Reborn, and Running Again
Time, 1992-04-06, by: Jay Cocks
After more than four years, Bruce Springsteen releases a pair of spellbinding albums, mostly about love
These are two wonderful records about the light at the end of the tunnel of love. Forget all you have heard and read since Bruce Springsteen's two advance singles were released three weeks ago - unless, of course, you listened to the songs, in which case you could ignore all the Charlie Inside show-biz reporting about how radio stations were skeptical and record stores a little uncertain, and was Bruce, at 42, a family man with two kids, a little too settled and a little too wealthy and a little too out of touch to burn the house down?
Well, the house is on fire. The singles sang for themselves; the plaintiveness of "Human Touch;" the explosive emotional release of "Better Days," one of the best tunes Springsteen has ever written. The albums - "Human Touch" and "Lucky Town" - are a twin testament to the power of redemptive love, to the resilience of Springsteen's gifts and to the restless spirit.
His last album, "Tunnel of Love," was released four and a half years ago. The final record made with the E Street Band, it was like an unstanched wound. The songs were usually interpreted as a reflection of his considerable personal turmoil. "Human Touch" and "Lucky Town," as the titles suggest, are about putting smashed pieces together, about measuring loss and transcending it. Whatever he staked on these records, he's got it back on one "Roll of the Dice."
That tune comes midpoint on "Human Touch" and catches Springsteen in full cry as a "thief in the house of love," doing one of those 40-megaton rave-ups that can bring stadium audiences to their feet. "Human Touch" was the first of the albums to be completed, and, with the backing of some heavy-duty Los Angeles session players and such soulful voices as Bobby King and Sam Moore, it has a real diamond-cut luster and precision. It also has plenty of nerve. Two tunes, "Man's Job" and "Real Man," trash all the stereotypes of rock lyrics ("Now if you're lookin' for a hero, someone to save the day / Well, darlin', my feet they're made of clay") and present love - looking for it, nurturing it, keeping it - as the real man's job.
While Springsteen was trying to decide whether his "Human Touch" album was actually finished, he returned to the studio and emerged, only about eight weeks later, with the 10 songs on "Lucky Town." The sound is somewhat sparer here, the lyrics rougher around the edges and maybe even better for that. "Better Days," that kicks the record off, has already attracted some comment for the lines, "Now a life of leisure and a pirate's treasure don't make much for tragedy." It's as if Springsteen were taking a hard, long look at himself, but the key lines are the ones that follow: "But it's a sad man, my friend, who's livin' in his own skin and can't stand the company."
A measure of sadness suffuses these records. But there is also an urgent hope, a rush of spirit, a "Leap of Faith," in which Springsteen combines sexual and sacramental imagery in a great erotic epiphany. And there is a new kind of sorcery, too. Springsteen ends "Lucky Town" with the eerie spirituality of "My Beautiful Reward," which is a unique combination of a Van Morisson religious song and a Native American peyote dream. It's a step into the mystic, a new direction. Springsteen's reborn and running again.