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13 Mar

One Nation, Under Music

Last week, two of my favorite artists release CDs on the same day. What was strange is that neither of them have much in common, yet they approached similar subject matter in their music – the current economic state and world view of the US. Both artists have covered similar social subjects before, but launching on the same day gave rise to comparison in message and approach.

Bruce Springsteen has done his share of musical commentary on the state of our country and/or explored the state of the human experience. From “Nebraska” to “The Ghost of Tom Joad” and “The Rising,” he has covered some territory normally reserved for the Woody Guthries and Bob Dylans (neither of which he is) of the new musical order. His views are rarely pointed and are typically either wrapped up in bombastic anthems or stark guitar meditations. That has all changed with “Wrecking Ball,” a charged-up mass of spit that is probably his biggest and loudest political statement. Just the titles alone can make you either sad or angry – “We Take Care of Our Own,” “Shackled and Drawn,” “Death to My Hometown,” and “This Depression” to name a few. Each song has a message and Springsteen pushes it down your throat in 8-cylinder “Born to Run” fashion. The thing is, the disc is really great. Sonically charged, driving, fist pumping, etc., it is probably his most vibrant disc in a very long time. And some of the old magic from him and the band hits its apex with “Land of Hope and Dreams,” complete with a banging’ piano riff and one of Clarence Clemon’s last sax solos. It rocks. Still, for me he just kind of says he’s angry with the current state of our world and economy and that the days of “My Hometown” are over and don’t it suck. I guess it is fine, but this coming from a multi-millionaire who probably wears $1000 boots and designer jeans and having it all wrapped up in a high-sheen studio gloss seems a little too much to swallow. As much as he thinks the fat cats and politicians are out of touch with the people, he has to realize he’s not really “one of the people” any longer either. It’s like he hasn’t realized that he has moved into a world where his nickname, “The Boss,” means something different. I think it’s a great record and love hearing it, but the message portion just doesn’t equate for me.

On the other hand, Todd Snider has been making sly commentary on the world around us for a long time now. His self-described “peace hippy” personal has played well and has turning him into a kind of modern folk hero. The new collection, “Agnostic Hymns & Stoner Fables” brings to life some of the same subjects Springsteen covered, but in a more observational and less confrontational way. By comparison, his titles like “New York Banker” and “In Between Jobs” are more subtle and less in-your-face and his approach is more real – as if he walked in a studio and plugged in a guitar and mic and just started a song. It is a more appropriate setting for the subjects and his lyrics make you pay attention and want to hear what he has to say. Some of his lyrics are pointed, but done in a more ironic or humorous approach. When he strums along and sings about “good things happen to bad people,” you kind of just nod your head and say “I hear ya, bro.” And it feel natural. He’s a hard scrabble cat still just trying to make his way in the world and we can relate to him. It’s a terrific disc.

Snider and Springsteen are worlds apart. Which suits your world better? ¬†You can look at it this way: if you love your Miller Lites, are mad as hell and don’t wanna take it any more, and dig raising your fist in the air, you need Bruce. If you like a bit o’ Jack, are wishing everyone would just have some common sense and get along, and like to see the world through a little bit of haze, seek out Todd.


Categories: Commentary, Music, Review
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