Tidal Catalog #23: Bruce Springsteen

Introduction: For those of you that have stumbled across this website and are interested in reading about my trek through the universe of the Tidal streaming service, let me tell you a bit about what I did. Back in 2016 I thought it would be kind of cool to listen to artist’s catalog from start to finish and rank them from best to worst. After all, who doesn’t like a good list? I thought I might do a few of them and see what happened, hoping it would introduce me to records that were foreign to me in the arsenal of an artist I was familiar with. I also though that it would be pretty cool to get out of the “one off” mode of listening to a new record, years after the previous one, in order to get a true sense of how the artist matured over time. Flash forward to June of 2019 and 250 catalogs later, I have ended the trek. I posted these all on Facebook over the years as they were completed but I’m going to move them all over here, starting with #1, in order to expand them out a bit more. Facebook doesn’t exactly allow for great formatting, you know?

As with all my catalogs, to be considered in the ranking, an album has to meet certain criteria:

  • The artist must actually perform on 80% of the tracks (soundtrack and rap provision)
  • No compilations of previous released material will be included.
  • The album must have been released officially and within the realm of the label that the artist would have been on at the time or official releases posthumously (normally applies to a slew of live records)
  • Any EPs must contain new new music and be relevant to the catalog, not be more like a single with a b-side or two.
  • Compilations of previously recorded material will be included if they are remixes, bonus tracks, outtakes… mostly music that hasn’t been part of a main release before)

Entrance Point: I grew up outside of Philadelphia, PA – which is down the road from Jersey and went to school in New Jersey – and where I’m from that means you listened to “The Boss,” and that I did. I had heard almost every record before I tackled putting these in order.

Included: Tracks, his 4-disc set of outtakes over the years.

Not Included: I have chosen not to include any of his live archive series. I wouldn’t necessarily consider these as part of his catalog but rather sort of little branch off the oak tree. 18 Tracks is also not included as it was a one-disc version of the Tracks boxset and since I’m including that, I felt no need to go here. Chapter & Verse isn’t here because while it does have some rarities on it, it’s the soundtrack to his book and plays out more like a Greatest Hits record.

All albums ranked on a 10 point scale:

  • Darkness on the Edge of Town (10)

Sometimes my catalogs were straight chalk – other times they didn’t follow collective wisdom. Frankly, I follow the beat of my own drum and my favorites usually aren’t in line with critics or die- hards and of course that doesn’t make them any better or worse than anyone else’s – just different. The Boss’ 4th record, Darkness on the Edge of Town wouldn’t be most people’s #1 record in his catalog since there are a slew of others that are great but I think most people would agree it’s a magnificent record. I think it’s the most perfect in this catalog. First, it’s concise with no filler. 42 minutes across 10 tracks is right in my wheelhouse. Secondly, it starts off perfectly with “Badlands,” an epic anthem if there ever was one. Thirdly, the non-singles are just as good, if not better than many of his singles. “Adam Raised a Cain” is a brilliant track that fit right in with his late 70’s funkier e-street material and “Racing in the Street” is one of the best, if not Bruce’s best ballad. In the end, I find Darkness to be the most consistent of his albums in the 70s, which contains all those masterful keyboard and horn driven E-Street songs and story driven ballads that made the Boss what he is today.

“Racing in the Street”
  • Born in the U.S.A. (10)

It’s probably a little cliche to put Born in the U.S.A. up so high on this list but there’s a reason the Boss peaked in 1984 – it’s a Goddamn great record. The album checked so many boxes. Perfect rock sound for the early 80s, appealed to pop fans and the heartland alike and FFS, even though it’s completely not an anthem, the title track was taken that way and the chorus spliced out in a way different manner than Bruce intended it to be. There were seven total singles from the record, four of which were on the flip side of the disc, making this an essential listen from start to finish. Lost in the glow of the title track, “Glory Days” and “Dancing in the Dark” are two singles that were just as good, “Cover Me” and “My Hometown” and non-single “Downbound Train” which easily could have been a single as well. Bruce always adapted well to the era he was in and this album is a perfect example an artist really embracing all the 80’s had to offer.

“Cover Me”
  • Lucky Town (10)

If I wasn’t off the rails from the first two in my list, then you’ll surely think I’m stumbling out of the gate on this one. I remember Springsteen essentially releasing the double record Human Touch/Lucky Town back in 1992. The former was always listed first, so when I picked them up, that’s the first one I listened to and was pretty disappointed in what seemed like a bunch of throw away tunes, including what I like to refer to as “the most dated song of all time,” the dumb, “57 channels (and Nothin’ On).” The only reason I even bothered with Lucky Town at the time, was the strength of lead single “Better Days” (I guess that would be a double lead single with “Human Touch” released on the same day giving radio one from each record to run with). So, I’m sure I didn’t like this much at the time. Also, considering I was into loud rock, grunge and rap at the time, this wasn’t in my wheelhouse. But that’s what I love about a catalog like this – because here it is nearly three decades later and I can really appreciate this album. Bruce saved all the really good songs for this record, with the title track and “Local Hero” being vintage Springsteen. What really struck me though is a wonderful song like “The Big Muddy,” which is a bit darker and actually makes me think about what someone like Eric Church is doing today. They call it outlaw country now and I wouldn’t quite classify this song that way but it’s definitely got a similar vibe. Halfway between Outlaw Country and Bon Jovi’s “Wanted Dead or Alive.” Even today, I can’t picture myself liking this at all back in 1992 as it didn’t fit in with the musical climate but today I’d call it a highly underrated record.

“The Big Muddy”
  • Born to Run (9.5)
  • Live 1975-1985 (9.5)
  • The Ghost of Tom Joad (9)

So, The Ghost of Tom Joad. I fucking hated this album with a passion back in 1995. Though to be fair, I wanted nothing to do with folk rock at all during this period of my life. And actually, I really don’t want anything to do with it now either but my tastes have expanded quite a bit as I’ve gotten up in years. And with that, my appreciation for this gorgeous record has increased as well. Fully acoustic, sparse and minimal in its instrumentation, this is one of those records you lay back and get lost in and that I did, over and over again while doing this. It probably could have gotten a perfect 10 as well but I simply couldn’t put this record over some of the more traditional Bruce classics. It’s such a great record but it’s a snapshot in time and not necessarily a record that you really go back to much in his catalog. I certainly won’t but that doesn’t mean it isn’t pretty awesome.

“The Ghost of Tom Joad”
Elvis Costello & Mumford & Sons – “The Ghost of Tom Joad”
  • Magic (9)
  • The Wild, The Innocent and the E-Street Shuffle (9)

If you know me, you know that I rarely like anything made before, say, 1978 or so. The Boss is one of the few exceptions to that rule and on top of that, I fully expected The Wild, The Innocent and the E-Street Shuffle to be at the top of this list going into the catalog. Despite being an 80’s collector and loving Born in the U.S.A., I had listened to this record more than any in his catalog. And “Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)” is my favorite Springsteen song. But listening to all these albums consecutively made me appreciate others a bit more and realize that while still a great record, it’s not perfect from start to finish, hence why it’s 8th on my list. But damn, does this have some great songs on it. The aforementioned “Rosalita” is crazy fun and “4th of July, Asbury Park” and “Kitty’s Back” are fantastic tunes as well.

“Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)”
  • Western Stars (9)
  • Nebraska (9)
  • The Rising (8.5)

The Rising was the first full album from Springsteen since Tom Joad in 1995. Released in 2002, it was pretty much the album that everyone wanted and needed at the time. Arriving a little more than nine months after 9/11 happened in the US, these tracks are a reflection on that event but made to be uplifting rather than a sad reflection of the worst event in my lifetime. The title track was the lead single and became the anthem of the aftermath of the event with the message that America will rise up again. But so many other tracks struck a chord during this time and were universal enough to apply to other situations where the country needed an uplifting message (such as Hurricane Katrina). “Waiting on a Sunny Day” was actually written a few years before 9/11 happened but certainly fit very well on this record and at this time. And the chorus of “Into the Fire,” despite not being a single, has been heard many times over the years: “May your strength give us strength / may your hope give us hope / may your faith give us faith / may your love bring us love.” In the end, this was a rockin’ record that made people feel good about themselves and gave them hope – exactly what was needed. In this context – as a whole, there’s a few weaker moments, which is why it’s 11th in order here but the amount of songs on this record that are pure Springsteen anthems is completely undeniable.

“Into the Fire”
  • Hammersmith Odeon London ’75 (8)
  • Western Stars – Songs from the Film (8)
  • The River (7.5)
  • Tunnel of Love (7.5)
  • Greetings from Asbury Park (7.5)
  • Human Touch (7)
  • Springsteen on Broadway (7)
  • The Promise (6.5)
  • Devils & Dust (6.5)
  • Chimes of Freedom EP (6)
  • Live in New York City (6)
  • We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions (6)
  • Working on a Dream (6)
  • Tracks (5)
  • Live in Dublin (5)
  • High Hopes (4.5)
  • Wrecking Ball (4)

There are likely many other records I could have talked about in this trek but I wanted to stop here because it’s kind of smack dab in the middle of a period of the Boss’ career where there’s a great EP somewhere in a full length release but otherwise, much of the material is flat. I wanted to like this one as it’s a bit different than many ofhis records, with some challenging arrangements and even a Celtic rock song (“Death to My Hometown”) but in the end a lot of the songs don’t hit the mark. When he shoots for an anthem, it tends to fall flat. When he puts a bit of a spin on a track with a funky arrangement, like “This Depression” it seems a bit misguided. I love that he didn’t crank out the same material over and over again but while I appreciate the attempt, this is his weakest full length record.

“This Depression”
  • In Concert / MTV Plugged (4)
  • American Beauty EP (3)

Summary: 30 albums, Average 7.2

New Music 6/14/19

It’s week 23 of ’19 and as we hit the summer months, we’re hitting prime time for new releases. I’m downloading records on Tidal based on name recognition or album covers that intrigue me, only. Some artists I have a history with and some I’ve never heard of. This is how I discover as I trek through the new music landscape.

Song of the Week: Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real, “Save a Little Heartache”
  • Album: Madonna – Madame X (Deluxe)
  • Previous knowledge: Bitch, she’s Madonna (Tidal catalog #4)
  • Review: Oh, my lord. Let’s just start off with the only statement you might need. You will not find another record quite like this in 2019, or maybe on Earth. Nothing I can say or do will make you listen or not listen to a Madonna record at this point in her career but I’m still going to spoil your fun and tell you to be prepared for some of the weirdest shit you’ve heard in a long time.

Madame X is influenced by her recent years living in Portugal and thus there’s a Latin vibe throughout the record. If you’ve heard the lead single, “Medellin” with Colombian singer Maluma, you’ll get that same feeling on multiple tracks spread across the disc. You’ll also get one of the most scattershot, bold, odd and daring albums of the year. There’s tracks on this album that are just absolutely terrible. The awkwardly titled “Killers Who Are Partying” is one of those tunes. With equally awkward lyrics like “I will be gay if the gay are burned / I’ll be Africa if Africa is shut down / I will be poor if the poor are humiliated / I’ll be a child if the children are exploited” I think she’s trying to take a human rights stance here but it comes across as odd statements by an entitled old white lady. And then there’s “Extreme Occident” which is really just her walking us through some multi-million dollar trip she likely took (without us.)

Along the way, you get the “1-2 cha-cha-cha” of Madonna singing in Portuguese and the mind blowingly different, “Dark Ballet” which begins with a slow hip-hop beat over a piano and then manages to combine auto-tuned vocals and the line “can’t you hear over your Supreme hoodie” over a passage from the Nutcracker.” So there’s actual ballet in “Dark Ballet.” You have never heard a song quite like this one, guaranteed.

That’s followed up by “God Control” (a song that appears to be about gun control) which begins with Madonna singing with her mouth shut, another rap with terrible fucking lyrics like: “People think that I’m insane / the only gun is in my brain / each new birth, it gives me hope / that’s why I don’t smoke that dope,” and a disco beat like you heard on Confessions on a Dance Floor. By the way, we’re only on track 3 right and already my mind has been blown.

Madonna also continues with what I’ll call, “The Bitch Series” as “Bitch, I’m Loca” shows up after both “Unapologetic Bitch” and “Bitch, I’m Madonna” on her last record. I’m hoping that she closes it out on her next record with “Bitch, I’m a Bitch.” I’ll give that record a 10/10 no matter what it sounds like.

There are some easy listens too – stuff that you’d possibly expect from Madonna, like the poppy “Come Alive” and the dance number, “I Don’t Search, I Find” but you really need to focus hard to get to them with your thoughts in one piece. Maybe what I should be expecting is some crazy ass shit every time out and then it will hit me right from the start. You need to give this multiple listens. This is not an album you sit with once and get it. You may never get it or you may find it so unique that it’s great right off the bat. Honestly, I’m not sure at this point. She’s either way ahead of everyone else with this album or just gone completely off the deep end. I’ve listened to it three times and once it didn’t catch me off guard, I was able to formulate an actual rank but it’s going to have to sink in a bit longer for me to be able to answer my statement above.

  • Ranking: First listen 6.5/10, Second listen 7.5/10, Third and final listen 7/10.
Madonna, “Dark Ballet”
  • Album: ZZ Top – Goin’ 50 (Digital Deluxe)
  • Previous knowledge: Everything
  • Review: For their 50th(!) year in existence, we’ve got a 50-track ZZ Top retrospective here. There’s actually a single disc version which is simply a greatest hits record and then there’s a 3-disc version. According to the track list, disc one are hits from the 60’s and 70’s, disc two features the 80s-present day and disc three covers the entire range and picks select non-hits to round out the 50. That said, the digital version on Tidal is unlike any version I’ve seen on the web. The first portion plays out a bit like a standard mixed greatest hits album, not the 1-disc version or the first disc of the deluxe set. And then the rest of the tracks are a mixture of early to present day material – so I guess it depends on where you listen as to what you get.

For me, the order here doesn’t matter all that much as this has to be one of the best road trip releases in history. It’s 80 degrees out right now here in sunny Pennsylvania and I was driving with all the windows and sun roof open and ZZ Top blaring. If I had to drive 500 miles on the highway, I’m sure I would be pulled over for speeding, as it was impossible not to get caught up in the adrenaline here.

The material here is remastered for 2019 and while the 70’s analog recordings can’t really be brought up to 2019 standards, they are surely better sounding than the originals and once they started digital recordings in the 80’s, the remasters sound absolutely stellar. My favorite remaster of all time is The Downward Spiral by Nine Inch Nails, which brought out so many nuances in the music when it was remastered two decades after the initial release. Listening to “Legs” again on this release, I got that same excited feeling as I did when I listened to the NIN record. It was produced well to begin with but the remastered version sounds absolutely stunning. And to give you a better reason to listen, this remastering makes “Velcro Fly” actually worth listening to. That’s how you do it, my friends. It can’t make the material from the last few albums sound any better though, because the songs themselves really aren’t that great to begin with but by the time they roll around forty tracks in, who the fuck cares. There’s no Goin’ 50 here. Put the top down and do 90 on the highway.

  • Rating: 9.5/10
ZZ Top, “La Grange” (remastered)
  • Album: Bruce Springsteen – Western Stars
  • Previous knowledge: The Boss! (Tidal catalog #23)
  • Review: It’s been five years since the Boss’ last record and seven since the last one with all new material. I was expecting a bit of a political record here as it seems like Bruce would be the guy to address the issues with the country right now, but this isn’t that. This is a subdued, yet sweeping orchestral solo record with character driven songs, like Bruce does best. The galloping steed on the front cover makes me happy and actually tells a bit of the story of the record. Homeland, journeys, deserts, loneliness, searching for something higher etc… all themes that you likely recognize from Bruce. He claims he was trying to channel Burt Bacharach and Glen Campbell and he’s done that almost perfectly. This is a beautifully smooth album of classic country with orchestral pop touches that really raise some of these tunes to classic Springsteen level.
  • Ranking: 9/10
Bruce Springsteen, “Chasin’ Wild Horses”
  • Album: Lukas Nelson and Promise of the Real – Turn Off the News (Build a Garden)
  • Previous knowledge: Backing band for Neil Young
  • Review: While I have never heard any actual original music by Promise of the Real, they have made two studio records, a soundtrack and a live album as the backing band for Neil Young and made him sound as good as he has in years. So I was curious as hell if I would hear Neil’s influence in here. Alternately, since Lukas Nelson is the son of Willie, I figured Daddy’s influence would be here as well. But while this is a country record, Lukas and Promise of the Real have really carved out their own sound. Yes, it’s a country record but more of a laid back roots rock album, full of chill grooves and extremely well written tunes. I don’t know a lot of Willie’s material (he’s releasing a new album next week too!) but I don’t picture him sounding like this and they’ve done a really nice job separating themselves from Neil’s sound as well. Don’t be shocked at all, if this wins a Grammy for best country record next year.
  • Ranking: 10/10
Promise of the Real, ” Out in LA”
  • Album: Chris Robinson Brotherhood – Servants of the Sun
  • Previous knowledge: Only his work in the Black Crowes
  • Review: Chris Robinson Brotherhood was formed in 2011 while the Black Crowes were on hiatus and they’ve cranked out six studio records and four live recordings in eight years since that point! I have no idea what anything else from these guys sounds like but I’m going to find out now. I suppose they are likely all a little similar to this one but I did read that Robinson created these songs so they could play them live as opposed to his previous album, so maybe these are simplified tunes. That said, this is blues rock at the core, which shouldn’t be surprising based on knowing the Black Crowes. Take their sound, smooth it out, add lots of keyboards and then tack on 3-4 minutes at the end of every song to make it jammy and you have this. Servants of the Sun is supremely catchy, filled with hook after hook and ultimately an absolute joy.
  • Ranking: 10/10
Chris Robinson Brotherhood, “The Chauffeur’s Daughter”
  • Album: Justina Valentine – Favorite Vibe
  • Previous knowledge: None
  • Review: I’m not going to lie. I chose this album to review because she’s on the cover in her bra. But that’s not really that unusual for Valentine. She’s been scantily clad for quite a while as part of the case of Nick Cannon’s Wild ‘N Out. So that makes her a white, female, scantily clad rapper. It’s hard to get the picture of Fergie or Iggy Azalea out of my mind when encountering any rapper that fits this profile. It’s not like the white female rapper has been represented well over the years with most material sounding remarkably inauthentic. Lyrics like these in “Eyes” – “I fucked him on the first date, he’s from outta state / I love that accent and we don’t have no time to waste / in that motel room you told me it was written / the bedbugs left but my love for you didn’t.” Yes, it sounds as awkward as it reads. This is a mixture of hip-hop, trap and pop and based on “Lifestyles of the Sick & Brainless” and the name of her last mixtape (FEMINEM) – it seems like she’s got this idea that she can be the female version of Eminem. Well, she’s got a long way to go then.
  • Ranking: 5/10
Justina Valentine, “Lifestyles of the Sick and Brainless”
  • Album: This Gift is A Curse – A Throne of Ash
  • Previous knowledge: Their two previous full lengths
  • Review: This is easily the loudest and most insane record I’ve reviewed this year. This Gift is a Curse is a blackened hardcore band, with elements of sludge sliding in-and-out of their albums. A Throne of Ash immediately recalls a group like Anaal Nathrakh, who play a chaotic brand of industrial blackened grindcore. These guys have been sludgier in the past but after their last record, they added a second guitarist. The second guitar has taken the ferociousness up 10 notches from where they were previously. This ends up being a vicious, insanely chaotic record. Not quite the wall of noise that Anaal Nathrakh usually is but very close. This surely won’t appeal to non-metal fans and even those that like metal kind of need to be in the right mood to be able to cope with this severe level of noise but if you’re in that mindset, it’s a very solid record.
  • Ranking: 8/10
This Gift is a Curse, “Blood Is My Harvest”

Albums ranked 10/10 so far in 2019 (ranking in release date order)

  1. Terror Jr. – Unfortunately, Terror Jr
  2. Emily King – Scenery
  3. Good Fuck – Good Fuck
  4. The Claypool Lennon Delirium – South of Reality
  5. UB40 – For the Many
  6. Griz – Ride Waves
  7. Pup – Morbid Stuff
  8. Lizzo – Cuz I Love You
  9. Howard Jones – Transform
  10. Mavis Staples – We Get By
  11. Prince – Originals
  12. Yeasayer – Erotic Returns
  13. Lukas Nelson and Promise of the Real – Turn off the News (Build a Garden)
  14. Chris Robinson Brotherhood – Servants of the Sun