Bruce Springsteen – I was never that great a Bruce fan. Firstly, I somehow missed out on the first couple of his albums and only caught up in the Eighties. My main gripe was that critics were calling him the New Dylan…as if. And just as when a new band are proclaimed as the new Beatles it just raises my hackles, I am afraid. Also, calling him The Boss was more than annoying. Still – there is no doubting his place in the pantheon of 20th Century rock (somewhere in the mid twenties – possibly). I first really loved him with Born In The USA, a classic rock anthem if ever there was one, and the single ‘Dancing In The Dark’. I worked back a few (but not all the way) albums. First of which was the double The River (1980); a double album chock full of pretty good, and what would remain, classic Springsteen songs of working-class life and struggles of love and loss – universal, and some great melodies. The album was originally planned as a single record ‘The Ties That Bind’ – but Bruce was writing incessantly and the band returned to the studio recording almost 50 songs in total. 8 more were added as a second disc. So, the River (part 1) starts with ‘The Ties That Bind’, and gets better as it progresses….best songs are ‘Sherry Darling’, ‘Hungry Heart’ and ‘Independence Day’ but I also love closer – ‘The River’. In some ways this might have worked better as just this album. Disc 2 – is almost better than the first. The trouble with double albums is that they are sometimes just too much to take in at one time. And in the days of vinyl it often happened that side one of disc one was played relentlessly and the second disc not so well played. Best songs are hard to pick but I do love ‘Stolen Car’, Drove All Night’ and ‘ Wreck On The Highway’. 1982 saw Bruce present a completely different album. He had recorded demos for the E Street band to record but decided to simply release the songs as they were; very acoustic and moody – the resulting album Nebraska is one of his best, so a wise decision. A gorgeous quiet heartfelt album – where the songs are given room to breathe. Best songs are again hard to pick but ‘Atlantic City’, ‘State Trooper’ and ‘Johnny 99’ stand out as exceptional. Then in 1984 came the real breakthrough album Born In The USA – a standout and quite commercial album which broke Bruce to a much wider audience, not least because of the great video to the single ‘Dancing In The Dark’. The album is chock full of brilliant songs not least of which are ‘Darlington County’, ‘No Surrender’, ‘Glory Days’ and ‘My Hometown’. As so often happened though the follow-up was considered weaker, even though Tunnel Of Love (1987) was actually a fine album. Maybe the three year gap had softened his edge, maybe it was the over-produced over use of synthesisers or maybe it was the fame – who knows but the album seems to lack any real sense of excitement. Despite that it does contain some fine songs – ‘Brilliant Surprise’, ‘Tougher Than the Rest’ and the title songs itself. I sort-of lost interest a bit in Bruce for the rest of the Eighties (I did buy Human Touch and ‘Lucky Town’ at the time but haven’t been tempted to replace them on CD s yet. In 1995 though, Bruce released another very quiet album The Ghost Of Tom Joad. Similar in mood to Nebraska being acoustic in feel, even though five tracks again feature the band. Tom Joad was a character in Steinbeck’s ‘Grapes Of Wrath’ and Springsteen updates those desperate times with new hard times for poor Americans. The album has a tex-mex feel, one of the tracks; one song is Sinaloa Cowboys. Along with Nebraska this is my favourite Springsteen album. Maybe I am just a sucker for sad songs; best of which are – the title track, ‘Sinaloa Cowboys’ and ‘Across the Border’. A very quiet contemplative album. There was then a gap of 7 years….( who knows why). In the meantime an album of outtakes was released 18 tracks (1999). A bit of a mixed bag really. I like some of the songs but others are just bombastic. Best are ‘Growing Up’, ‘Pink Cadillac’ and ‘The Promise’. Eventually The Rising came out in 2002. An album about and inspired by the 9/11 attack in New York. Strange that Americans bomb third world countries with impunity but get so upset when theirs is attacked. All in all though a pretty good album and a big seller, Best songs ‘The Rising’, ‘You’re Missing’ and ‘My City In Ruins’. A welcome return and a nicely varied album with the E street band in tow. It seems that once the tap (of writing, recording and touring) had been turned back on Bruce had a new lease of life. He released Devils and Dust in 2005. Not a bad album at all. This again was an acoustic album. Best tracks – ‘Black Cowboys’, ‘Reno’ and ‘Long Time Coming’. I find however that the lyrics just pass me by, somehow the sound of the instruments and Bruce’s quite subdued voice mean I am listening to the sound rather than hearing the words. Magic followed in 2007. A more varied album this time – recorded with the E Street band. Best songs ‘Girls In Their Summer Clothes’, ‘Radio Nowhere’ and ‘Long Walk Home’. And somehow, with the band in full flow I can hear the words better, and enjoy the whole album better. Working On A Dream came out in 2009. A fairly typical Springsteen effort; a few bombastic anthems and a couple of quieter songs. Somehow, I felt he was plodding along really. Best tracks (all overlong) were the title track and ‘Queen Of The Supermarket’ and ‘Life Itself’. The most recent acquisition I have is 2012’s Wrecking Ball. Which may be a mistake as this is a cracking record. Bruce seems to just be able to knock these great songs out – but you sometimes have to ask yourself -just how many albums do I need. For some artists there is no contest – I have to have them all…but for Bruce I have enough (possibly). Except, of course, for the compilations. Greatest Hits is a pretty good selection, mostly early stuff of course. And The Essential Bruce Springsteen – well, not really so essential but there you go.
Split Enz – Now, this is more like it. A New Zealand band who emerged in the early 70’s and were almost forerunners of the punk movement; only difference was they wrote great songs and were phenomenal musicians. Led by Tim Finn and joined later by younger brother Neil the band were at first a bit of a cult band – but following big hit ‘I Got You’ they gained fame and fans. I first saw them in 77 at the Roundhouse and was truly amazed by them. Such a breath of fresh air in what was becoming a slightly predictable rock scene. They were brightly dressed in almost clowns’ outfits with spiky coloured hair, and they tended to run around the stage while singing and playing. Anyway, I worked back to their earlier albums. First of which was Mental Notes (1975). The band were then a seven piece, and most of the songs were written by Phil Judd and only 2 in collaboration with Tim. A bit of a mixed bag really, a couple of very good songs and a few less brilliant. Still, ‘Walking Down A Road’, ‘Titus’ and ‘Time For A Change’ showed the spark of originality that was soon to flower. Their second followed a year later Second Thoughts; and despite quite a few the of songs re-recorded from the first album it is pretty damn good. Apparently, Tim was intent on re-recording songs which he thought were poor on the first album. I bought this at the time on vinyl – but haven’t got it on CD (all their original albums are very expensive now on CD). But an early favourite was 1977’s Dizrythmia. Phil Judd and a couple of others had left the band, replaced by Tim’s younger brother Neil and Nigel Griggs and Malcolm Green, who became long-standing members of the band. Well, this album was a revelation….much better songs and a smoother, more rounded sound; more poppy I suppose. Best songs are ‘Crosswords’, ‘My Mistake’ and the superb ballad ‘Charlie’. The band was really now Tim’s band – although brother Neil started writing and taking lead vocals on the next couple of albums. The first of which was 1979’s Frenzy. Another excellent album; mostly good melodic and clever songs. It does seem a touch dated now though…but still pretty good. Best songs are the almost manic ‘I See Red’, the hillbilly sounding ‘Hermit McDermitt’ and the beautiful ballad ‘Stuff and Nonsense’. Then in 1980 came the masterpiece of the band’s career. The album True Colours (as well as being available in various coloured covers) was one of those absolute rarities – a perfect album. There are very few records where every song feels just right, and you simply sing along to each track, then press replay again and again. The album opens with the frantic and lyrically amusing ‘Shark Attack’ (I was swimming in the water when I bought a shark attack). Followed by the big worldwide hit single ‘I Got You’ (a Neil Finn, sung and written, infectiously poppy tune) from there it just zings along – ballads like ‘I Hope I Never’ and ‘Poor Boy’, the superb and best song about personal failure ever written ‘Nobody takes Me Seriously’, as well as more upbeat numbers like ‘I Wouldn’t Dream Of It’ and ‘What’s the Matter With You’ – and a personal favourite – ‘Missing Person’. By this time about half the songs were being written and/or sung by Neil. The album topped the charts in Oz and NZ but only hit 38 in the UK. All I know is it ranks in my top 100 albums and maybe even my top 50 (but actually how can you compare – I often say to people when they ask what is my favourite album “The one I am listening to now”) Waiata followed in 1981 (the title being a Maori word for song or singing). Another very good album, not quite as impressive as True Colours, but pretty good….best songs; ‘One Step Ahead’, ‘History Never Repeats’, Walking Through The Ruins’ and ‘Ghost Girl’. The band were really flying with Neil and Tim swapping song-writing and singing. They were writing and making albums pretty quickly too – Time and Tide followed in ’82. Another excellent album….best songs were ‘Never Ceases To Amaze me’ – and the remarkable and long-time fan favourite ‘Six Months In A Leaky Boat’, followed by ‘Haul Away’ and ‘Log Cabin Fever’. Conflicting Emotions came out the following year – and in my mind they were beginning to slide too much to the ordinary, where ‘Split Enz’ were always such a distinctive sound. However, on re-listening I find, as so often, that the record is still pretty damn good. Best songs – Strait Old Line’. ‘Message To My Girl’ and ‘Bon Voyage’. Their final album was 1985s See Ya Around (the title may have been their own goodbye to themselves). I don’t have this poor seller on CD as it is now priced at around £120…a real rarity. Tim had already left for a solo career (see F) and Tim only had 5 songs ready, 3 of which would be later re-worked for Crowded House. The album is pretty poor and Neil left after recording; the remaining three members called it a day too. Best song by far is ‘I Walk Away’ – even if Crowded House (see C) made a much better version.
But, as so often, that was not quite the end of the story. Many bands have an afterlife, often years after they have stopped. Split Enz still have a remarkable following (see Eddie Rayner’s classical take on Enzso -E) and there are about 5 live albums available. I have one ‘Live In America’ and very good it is too, the band were possibly even better live than on record. This is a 1980 recording, when True Colours was a big hit, and features practically every song from that brilliant album – the band were really flying at this point and ‘exuberance’ oozes out of every track. Even the beginning of maybe a new song ‘Take a Horse To Water’ and a ragged ‘Twist and Shout’. Then there was in 1993, a 20year anniversary tour and the following album Anniversary. Again, an exemplary live record – so glad I saw them live, if only the once. I also have quite a handful of compilation albums – Beginning of The Enz – basically first 3 albums. Best of Split Enz , History never Repeats and Enz of an Era – all excellent if slightly different and really a bit pointless – but I am a completist and make no apologies. Also, I just got Spellbound – another double compilation – so there. I could listen to them all day; they are the perfect antidote to all the serious news I read; perfect little pop songs, mostly absurd and very catchy. Of course, Neil, and occasionally Tim went on to solo careers (see F) and sometimes collaborations as in Crowded House (see C) and Eddie Rayner recently re-recorded several Split Enz songs with a classical orchestra under the name ENZSO (see E). And I always sing along to every Split Enz song; they are so infectious.