Bruce Springsteen's new album, Devils & Dust, will likely elicit two reactions from his fans - comfort and boredom, says Philip Cheah.

 

For longtime Bruce Springsteen fans, Devils & Dust [Columbia/Sony] will likely produce two reactions - that of comfort and that of boredom. Fans who have followed Springsteen dutifully over the years will be comforted that the album has given us Springsteen the storyteller.

Devils & Dust works like a song cycle, this time it's an emphasis on the folks south of the border, living out their lives on the prairies (Black Cowboys/Silver Palomino), or struggling for creature comforts (Reno, the infamous butt-fuck song or Maria's Bed). But the real and perhaps only masterful moment is Matamoros Banks, where Springsteen successfully melds real feeling with intriguing structure.

Using a back-to-front narrative like the film classic, Sunset Boulevard, Springsteen brings a dead migrant back to life through his memories. The title track, which is Springsteen's statement against the War on Iraq, falls outside the rest of the songs and as a result, becomes almost incidental.

Unfortunately, I fall into the second category of fans and Devils & Dust just bored me to tears. I stopped listening to Springsteen seriously since 1992's Human Touch and Lucky Town. The last one I really cared for was 10 years before that and it was Nebraska. Devils & Dust comes across too much like Springsteen's mature sound of the ‘90s and everything that Streets of Philadelphia represented. It's also a Springsteen who's waiting to assume the mantle of a Johnny Cash.

Though Springsteen has taken his share of risks, for example, speaking out against the American-led war on Iraq, he hasn't quite passed through his ring of fire. That voice of authority and pain that Cash could summon just by breathing, is something that is still eluding Springsteen.

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CREAM
The Hottest Band In Their Sixties: Live At The Royal Albert Hall May 5, 2005 [No label 2CD]


Three old men had agreed to play four nights at a venue where 37 years ago, they bade farewell as 1968 marked the end of Cream. Eric Clapton [60], Jack Bruce [62] and Ginger Baker [65], sold out the Royal Albert Hall where three-quarters of Pink Floyd sat in the audience among celebrity and the moneyed kind in anticipation. For the rest, hopes depended on the intrepid recorder to smuggle his gear in and make this illicit recording.

So here it is, an audience tape made with a "solid state recorder", stereo mics and located in the circle seats, right of the stage. The mix favors bass and drums so you have to turn your bass knob to one-quarter while pushing treble to three-quarters. The taper isn’t too far away so the sound is clear and the voices near enough to avoid the hall’s echo.


It is a marvelous show from start to finish with no surprises. All the old faithfuls from the ’68 tour [ie Live Cream and Live Cream Vol 2] are played in Cream style - NSU, Sleepy Time Time, Sweet Wine, Rollin’ And Tumblin’ from Vol 1 and Deserted Cities Of The Heart, White Room, Politician and the encore Sunshine Of Your Love from Vol 2. Not to miss anything Cream also play We’re Going Wrong from Disraeli Gears; Pressed Rat And Warthog from Wheels Of Fire and the excellent Crossroads that marked Eric Clapton for life.

None of the excesses that marred the ’68 tour are here. Ginger Baker’s solo spot, Toad, is kept to under 14 mins. The sprightly Badge, the only great song on Goodbye, is given its four-minute pop treatment. There’s also no shortage of the blues - T Bone Walker’s Stormy Monday, Booker T’s Born Under A Band Sign and the Wolf’s Sitting On Top Of The World. Eric and Jack take turns singing lead. You don’t sense tension but great warmth and affection.

For the twentysomethings, the big deal about Cream will be how three old men can sound like a hurricane without an orchestra. With guitar, bass and drums, Cream pioneered the power trio. Listen to Cream next to a trio of the ‘90s, like Nirvana, and you can tell who was leader and who follower. Respect. - The Little Chicken


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