BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN: LUCKY TOWN (1992)
1) Better Days; 2) Lucky Town; 3) Local Hero; 4) If I Should Fall Behind; 5) Leap Of Faith; 6) The Big Muddy; 7) Living Proof; 8) Book Of Dreams; 9) Souls Of The Departed; 10) My Beautiful Reward.
Local lore says that Bruce went into the studio to record one last song for Human Touch, ended up recording ten more, and eventually just decided to put them on a separate album and release both on the same day. The decision was not just a marketing ploy — Lucky Town is different in mood, scope, goals, whatever, even if both titles are so structurally symmetric that I sometimes confuse one with another. That said, it's still a late period Springsteen album, and even when he is at his best, the Boss finds it hard to reinvent himself — when he is not at his best, you could probably build a computer program correctly predicting most of his moves.
Anyway, this relatively short collection is less overproduced, somewhat more stripped down and domestic (although the man still employs a full band), and focuses more on Springsteen's personal life than on character impersonating. And since Springsteen's personal life was sort of normalized, with a loving woman and a little child at his side, the songs here reflect that — Lucky Town is a fairly happy album of generally satisfied songs. "These are better days", "I'm going down to Lucky Town, I wanna lose those blues I've found", "Looking for a little bit of God's mercy, I found living proof" — well, at the very least he's being honest: certainly it is no good to write bitter, angry, or depressed songs if you don't feel bitter, angry, or depressed.
The problem, however, is not that we refuse to acknowledge Springsteen's right to be happy, or his right to express that happiness in his songs and then sell them to anyone who's buying. The problem is that, for twenty years, it was either negative emotion or passionate drive that were responsible for his successes. Were he a fantastic composer, or a Musician with a capital M, there is a chance that he could come up with some great happy songs — cozy, settled-in, with unforgettable melodies. But as sincere as ʽLiving Proofʼ, a song about his newborn son, probably is, from a musical standpoint it ain't no ʽIsn't She Lovelyʼ, and does not even begin to come close to those musical pieces that actually manage to convey that pure baby-joy. ʽLiving Proofʼ just sort of states the fact, you know. He's happy, he's had a son, we feel happy for him too, end of story, period. What's so special? Certainly not the musical wrap-up of the info.
It is rather eerie that on the front cover, he kind of looks like Dylan on the cover of Infidels ten years go, back when it was Bob who was entering the third decade of his career — and, likewise, with an album that told us, "Hi! I'm nice and friendly, but please do not count on me for any new revelations or insights, I'm really just here to let you know that life goes on, and the ragged hair and dark glasses mean that I'm still a little hip, but also a little lost and confused as to my creativity, and also I just don't want to look you straight in the eye because I might end up looking embarrassed, so shades seem like the best option". But at least Infidels had ʽJokermanʼ, which was a great epic song, and it had all those ridiculous, but fun, Zionist connotations — Lucky Town is just a record about a loving husband and a happy father.
Okay, so there is one «dark» song about the Gulf War — ʽSouls Of The Departedʼ, with swampy guitars, echoes, and overproduction that suggest it rather belongs on Human Touch, and must have ended up here by mistake. It is bitter, though not exactly accusatory (more like an abstract deep mourning for those about whom we never know whether they died in vain or not), but it is also very restrained, and Bruce just does not have that invisible intelligent coolness that can make his rock songs work without the man going berserk on them — this laid-back attitude actually makes it seem like he's being indifferent about what he sings. Which is probably not the case, or else he would not sing about it, but that is how it comes across.
But all said, Lucky Town is also an album to which I would feel ashamed to issue a thumbs down judgement. It doesn't sound too shitty, the songs are not too way below Bruce's usual level of catchiness, it is sincere and accurately conveys his then-current state of mind — it's probably the best he could do at the moment, indeed, stuck in a safe, not-too-exciting rut of domestic happiness. At least he's not posing, or calculating, or puffing up his image (there is even an ironic song here about his own personality cult — ʽLocal Heroʼ). There is no need whatsoever for anyone to hear or own this record unless you have to know all the details of the ups and downs of the man's artistic career — however, within that career it has its own certified place, a little lake of musical tranquility straight in between the musical storms of 1984 and 2002.