The Boss Is Back



Last week, in the middle of a particularly hectic phase at work, Bruce Springsteen came to my aid. Just as long hours and frayed tempers were threatening to take their toll on my sanity came the announcement that the Boss was dropping a new EP with four never-before-released songs. The EP’s called American Beauty (I know that the use of that title could seem like blasphemy to many Deadheads, but never mind). As I write this, one single from American Beauty has been streaming all over the Internet. It’s called Hurry Up Sundown and it’s a classic rock and roll track, upbeat, lyrically direct and quintessentially Springsteen-esque: just what the doctor ordered if you’ve been stressed out at work.

American Beauty will be a Springsteen record that the Boss’s legions of fans around the world will be looking forward to, particularly since it has new previously unreleased songs

American Beauty will be a Springsteen record that the Boss’s legions of fans around the world will be looking forward to, particularly since it has new previously unreleased songs Photo: Getty Images

By the time you read this, Springsteen’s new EP would be out (it’s a vinyl-only launch but I’m pretty sure the ripped tracks are on a site near you!) and if Hurry Up Sundown is any indicator, it’s an album that is a must-have. Here’s a snatch of the lyrics on the single that I heard: It’s the end of another working day/Come on and pack your blues away/Change your clothes; we’ll go for a ride/To the other side. No prizes for guessing why that song took care of my work-related stress. Springsteen has played every instrument on the new studio album. It is a straightforward rock album, except for the drums, on which he has enlisted John Freese, sessions drummer who’s played on two American bands — Devo and Nine Inch Nails.

American Beauty

American Beauty

American Beauty will be a Springsteen record that the Boss’s legions of fans around the world will be looking forward to, particularly since it has new previously unreleased songs. Last January’s High Hopes was a good album but all of the songs on it were either outtakes or new versions of old Bruce Springsteen songs and, in a way, a bit underwhelming. American Beauty promises to be quite different.

Springsteen’s brand of American Heartland rock, with its classic sound and lyrics that are simple and direct, has been a big hit with large audiences, but especially with the blue-collar strata, a demographic that is also the core for another more contemporary band, The Hold Steady. The band from Brooklyn has a bar-room feel to its music and a penchant for story-telling about the lives, travails and tribulations of working class characters.
The Hold Steady’s music has a bar-room feel and a penchant for stories about the lives of working class characters, as heard on their latest album, Teeth Dreams

The Hold Steady’s music has a bar-room feel and a penchant for stories about the lives of working class characters, as heard on their latest album, Teeth Dreams

After listening to the single new track from Springsteen, which did a lot for my stress but not enough, I turned to The Hold Steady’s latest album, Teeth Dreams: 10 songs; gritty lyrics made grittier by frontman Craig Finn’s vocals and his trademark narrative style of singing; and the seedy characters and hairy situations that familiarly pop up in the songs. The Brooklyn band references Minneapolis in most of its albums, perhaps because Finn is originally from Minnesota and spent his formative years there. The Hold Steady has a catalogue of six studio albums of which I like 2005’s Separation Sunday the most. That’s where I got acquainted with Finn’s cast of unsavoury, druggy and delinquent characters and the stories that swirled involving them. Finn’s vocals are something that need getting used to and I’ve come across people who’ve tried and given up. But, speaking for myself, in his rough-edged, nasally-delivered style there is something rather appealing.

On the new album, Finn doesn’t spring any major surprises. He and his band stick to what works for them — songs about intriguing characters and what they’re up to. On Big Cig, the lyrics begin with She says she always smoked cigarettes/ Ever since she was seven/She always likes the big ones best/You get more for your money. And then goes on to: Some nights she’s a scientist/She pulls me into experiments/Squeezes hard and/ Charts the forward progress. You get the drift.
But amidst The Hold Steady’s boozy sound and edgy lyrics, which actually are the best things about their music, you can find other gems. On Teeth Dreams, I found myself listening a lot to Almost Everything, which, among other things talks about, well, band life: The bus it rolled up into Franklin at dawn and everything seemed super slo-mo/ The Waffle House waitress that asked us we were Pink Floyd/ Sat in the back of the theater just drinking and talking/ About movies and Krishna and hardcore and Jesus and joy. Nice and stress-busting.

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