly seems doable in the midst of those beautiful harmonies.
4. “Outlaw Pete”- (Since I’ve had a lot of commentary in anticipation of this song already, I thought the best way to defend it would be to include the essay that accompanies the song in my new book, Counting Down Bruce Springsteen: His 100 Finest Songs. So here’s an exclusive excerpt solely for my loyal readers.)
Bruce Springsteen made a bold choice by making “Outlaw Pete” the leadoff track for his 2009 album Working on a Dream. It’s rare that an artist as advanced in his career as Springsteen can release a song that genuinely sounds like nothing they have done before, but “Outlaw Pete” manages to be just such an outlier.
Such a drastic departure doesn’t necessarily have to lead to something that’s artistically effective, of course, and it seems that “Outlaw Pete” is a bit of a polarizing song among the rabid Springsteen faithful. Some fans took to derisively labeling it “Out to Pee” for the way that a segment of the crowd would head for the bathrooms whenever the E Street Band trotted it out on the tour supporting Working on a Dream.
If there are fans who have dismissed this fascinating track, they should reconsider. “Outlaw Pete” is full of musical daring, and it works lyrically whether you choose to hear it as a well-told tall tale of a legendary bandit or as a metaphor for the way that the tentacles of the past relentlessly spread into the present and the future.
Springsteen referenced the latter reading in a 2009 interview with Observer Music Monthly. “The past is never the past,” he said. “It is always present. And you better reckon with it in your life and in your daily existence, or it will get you. It will get you really bad. It will come and devour you, it will remove you from the present. It will steal your future and this happens every day.”
That quote shows that Springsteen feels that the old William Faulkner maxim (“The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”) doesn’t quite go far enough to explain the danger of it all. The title character in “Outlaw Pete” is emblematic of this, a man whose attempt to put his heinous past behind him is nothing but a fool’s errand.
The music that accompanies Outlaw Pete on his journey is one of Springsteen’s most ambitious concoctions. It’s a heady combination of Ennio Morricone spaghetti-western ambience and progressive rock drama. The song alternately recalls some of the more ornate productions of Jeff Lynne for ELO and the over-the-top thrills of modern rock adventurers Muse.
If nothing else, the song takes you on a ride, and even if it occasionally makes you queasy, it’s never less than invigorating. There are powerful hooks at every turn, from the elegiac guitars to the darting strings. It’s all very cinematic, which makes sense in a song that plays out like some bizarre Western.
In the early stages of the song, Springsteen describes Pete in such away as to make him seem like the Paul Bunyan of banditry, weaving exaggerated tales of both his criminal behavior as a child and his supernatural defiance of heavenly figures. The tone gets more realistic when Pete gives up his life of crime to settle down with his new wife and child on an Indian reservation. From that point, Springsteen’s tale plays out like a thriller, especially with the introduction of the bounty hunter Dan.
Dan represents the righteous revenge that Pete has coming to him, and even as the bad (or badder) guy wins the showdown, Dan’s dying words ring with icy truth that Pete cannot deny: “We cannot undo these things we’ve done.” So Pete rides off alone and takes a header with his horse off a mountain.
That strange finish is just another one of the daring turns this song takes. It’s as if Springsteen started off writing a John Ford movie and it transformed into one directed by David Lynch. The refrain “Can you hear me?” becomes especially haunting at song’s end, since Pete is now an apparition calling from limbo to warn the living against repeating his mistakes.
Those who feel “Outlaw Pete” is too much of a departure for Springsteen might not be listening closely enough. After all, the street races and gang fights that filled his early narratives were always larger than life; “Outlaw Pete” just offers that grandiosity in a different setting. You could even say that the ambiguous ending, whereby no one can be sure of Pete’s fate, is a throwback to the way that Zero and Blind Terry disappeared into the night way back when.
In any case, Springsteen’s ambition is part of what makes him such an enduring artist. Experimental curve balls like this exciting track are testaments to his refusal to live off past glories. After all, as “Outlaw Pete” clearly shows, a healthy relationship with the past is integral to peace of mind in the present.
3. “The Wrestler”- Springsteen gets so far in the head of Mickey Rourke’s character from the film of the same name that he must have identified with him somewhat. Otherwise this could have been a bloodless, almost anthropological kind of character study. The narrator asks for no forgiveness or sympathy. He doesn’t even try to articulate the insensate urges that push him to choose pain and misery over love and companionship. Still, he takes a strange sense of pride from the fact that his utter self-destruction provides fodder for entertainment, that his fast road to oblivion is a spectacle for those who pay their two bits. Even though it wasn’t written for the album, it fits beautifully as the tack-on track.
2. “The Last Carnival”- Danny Federici got on the traveling circus that is The E Street Band back in 1973. His death in 2008 inspired Springsteen to reach back to “Wild Billy’s Circus Story,” writing this quasi-sequel as a tribute to his late friend. The basic gist is that the circus continues even as the vast hole left behind by the loss remains, a metaphor that rings true for anyone trying to move on from a devastating loss. Springsteen’s aching vocal is a thing of beauty, the carnival sounds (some conjured by Danny’s son Jason on accordion) haunt the edges of the narrative, and the final wail by the band really reaches you. Springsteen could have said goodbye any old way, but he really honors Federici with the ingenuity and heart behind this track.
1. “Kingdom Of Days”- A majestic love song, one of the best Springsteen has ever written, “Kingdom Of Days” speaks of a romance that still burns with the force of young love, even if it’s about two folks closer to senior citizen status than senior year. On other songs on the album, time ravages, sneers, and avenges. The couple in this song conquer time by coming to terms with it, robbing it of its power to harm. The chorus is simply beautiful, with the strings and horns providing the fanfare and the heavenly harmonies providing the heart. “We’ll laugh beneath the covers and count the wrinkles and the grays” might be, in its way, one of the most romantic things the man has ever written, and you can take that to the bank, Baby Blue.
(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, but you can pre-order now at all major online booksellers.)
For a guy who has remained stunningly controversy-free throughout his career, perhaps the most turbulent time in Bruce Springsteen’s career, at least with respect to his relationship with his established fans, came when he decided to disband The E Street Band and to record new music (and tour) with fresh collaborators. Human Touch, one of two albums released simultaneously in 1992, was somewhat of a letdown, but not because the “Other” band was lacking. The whole thing just seemed then like a grind at the time, and time hasn’t been kind to either the blunt-instrument production or, with a few exceptions, to Springsteen’s songwriting on the album. Here is a song-by-song review.
14. “Real Man”- The answer to the question of whether it was possible for Springsteen to write and record a lousy song. I can’t tell if the more egregious sin here is the reference to Rambo about seven years after he was culturally relevant (apparently those 57 channels were all tuned to the all-Stallone channel) or the horrendous keyboard riff (played by David Sancious in a less-than-inspired reunion) which sounds like a rehash from Dirk Diggler’s solo album. Let’s just forget this ever happened.
13. “All Or Nothing At All”- One of several tracks with dense production and scream-singing that borders on the grating.
12. “The Long Goodbye”- It has one really solid couplet: “Well I went to leave twenty years ago/Since then I guess I been packin’ kinda slow.” Other than that, well, just because a CD affords you some extra space, doesn’t mean you need to fill it.
11. “Gloria’s Eyes”- Zero melody to be found here, just a droning guitar riff and Springsteen’s monotone vocal. The lyrics are pedestrian as well.
10. “Roll Of The Dice”- Sometimes you just can’t win, especially with nitpicky listeners like myself. When Bruce attempted to dip back into a more classic Springsteen sound, as he does here with Roy Bittan’s see-sawing piano chords, it comes off more like Bob Seger (or at least a song that Seger might have handled better.) At least there’s a tune in here, for which Bittan, who co-wrote, deserves some credit.
9. “Man’s Job”- It’s catchy, which propels it above a lot of the stuff here, and even though the refrain sounds sexist, it’s really not. (He’s essentially saying that the girl belongs with someone with maturity, which the narrator thinks he possesses.) That said, even with legends Sam Moore and Bobby King on board, the whole soul testifying thing was way overdone on this album in general and on this song in particular.
8. “Pony Boy”- I’ve always found it charming. What can I say? I’m a sucker for rock stars singing to their kids.
7. “Cross My Heart”- Springsteen borrowed the title and some of the lyrics from blues legend Sonny Boy Williamson on this brooding track. It’s one of the more well-modulated musical efforts on the album and the lyrics are unfussy and focused. Nothing revelatory, but still enjoyable.
6. “Human Touch”- I think there’s a more modest and effective song, something akin to “Two Hearts” or “Tougher Than The Rest”, lurking within the lyrics. That’s what I try to find when I listen and I usually can, though it can be tough with all the needless screaming, unsubtle guitar solos, and pointless false endings. You can hear all the effort, which is something you can say about a lot of the album, and which isn’t a good thing.
5. “57 Channels (And Nothin’ On)”- It may not be the most incisive social commentary (and it sure sounds dated now that 57 channels is often the basic package.) Again, I think the setting betrays it somewhat. The whole Johnny Cash-meets-Elvis thing isn’t quite the right feel, but a Nebraska-type acoustic rave-up would have highlighted the hokey yet endearing humor. Even as it is, though, it still makes me chuckle.
4. “Soul Driver”- The metallic production deadens the impact somewhat, but this track delivers the soulful emotion that Springsteen clearly wanted to maintain throughout the album. Moore and Sancious are integrated much more artfully here as well, and there’s also an effectively downcast melody in place.
3. “Real World”- Bittan again is listed as co-writer here, and, probably not coincidentally, this is one of the tunes on the album that stands up well to repeated listens. Springsteen’s lyrics sound like therapy-based discoveries at times, but he pulls out an excellent chorus and a fiery bridge that propel this one a long way.
2. “With Every Wish”- The music, featuring evocative trumpet work from film-score whiz Mark Isham, is quite lovely, a respite from all of the heavy-handed electric tracks. The lyrics feel like autobiography with the names, places, and events changed to protect the innocent. Although it’s doubtful that he ever went catfishing in the creeks of Jersey or romanced a town beauty named Doreen, the restlessness and self-destructive tendencies seem like qualities with which Bruce was intimately familiar. The end result is a complex, relatable man made up of equal parts well-earned wariness and measured hope, which is a point we all usually reach somewhere along the line. Proof that his songwriting pen was still potent even on this disappointing release.
1. “I Wish I Were Blind”- It took a genre exercise, in this case an homage to the kind of weeper made famous by Roy Orbison, the kind in which the world crashes all around you when you see the one you love in the arms of another, to unlock the brilliant songwriter and performing artist that lay somewhat dormant on the rest of Human Touch. The appearance of The Righteous Brothers’ Bobby Hatfield singing heartbreak harmonies is the one guest appearance on the disc that appears completely seamless, and Springsteen solos with a purpose in the breaks. Most of all, this is a song that can stand alongside Orbison classics like “Crying” or “Running Scared” and not take a backseat, and there’s not much higher praise than that.
(E-mail me at email@example.com or follow me on Twitter @JimBeviglia. My new book, Counting Down Bruce Springsteen: His 100 Finest Songs, arrives on June 16. Pre-orders are available now.)
It’s quite amazing that Bruce Springsteen had achieved such success for the first decade or so of his recording career while eschewing, for the most part, the one topic most common in popular music: Relationships. That all changed in 1987 when he gave a deep-dish treatise on the subject matter with Tunnel Of Love. Springsteen grounded most of the E Street Band for the project to streamline his sound and put more emphasis on his lyrics, which dissected adult romance with equal parts deep emotion and searing candor. It’s so well-written that, depending on where your mind and heart are at, you might find it either a paean to love or a testament to why it just isn’t worth the pain. Here is a song-by-song review.
12. “All That Heaven Will Allow”- The Boss must have sensed that an album of complete doom and gloom would have turned off the romantics in the audience. That’s why changes of pace like this endearingly sweet ode to romantic faith are so crucial to the overall success of the album, even if on its own it can’t compare with some of the darker narratives.
11. “Two Faces”- Springsteen intentionally references the old Lou Christie hit “Two Faces Have I” with the lyrics and even turns in a little Farfisa solo to enhance the 60’s feel. But, as is often the case with this album, there is something lurking underneath the cool exterior. In this case, it’s the narrator’s admission of inconsistent behavior towards his girl that borders on a split personality.
10. “Spare Parts”- Bruce was looking for a kind of back-porch immediacy in the recording, which he achieves with the help of guest player James Wood on harmonica. The story falls somewhere between parable and cautionary tale, and although it’s not the most subtle piece of songwriting Springsteen has ever produced, it still manages to pull you in.
9. “When You’re Alone”- Some might consider this a minor track, and maybe it is considering the heady company it keeps on this album, but there’s a vulnerability to it that I really enjoy. Springsteen gives a tender vocal performance of lyrics that are unshowy but affecting. Having E Streeters Clarence Clemons, Nils Lofgren, and Patti Scialfa on backing vocals makes any bouts of loneliness the narrator might suffer much easier to bear.
8. “Ain’t Got You”- By putting this song right up front as the opener, Springsteen is bestowing upon it a level of importance that clues in the audience to listen closely. He then opens up about the benefits of stardom, a stunning bit of honesty for this champion of the common man. Yet even this modern-day King Farouk can’t buy himself love. It’s interesting that, when you take this song on its own, it’s pretty benign. When you consider all that follows it, turbulent undertones bubble to the surface.
7. “Walk Like A Man”- Again, we’ve got Springsteen writing with insight about the father-son relationship. And again, the music is unobtrusive, just an excuse to let Bruce tell his story. One of the great things about Springsteen’s body of work is that you can follow it through the years and spot the progression of different storylines and common themes. In this case, where there once was bitterness and raw emotions between the son and his Dad, now there is understanding and acceptance. Even if some of the old wounds still sting a bit, the happy occasion of the wedding soothes them almost into nonexistence.
6. “Valentine’s Day”- Probably the most enigmatic track on the album, and all the more intriguing because of it. Set to a loping pace and accompaniment that sounds like a moonlit night, the song sends Springsteen out on the highway where he’s been so many times before, but he barely notices his surroundings this time. Instead, he gets lost in contemplation about the joy of fatherhood, the fear of isolation, and his dreams of death, all of which eventually reinforce his commitment to getting home to his “lonely valentine.” In its acknowledgement of the darkness and embrace of the light, it’s the perfect closing track.
5. “Tunnel Of Love”- The title track is an expert example of metaphor in songwriting. This ride is exciting, dark, scary, funny, and extremely confusing, and Springsteen intimates that people should expect no less when they dive headlong into a relationship. With help from Roy Bittan’s shimmering synthesizers and Nils Lofgren’s wailing guitar, the music also niftily conjures a romantic ride that runs the risk of careening wildly out of control. “It ought to be easy,” the man says. It’s not easy, but it certainly ain’t dull.
4. “Tougher Than The Rest”- Here is another example of Springsteen shifting towards a more upbeat message without betraying the overall thematic bent of the album. His narrator here may be tough, but that toughness is borne out of heartaches suffered and lessons learned. There is also no promise of a happy ending, just a commitment to the attempt. Max Weinberg’s steadfast drumming reflects the intentions of the narrator, while Springsteen delivers the vocal with controlled intensity. You get the feeling that this would have been a hit of Bruce had pushed it in that direction.
3. “One Step Up”- The car won’t start, the birds won’t sing, and it’s all your fault. OK, it’s not that simple, because the narrator here seems willing to accept that he’s part of the endless cycle of fighting and recrimination that is slowly swallowing this couple whole. And instead of digging in his heels and trying to save the relationship, the dude heads off to a bar and starts scouting the local talent. But before he crosses the Rubicon of adultery, he indulges in an idealized memory/dream of his relationship that will never be again and probably never was to start. At that point, Patty Scialfa comes aboard for some ghostly backing vocals that are meant to haunt and not to soothe. The lyrics are pure country, the arrangement is elegant adult contemporary, and the sum total is irresistibly heartbreaking.
2. “Cautious Man”- When you inspect this brooder, you realize that nothing much happens action-wise. To onlookers, there probably seem to be only glad tidings in the turn of events that leads Bill Horton to marriage and stability. But Springsteen gives us his inner monologue, which the character never reveals to anyone, let alone his new bride. Those hidden thoughts reveal a man unable to stand the prosperity into which he stumbled, steered by the torment inside him toward destroying this redemptive love. Springsteen spares us the bitter end, but he does his job so well that we know that one of Billy’s moonlight rides will lead him right into oblivion. This is one of those sublime album tracks by Bruce that the casual fan might now know and should immediately seek out to hear a songwriting master class.
1. “Brilliant Disguise”- Springsteen managed to earn one of his biggest pop hits with one of his bleakest sets of lyrics. This was achieved in part by the tightness of the music and the melancholy grandeur of the melody, Bruce soaring into Orbisonian territory while Weinberg brings the timpani down on his head. Neither of the protagonists in this relationship are showing all their cards, but these games elevate to the point that the subterfuge overwhelms all the genuine feelings that might have brought them together in the first place. As they continually deceive each other and themselves, their love turns into something sinister and destructive. Hey, this isn’t for the faint of heart, but the punch of the recording combined with the sting of the lyrics makes this, pound-for-pound, one of Springsteen’s most powerful efforts.
(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 is available now at all major online booksellers.)
Just two years after the smashing success of their debut, The Traveling Wilburys returned in 1990 for a second round of roots-rock supergrouping that they titled, with typical tongue-in-cheek, Volume 3. Alas, they were missing a family member after the death of Roy Orbison, but Bob Dylan, Tom Petty, Jeff Lynne, and George Harrison soldiered on to far less media attention and sales. Here is a track-by-track review.
11. “New Blue Moon”- Lynne was essential to the group for his expert production and his ubiquitous vocal harmonies, but none of the songs on which he took lead in the group’s brief existence ever took off. This breezy number is just well-played filler.
10. “Seven Deadly Sins”- While the idea of Dylan singing lead in a doo-wop group has a certain subversive flair, it’s not enough to carry this one very far past pleasant inconsequentiality.
9. “Poor House”- Petty’s offbeat humor comes to the fore on this hootenanny, aided by Lynne’s yelping backing vocals and Harrison’s ever-fetching slide guitar. One of the most fun tracks on the album, even if it’s easily forgettable once it’s over.
8. “The Devil’s Been Busy”- The second Wilburys album was generally a shade darker than the first, perhaps reflecting the loss they had suffered when Orbison passed away. This track, which gets a nice boost from Harrison’s sitar, is bitingly cynical, a trait that would have sounded out of place on Volume 1. Dylan gets off the best line here, directed to the victims of corrupt power: “Sometimes you’re better off now knowing how much you’ve been had.”
7. “You Took My Breath Away”- Jeff Lynne produced two Tom Petty albums to continue their professional relationship, including Highway Companion in 2006. There’s a lovely ballad on that album called “Damaged By Love,” and you can hear the seeds of that song on “You Took My Breath Away.” The lyrics aren’t as polished on the Wilburys number, but the overall pace and production makes the songs pretty much first cousins.
6. “Where Were You Last Night?”- Both Wilburys album are consistently strong, but the second one lacks any true classics along the line of “Not Enough Anymore” or “Tweeter And The Monkey Man.” Songs like “Where Were You Last Night?,” an amiable ode to romantic suspicion coughed out by Dylan with Harrison helping out, rule the day. It gets by just fine on charm and professionalism but lacks the songwriting spark that propelled Volume 1.
5. “Cool Dry Place”- We all have storage problems, but musicians probably have to deal with that more than most. I learned that from this bluesy, saxophone-embellished affair that features Petty portraying a cramped instrument collector. So what if not everyone can relate to such an uptown problem? Al least the song has a distinctive point of view, which makes it stand out here.
4. “Wilbury Twist”- As stated above, Volume 3 was a relatively dour affair compared to Volume 1. That all goes out the window on the closing track, when the Wilburys create their own dance which includes, among other distinctive moves, this command from Harrison: “Put your other foot up/Fall on your ass/Get back up/Put your teeth in a glass.” At the time, everyone hoped that the Wilburys would regale us with more music down the road, but, as a closing statement by this casual assemblage of superstars, “Wilbury Twist” is as fitting as could be.
3. “Inside Out”- Environmental concerns seem to be at the heart of this song, although the lyrics work better as a series of one-liners rather than as a coherent whole. What carries the day is the group interplay, as Dylan takes the verses, Petty the refrains, and Harrison the bridge, while Lynne adds harmony to them all in an MVP performance. This one has the effortless bounce and swing of the first album, with walled acoustic guitars and Jim Keltner’s rock steady beat doing much of the heavy lifting.
2. “She’s My Baby”- As great as the first album was, there was nothing on there that really rocked. “She’s My Baby” takes care of that right from the bludgeoning opening riff. Keltner, as usual, is crucial, and Gary Moore comes aboard to play a fierce lead guitar and a sprinting solo. The lyrics are reminiscent of Vol. 1’s “Dirty World” in their reliance on double entendres and wink-wink, nudge-nudge sexual references, that is until Dylan (who else?) gets right to the heart of it: “She like to stick her tongue right down my throat.”
1. “If You Belonged to Me”- The band’s willingness to trade jobs and share the limelight on the second album is commendable, but the finest song, ironically enough, is the one where a single band member takes center stage. In this case, it’s Dylan, pulling one of his acidic love songs out of the holster and singing it with just the right mix of wounded pride and thinly-veiled disgust. His harmonica solo is typically stellar, and the acoustic guitar mix behind him is pristine. As a matter of fact, Harrison liked the arrangement so much that he essentially re-wrote the lyrics and presented it as “Any Road,” the lead track on his final solo album Brainwashed.
(E-mail me at email@example.com or follow me on Twitter @JimBeviglia. Books and e-books of material that originated on this site can be purchased from the link below.)
What started out as a George Harrison session featuring a few buddies turned into the Traveling Wlburys, and never has the term “supergroup” been more accurately applied. On Traveling Wilburys Vol.1, Harrison, Bob Dylan, Jeff Lynne, Tom Petty, and Roy Orbison come together for an album that rivaled the biggest hits the men ever had as individuals. Here is a track-by-track review.
10. “Margarita”- This is the one song on the album where the laid-back atmosphere crosses the fine line into silliness, and it’s also the one time when Lynne’s production gets a tad overbearing.
9. “Rattled”- Lynne has always been adept at mimicking mint-condition rockabilly, and here he hets his Jerry Lee Lewis on with the help of Jim Keltner’s muscular beat. Bonus points for getting Orbison to recreate his “Pretty Woman” “R” roll.
8. “Congratulations”- Dylan sounds so woeful here that you fear he might collapse rather than finish this tongue-in-cheek tale of misery. The Wilburys chime in with staggering backing vocals that make them sound like the world’s most harmonious chain gang.
7. “Heading For The Light”- This one sounds like it could have fit in on Harrison’s Cloud Nine album, which was essentially the impetus for the Wilburys anyway. Bouncy horns accentuate the upbeat tune, and you can hear the fun that the Quiet Beatle is having with his friends.
6. “Dirty World”- This is Dylan at his most off-the-cuff and mischievous, tossing off brazen double-entendres in an attempt to win over a girl from her new man. The random call-and-response session from the other Wilburys at song’s end is inspired as well. This song would seem slight in lesser hands, but here it’s a rollicking blast.
5. “Last Night”- Petty gets his showcase in this tale of a one-night stand gone horribly awry. There is something subversive and hilarious in the way that his deadpan vocals are interspersed with the golden tones of Orbison. It’s never clear just what fate befalls the narrator, but when he surmises at songs’ end that “All I got is this song,” it’s a pretty good consolation.
4. “Handle With Care”- Harrison’s dry humor gets a workout in this song that started the whole Wilburys phenomenon off. His protagonist is just looking for a little bit of tenderness after getting knocked around a bit by life, and some of the complaints sound like they hit pretty close to home (especially when he claims that he’s been “overexposed, commercialized.”) George’s slide guitar and Dylan’s harmonica turn out to be an inspired combination.
3. “End Of The Line”- This is another song where the juxtaposition of the disparate voices produces fantastic results. Harrison, Lynne, and Orbison trade off on the verses, reassuring listeners with the “It’s all right” refrain even as all mattersof hypothetical disasters loom in the distance. Petty serves as the wry counterpoint, making small talk about his car and Jimi Hendrix. This is the song where Lynne’s back-porch production is at its finest.
2. “Tweeter And The Monkey Man”- We can’t say for sure if the Wilburys ever considered including Bruce Springsteen in their little party, but he’s here in spirit thanks to Dylan’s hilarious parody. Thanks to some slinky horns and the catchy “And the walls came down” refrain, you don’t need to know any Boss references to enjoy the song. Yet if you do, you’ll find yourself chuckling along even as you admire Dylan’s ingenious tale of a bizarre love quadrangle featuring bullets, car chases, and gender confusion.
1. “Not Alone Anymore”- Jeff Lynne is most likely the author of this song (his publishing company holds the copyright), so he deserves credit for crafting a weeper that can hold its own with colossal Roy Orbison classics like “Crying,” “Running Scared,” and “It’s Over.” The rest is all Orbison, using perhaps the most iconic voice in rock music history to take the whole thing to stratospheric levels of heartache. There won’t be a dry eye in the house by the time this one is through.
(E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow me on Twitter @JimBeviglia. Books and e-books of material that originated on this site can be purchased in the link below.)
It’s one of the finest late-period Elvis Costello albums, but if you don’t have it already, you’re going to have to pay a little extra for a new copy. It’s out of print, you see.
I’m talking about the bonus disc found on the 2001 reissue of All This Useless Beauty. The songs contained on that disc are a wild cross-section of material, ranging from stuff written for other artists, to revamped versions of previously recorded songs, to covers, heck, there’s even a remix in there. Although it’s not structured in any coherent way and therefore constitutes a bit of a bumpy ride when heard all the way through, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better collection of 17 songs not just on any Elvis album, but on any album, period.
“The Days Take Care Of Everything” might well be the emotional centerpiece of this non-album, a stirring ballad that raises goose bumps with every listen. Costello’s efforts to write for others are always fascinating, because he doesn’t always realize that his unique style of lyric-writing would put words in the mouths of the intended singers that might not fit. For example, this song was written for Roy Orbison, but can you really hear Roy wrapping his glorious pipes around some of Elvis’ wordier phrases here? (Costello would solve that problem when he re-wrote “The Comedians” to fit Orbison better.)
I suppose there are remnants of Orbisonian drama in the surging melody of “The Days Take Care Of Everything,” but so much where you feel like it’s Elvis doing Roy. That’s OK, though, because you’re left with a ballad that’s pure E.C. and purely brilliant. The song is sung from the point of a view of a guy who has been a shoulder to cry on for a girl going through a bad romance, but he ultimately wants to be something more.
As someone who has been in that situation, the emotions that he conjures up in those lyrics are on-point.
Like any jilted suitor, he veers from hurt feelings to snide remarks to genuine warmth for this girl. Things reach a fever pitch when he realizes that the girl is not to blame for his reticence to show his feelings: “But how could you know that I was longing inside?/Our eyes never met and my hands stayed by my side.” In the refrain, he tries to assure the girl that her woes will not last, but you get the feeling he would have a hard time believing his own advice. Who cares if it was never released and it comes on an unofficial album? “The Days Take Care Of Everything” is wonderful nonetheless.
(The full Elvis Costello list is now available in e-book form. Here is the link:)