Tuesday, May 10, 2005


Although sometimes even I consider myself a fully-paid up Brooooocie bore, on recent reflection I realised I had only actually owned four of his 18 records up to that point, 'Darkness On The Edge Of Town', 'The River', 'Tunnel Of Love' and his 2002 renaissance 'The Rising'. Guess we need to update that now to 5 out of 19 with Devils and Dust, his latest #1 album, in which he has exchanged the E-Street Band for a grittier and more reflective semi-acoustic production. If anything, though, this musically muted approach serves to strengthen rather than dilute the sentiments of the songs, which, stripped of hyperbole and hollow camaderie, manage to be convincingly masculine and yet at the same time wholly moving. It's a record by a man not afraid to examine human nature at its most fragile and flawed and yet be brave enough to find something to hold on to, something worth fighting for, something worth saving.

This is perfectly illustrated by the title track and album opener in which Springsteen imagines himself as a young soldier bewildered in Baghdad, where the mood and feel of the music matches the sentiment of the lyrics so well that it could never be open to misinterpretation in the manner that befell 'Born In The USA'. It's a shame then, that moral guardians, lazy journalists and multinational coffee vendors have got their cappucinos in a froth over the graphic lyrics on one track, 'Reno', in which the Broocester tells the story of a man whose lurid encounter with a prostitute serves only to concentrate his mind on the loss of his life's true love. It's actually a very moral song where the unsqueamish depiction of a desperate and ultimately self-defeating act brings out the poignancy of the tale, but I guess that kind of interpretation doesn't make the same sort of headlines.

'Devils and Dust' is a record made by adults for adults, and that alone marks it out as a singular release in the current marketplace. That's not to say that it's as dull and fusty as its detractors would have you believe, with the raucous good-time strains of 'Maria's Bed' and tuneful pop of 'All I'm Thinkin' About' certainly capable of standing alone as singles. Other songs, however, take longer to reveal their treasures, like 'Silver Palomino' and the closing track 'Matamoros Banks', a subtle strumalong that draws you in slowly before the final repeat of the chorus stops your heart in its tracks.

In summary, this solemn but impassioned record is consistent with, and yet distinctive from, the previous eighteen records in the Springsteen canon, and as such, is as good an album as anyone could have realistically hoped for at this stage of his career. Are you man enough to encounter Devils and Dust?

And, at the same time, are you in touch enough with your feminine side to embrace Tegan and Sara, two photogenic lesbian sisters from (but, bien sur) Canada, whose third album So Jealous provides the missing link between Wilson Phillips and The Marine Girls? This sherbet cocktail of a pop-fizz production and almost sickeningly-sweet singing won't be for all tastes, but I found the slightly bitter kernel of self-deprecation at the centre of these songs allied to the strict regime of several winning pop-rock hooks per tune, a thrilling antidote to what otherwise might have been the sonic equivalent of diabetes for the ears.

In fact, (SEXUAL ORIENTATION STEREOTYPE ALERT!) every time I listen to this all-vanilla no-filler record, my 'inner skinny lesbian' grabs a clutch of scatter cushions and scented candles of varying sizes, reaches for the Buffy boxset, ramps up the volume and puts the 'do not disturb' sign outside the bedroom door. So Jealous, then: all buzz, all of the time. Just a shame my 'inner skinny lesbian' is never around when the neighbours come over complaining about the noise.


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