Something for the weekend – Episode #36 – Bruce Springsteen “The Rising”

The first in a series of four reviews about New York-influenced albums. This one is dedicated to E-Street Band members Clarence “Big Man” Clemons & Danny Federici and to all those who suffered from the 9/11 tragedy.

Bruce Springsteen – “The Rising2002

Bruce Springsteen, ranked #10 in our Top 100 artists of all times, has just published a very good record which was in our October 2020 records of the month but that was not the reason why I am reviewing this 2002 album. The main one is that I cannot help myself to have a song in mind every time I walk in the centre of London during these lockdown times. That particular song is ‘My City Of Ruins‘; it closes one of the Boss’ best albums and probably the latest truly great one he released. As a sensitive person coming from New Jersey, Bruce Springsteen was of course particularly moved and disoriented by what happened that doomed day of September 2001 in Manhattan. Legend is that what made him record this album came from a meeting with a stranger who rolled down his car window and said “We need you now”. Not sure if this true but this is a nice story. Personally I think that the best way to express his feelings was through what he does best, i.e. write and play songs.

First and foremost, this album was an event for Bruce’s aficionados because it was the first studio recordings with the E-Street Band for eighteen years. This explains the fantastic musicianship that can be heard in all 15 tracks, from the recognizable drum-sounding of Max Weinberg to the subtle piano playing of Roy Bittan. The E-Street Band are to Bruce Springsteen what Crazy Horse are to Neil Young, i.e. musicians happy and ready to follow their leader in any sort of experimentation but with a down-to-earth quality. Brendan O’Brien‘s (key person in the Pearl Jam sound) production has also aged very well and I particularly liked the powerful guitars’ sound. What makes this album different though is the gorgeous and very moving songs written by Bruce Springsteen. It is incredible to note that a few of them were here much before 9/11 while being so close and relevant to what happened. Those familiar with the great man are aware that Bruce’s way to react to such a tragedy was not to write about the global political landscape or saying terrorism is bad… The way he does things is always the same: he tells stories about people and their lives, how they suffer, their sense of loss, the way they have to fight, etc… There are a few fantastic songs on this record like “Into The Fire“, “Let’s Be Friends“, “Mary’s Place” but the real treats come from “The Rising” and “My City Of Ruins” which are both absolute classics. A beautiful record to listen to again and again.

Format: CD Bought in: 2002 To be noted: Bruce Springsteen invited Asif Ali Khan and his group of Qawwali musicians to play on “Worlds Apart“, showing he may be born in the USA but is more than that… Rating: 9.5/10

October 2020 Album of the month: This Is The Kit – “Off Off On”

As every year, the month of October is very busy in terms of releases in all genres and I must admit having listened to hours of music before deciding which records should be kept in this selection. So apologies to Gabriel Garzon-Montano, Bartees Strange, Andy Bell (from Ride), Matt Berninger (from The National), Jeff Tweedy (from Wilco) or again Eels because all their records are quite amazing and could have been in this list.

Album of the month: This Is The Kit – “Off Off On” – Pop Folk Rock – Based in Paris for a few years now, Kate Stables is the leader of this wonderful band (This Is The Kit was actually her nickname…). I personally discovered them on stage at the 2015 edition of the End of the Road festival and I must admit being a fan since then, not missing them once on stage when I could afford to do so. The more it goes, the better Kate Stables and her great musicians reach musical excellence and serenity in their art. This album may really be one of the classics because everything sounds immediate and obvious without losing a sense of urgency. This is the perfect record to discover this major (and very humble) artist.

  • Runner-up: Elvis Costello “Hey Clockface” – Pop Rock – Elvis Costello has been a constant presence for me in 2020 but I must confess getting such a fantastic record was not something I was expecting. Despite being recorded in such different places as Paris, New York or again (almost) alone in deep Finland, there is a sense or urgency, modernism and craftmanship here. It may appear surprising to get such a masterpiece from a 66-year old man who had strong health issues a couple of years ago but those familiar with his art and career know what he is capable of doing. One of his best records!
  • Also recommended:
  • Kevin Morby “Sundowner” – Pop Rock – Like meeting again a familiar old friend, you will immediately feel at home while listening to this record.
  • Laura Veirs “My Echo” – Pop Rock – A special record for Ms. Veirs who experienced a recent divorce, making this record probably sharper than her previous efforts.
  • Bruce Springsteen – “Letter To You” – Pop Rock – Recorded in five days at his New Jersey studio with his old E-Street Band compadres, one of his best records of the 21st century.
  • Gorillaz – “Song Machine, Season One” – Cartoon Music – Damon Albarn is an amazing creative musician and this new Gorillaz LP (which was not supposed to be one by the way) will put a smile on your face every time you play it. And Robert Smith sings the first track!
  • Songhoy Blues – “Optimisme” – African Blues Rock – Recorded at Iggy Pop‘s collaborator Matt Sweeney NY studio, this is the third and best record from this Bamako, Mali band. You will not find a more energizing music this month.
  • Lest we forget: album of the previous month – Sufjan Steven – “The Ascension
Already 10 months behind us… Enjoy this playlist with 70 records from the year so far!

June 2019 Album of the month: Thom Yorke “Anima”

Another month with millions of records to listen to, having in mind July is traditionally the lowest month of the year in terms of releases. I once again had to do a few tough choices, which I guess is a good thing… However, I think I heard one of the worst records ever with the new Madonna LP so run away from that record.

Album of the month: Thom Yorke – “Anima” – Melancholia music. I can hear bitter comments, like ”this is not surprising for a Radiohead fan”, ”are you sure you are objective”, etc… First, I would say that Thom Yorke sometimes lost me on a few records which I found too cold. And then, what the hell! You will not find a most moving record this year done with such an economy of sounds. And still, you feel in a different landscape in every song and all of them are different and beautiful. Very cinematic music I must say and this is not surprise that the great American director Paul Thomas Anderson made a 15-minute movie on Netflix, especially for the release of the album. Listen to it now and wait for the 19th of July to get it in physical formats.

  • Runner-up: black midi – “Schlagenheim” – Pop Rock – black midi (without capital letters) is a young London band who met at the prestigious Brit School, a music institution. In other words, they are all very young and gifted musicians and their main influence is…Public Image Ltd, probably the less traditional band of all times. Not an easy record but a real grower, making the top 2 selection of June of the greatest since I started this series. Discover them!
  • Also recommended:
  •  Bill Callahan “Shepherd In A Sheepskin Jacket” – Pop Rock – First album since 2013 from the excellent Bill Callahan, in which he describes the joy of being married and a father… the Smog way of course.
  • Bruce Springsteen – “Western Stars” – Pop Rock – His best without any doubt since the incredible ”The Rising” LP in 2002. A very different sound, with strings on many songs. A few of the latter will probably become classic in the years to come.
  • Baroness – “Gold & Grey” –  Metal – This a very long album with progressive tracks, ballads, interludes and a few amazing rockers. Like Mastodon, a metal record for non-metal fans.
  • Jane Weaver – “Loops In The Secret Society” – Repetitive Pop Rock – Jane Weaver is the best hidden secret of the UK and this is a pity as her music is beautiful and based on loops & moods. For this new one, she reworked her two previous records with new arrangements.
  • The Raconteurs – “Help Us Stranger” – Pop Rock – Jack White and his ‘other’ band are back and with a revenge. As traditional as Thom Yorke’s record is adventurous but (almost) as good!
  • Lest we forget: album of the previous month – The National – “I Am Easy To Find”

December 2018 Album of the month: The Bevis Frond “We’re Your Friends, Man”

As usual, the month of December is a very slow one with almost no other releases than compilations or Xmas records. Funny also that all best-of-the-year lists are published very early in the month, meaning new December records have almost no chance to be ranked. I still succeeded in choosing seven interesting records, by cheating a bit I must admit, adding up live albums, compilations or EP’s… Enough to wait until the start of the festive season and the release of my worldwide famous best of list which will be available early January. In the meantime, happy Xmas!

Album of the month: The Bevis Frond “We’re Your Friends, Man” – Psychedelic Rock – Basically the sole project of English singer, songwriter and guitarist Nick Saloman for more than thirty years, The Bevis Frond are typically the kind of band which has always been here, doing more or less the same record every two or three years. Neither revolutionary in style, nor in structure, their records are always excellent, especially when one has more time than usual to listen to them, as was so in December. If you like psychedelic guitars, this LP is for you!

  • Runner-up: Aidan Moffat and RM Hubbert “Ghost Stories for Christmas” – Xmas record – The title says it all… Another beautiful and depressing record from the former leader of Scottish band The Arab Strap. To be listened to while reading the lyrics and with a glass of strong alcohol in hand in front of the Xmas tree.
  • Also recommended:
    • Amor  “Sinking Into A Miracle” – Groove Pop – Dance pop/rock from members of various indie rock bands.
    • Various – “Rough Trade Counter Culture 18” – Pop Rock – The traditional annual compilation from Rough Trade shops is already available. You will not like all the 45 tracks but a few of them may change your life. Thank you RT for welcoming me all year long in your nice stores!
    • Bruce Springsteen “Springsteen on Broadway” –  Pop Rock – Not as great in this audio version (but much cheaper) than live in the theater, my advice would be to skip the intros and have a playlist of these classics played mainly in acoustic mode.
    • 21 Savage “i am > i was” – Hip Hop – Released on 21st December, final good record of the year?
    • The Decemberists – “Traveling On” – Pop Rock – 5-track EP from one of our favourite bands from Portland, Oregon
  • Lest we forget: album of the previous month Jeff Tweedy “Warm”

My book of the year 2016: Bruce Springsteen’s “Born to run”.

Bruce Springsteen - Born to Run biography

Last post on the year 2016 before leaving it behind us. I must admit I did not read all new books about music (well, who did?) and that for instance I am eager to read Johnny Marr’s memoirs’ “Set The Boy Free”. However, in all the books I read last year, Bruce Springsteen’s “Born To Run” was that which stands heads and shoulders above the rest and the reasons are the following ones:

  • This book had been expected for years as first rumours started a long time ago. The Boss has put his heart and soul in this book which took him close to eight years of hard work between tours, music recording…and family life;
  • The writing is exceptional and many serious book reviewers in the US and the UK have considered it as one of the best books written in 2016, period. In other words, reading it is an on-going pleasure for music fans and specifically those of Bruce Springsteen but basically anyone can read it and find a deep interest on his story and what lies behind;
  • What makes this book a specific one is that it is written with constant humility and humour by a man who agrees on what his strengths and weaknesses are. For instance, Bruce Springsteen is very honest about the relative power of his voice or his will to control everything as he is factual about his determination to succeed in life and his ability in playing 4-hour shows;
  • You will learn a lot about the man in this book: his Irish-Italian origins and the strength and burden associated with it, his relationship with his father, the difficult first music years he had, his complex friendship with Steve Van Zandt, his recurring fight against depression, etc…. All this with no pathos at all and a great proximity. I do not want to spoil anything but I hope you will enjoy as much as I have the story around the night he and his son went to see a gig of the punk band Against Me.
  • ..and last but not least, wise words: “When you’re on tour, you’re king. When you’re home, you’re not.”

TOP 100 Artists/Bands of all Times : 6-10

10. Bruce Springsteen

 from : Freehold, New Jersey, USA / first great sounds : 70’s / style : euphoric rock / essential albums : Born To Run (1975) , Darkness On The Edge Of Town (1978), Nebraska (1982), Born in the U.S.A. (1984), The Rising (2002) / Click to read more in the blog

Number 10 in my Top 100… Does this ranking really mean anything ? If  I were to rank Bruce on the number of times I listened to his records and watched his DVD’s and on the emotion and energy I felt at his concerts, he would probably be closer to the number One spot. If I were to make one advice regarding Bruce Springsteen for those who do not really know him and his music, it would be not to do the same mistake I did at first, that is to say go beyond the blue-collar kind of music for typical Americans cliché. His music is indeed very American as he has mixed throughout his career all kinds of influences (pop, soul, rock) but his words must be understood more in a John Steinbeck kind of way rather than George Bush’s one. One word as well on his faithful E-Street Band musicians ; although he is the creative force, they have been the best musical vehicle he could have dreamt of to fulfill his artistic ambitions.

9. Tom Waits

 from : Ponoma, California, USA / first great sounds : 70’s / style : Waitsian music / essential albums : Blue Valentine (1978), Swordfishtrombones (1983), Rain Dogs (1985), Mule Variations (1999) / Click to read more in the blog

Another amazing artist whose art is often reduced to a cliché too… Yes, Tom Waits has a wolf voice and he may be sometimes closer to Brechtian over exuberant music but his world is a fantastic one. After having spent the 70’s doing beautiful but more standard jazz-blues piano-oriented albums, he met future wife Kathleen Brennan in the early 80’s and began a different style of music thanks to her pushing him to really be what he wanted to. The results are genius sounding records full of weirdness (these instruments…) and emotion (these songs…).

8. Elvis Costello

 from : London, England / first great sounds : 70’s / style : from pub-rock to classical / essential albums : This Year’s Model (1978), Imperial Bedroom (1982), King Of America (1986), Blood & Chocolate (1986), Brutal Youth (1994), When I Was Cruel (2002) / Click to read more in the blog

…and the Attractions should I say such a key element his first band have been throughout his career. Declan McManus (real name) started in the mid-80’s as a kind of fusion of classical rock and punk rock and managed to attract fans of both kinds of music. He went on being a major player in the UK scene, every album in the 80’s bringing a fresh approach to a specific genre of music. As in all great artists and musicians, he had a very strong peak period from 1978 to 1986 but kept on making very nice albums . All essential albums mentioned above are really must-haves so do not lose time and listen to them all!

7. Neil Young

 from : Toronto, Canada/ first great sounds : 60’s / style : acoustic/saturated rock / essential albums : Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere (1969), After The Gold Rush (1970), Harvest (1972), On The Beach (1974), Tonight’s The Night (1975), Zuma (1975), Rust Never Sleeps (1979), Ragged Glory (1990), Le Noise (2010) / Click to read more in the blog

We have already mentioned Crosby, Stills and Nash at number 50 in our Top 100. Although Neil Young was indeed a major force in their best albums, it was necessary to dissociate his so-called solo career, which is not that solo as he did his best music with his band Crazy Horse. Do you still follow me ? Well, if not, go directly to any of the essential albums mentioned above as this is like breathing air as far as I am concerned. You basically have two Neil Young songs : the acoustic folkie-ballad one (often with sad words) and the furious electric saturated one (one with..furious words). Both of them are the Ying and Yang of our favourite Canadian and explain why this guy has been doing great music for ages.

6. The Rolling Stones

 from : London, England / first great sounds : 60’s  / style : from blues to rock / essential albums : Aftermath (1966), Beggars Banquet (1968), Let It Bleed (1969), Sitcky Fingers (1971), Exile on Main St. (1972), Some Girls (1978), Steel Wheels (1989) / Click to read more in the blog

Ladies and Gentlemen, the Rolling Stones ! A few of you might have been lucky enough to experience this band on stage either at their peak period (1965-1975) or later. Personally, I am always impressed by these guys and the number of fantastic songs they have been doing. Let’s not forget the importance of this band in the 60’s and overall in the history of the 20th century, as far as society changes are concerned. But moreover Mick, Keith, Charlie, Brian, Bill, Mick (#2) and Ron must be cherished for what they brought to the music world with only a simple love of blues at the start. I would recommend once again Keith Richard’s book “Life” to get the full story.

Old Guys rule : four fantastic shows from Bob Mould, Paul Weller, Tom Petty and Bruce Springsteen (Brussels and Paris, June-July 2012)

Probably a coincidence but four of my favourite artists of all times were in the neighborhood recently. The four of them not as young as they used to be but still 200% relevant by their attitudes, energy, ethics…and of course by the greatness of their music. So let’s start with good old Bob.

1. Who : Bob Mould ; Age : 51 ; Where : Ancienne Belgique (Brussels) ; When : 3rd of June 2012 ; Setlist available : Yes

One of my musical regrets in life is not having seen on stage the seminal US band Hüsker Dü, melodic punk trio from the 80’s out of which Bob Mould was singer, guitar player and co-leader with drummer Grant Hart. The influence of this band is not something well-known by the general public but without Hüsker Dü, there would not have been any Pixies or Nirvana, simple as that. After a couple of amazing solo albums, Bob formed a new band named Sugar in the 90’s and they enjoyed a relatively high success in the UK, where they were signed on the excellent Creation label, home of Primal Scream, Ride, Teenage Fanclub or Oasis among many other bands. He went on making other good records after Sugar disbanded even if on a less frequent basis.

Tonight, the show was based on Sugar 1st LP “Copper Blue” which was rated as album of the year by New Musical Express in 1992. Sugar first months were as good as Hüsker Dü best years by the intensity of the music and the quality of the songs, which made it an album available to all from the pure hardcore fan to the more melodic-oriented person. He revisited the full album track by track in its original sequence sequence with two great musicians : Jon Wurster on drums and Jason Narducy on bass … and the least one could say is that this show was LOUD! All “Copper Blue” songs are hits as far as I am concerned and that first part of the show was something I never thought being lucky enough to see live. After revisiting the past, the band played new songs from future to come LP and of course finished with a few Hüsker Dü ones, including the famous “Celebrated Summer”. Here is for your pleasure a video I took of the third track on the LP called “Changes” :

I would recommend Bob Mould’s recent biography “See a little light” where he openly talks about all his formed addictions, failed love or missed friendships, his constant fight against his body weight and more interesting how he succeeded in assuming his homosexuality in a complicated environment. Fascinating book from a great man. All three Sugar albums have just been reissued as well on 2-CD formats and are highly recommended.

2. Who : Paul Weller ; Age : 54 ; Where : Bataclan (Paris) ; When : 13th of June 2012 ; Setlist available : Yes

I have been lucky to see Paul Weller on stage a few times but it seems he now has a recurrent commitment with Le Bataclan when he comes in Paris as this is the third time in a row that I have been enjoying him and his band playing in this venue. For those totally unfamiliar with Paul Weller, you should be aware that he is one of the most famous artists in the U.K. where thousands of people have been celebrating him play in huge outdoor places, such as Hyde Park for instance.

One can describe Paul Weller’s life as a one celebrating music in all his forms from his start as leader of mod-punk band the Jam in the 70’s, then as the leading force in jazz-soul-dance ensemble The Style Council in the 80’s and finally embracing an amazing career since the 90’s mixing influence as diverse as Traffic or Nick Drake. He has been a respected figure amongst generations of musicians, the most famous fan probably Noel Gallagher of Oasis. His first solo albums (“Paul Weller” in 1992 or “Wild Wood” in 1993 for instance) represent exactly the kind of music I would like people to hear when you receive the infamous question “what music do you like?” and that you are dumb-faced as you can not decide to choose amidst thousands of records or artists.

And the more Paul Weller gets older, the more adventurous his records are, which is remarkable for an artist who could have decided to go on doing what he knows best. His new LP “Sonik Kicks” is particularly fresh and innovative mixing 70’s German rock and typical British pop. The band (with the very talented Steve Cradock from Ocean Colour Scene on guitar) arrived on stage and started by playing this new LP in its entirety, which is always tricky as the audience is mechanically less familiar with this new material. Excellent first part anyway with Paul wearing smart italian shoes and a nice suit. The band went back for an emotional 4-track acoustic session before playing more well-known songs from his back catalogue including two The Jam songs (“In the City”, their first single!).

Probably the best show I have seen from this amazing and passionate artist for whom music is a real raison d’être. Here is the beautiful “You Do Something To Me” from the acoustic session.

3. Who : Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers ; Age : 61 ; Where : Grand Rex (Paris) ; When : 27th of June 2012 ; Setlist available : Yes

It had been twenty years that Tom Petty had played live in Paris until this Grand Rex show and one can not help but asking why such a long time… Maybe it comes from the fact that Tom Petty is quite a reluctant pop star in these glamour ages where authenticity is not really recognized at its own value. Anyway he was back and the crowd was totally forbidding him all this long period of time without a show (see article about the show for French-speaking readers).

After having had the pleasure in seeing once more this year the great Jonathan Wilson for an excellent set (his Facebook page is highly recommended as he took many pictures of this tour), the stage was ready for the main act. Tom Petty is the kind of artist everybody knows when in the music business but if you were to ask who Tom Petty is to the common man, you would have nothing but an embarrassed silence. This is probably no true in the US where he has been one of the key artists for decades but I am sure that even there his songs are more famous than who he is. And songs he had more than enough in this set! I was afraid that he would concentrate on his latest nice LP’s but the set was really well-balanced between covers (Fleetwood Mac, Chuck Berry), side-projects (The Traveling Wilburys, the band Tom formed in the late 80’s with Bob Dylan, Roy Orbison, Jeff Lyne and George Harrison), pure driving hits (“Free Fallin'”, “I Won’t Back Down”, “Learning To Fly”) and very old songs (“American Girl”).

Like Elvis Costello with the Attractions/Imposters, Tom Petty has never been better than when the Heartbreakers are his backing band. These guys literally live and feel rock’n’roll but in a very subtle way. Mike Campbell in particular is such an underestimated guitar player that I would really recommend anyone to (re)listen to a Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers with a special attention to the musicianship of it rather than the songs.

Here is one of the hits for your pleasure : hear it and hum it back when driving your car!

4. Who : Bruce Springsteen & The E-Street Band ; Age : 62 ; Where : Bercy (Paris) ; When : 5th of July 2012 ; Setlist available : Yes (note : no pictures or videos taken by your host, Bercy being a bit too large for my camera… These photos come from this site)

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Well, last but not least as they say… I had seen The Boss live for a few times but I must admit that this was by far the best show…and the longest one ever for me with 3h38 of pure pleasure (my former longest concert was The Cure at this same place in 2008 for 3h30). I am personally not a huge fan of long shows and much prefer an intense concert of 1h15 rather than the full one with the compulsory three encores. But Bruce is not a common man for sure as was not as well the French-English-American fellow on my side who enjoyed every minute of it as if it was his last day on Earth.

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Bruce Springsteen was here first to celebrate his new very good LP “Wrecking Ball” which he is currently touring throughout the world. But he had probably as well in mind the hidden mission of celebrating his old pal Clarence Clemons who passed away last year. He did it in a very dignified way, preventing any pathos, which is not a surprise coming from the man. What else can we say apart from the fact that the show was apparently even better than the previous evening in Bercy, with an amazing set list taking tracks from all decades with a joy and musicianship that one can not fail to love without the slightest sight of cynicism. I personally have more and more doubts about these huge shows and only go there where the artist is an extraordinary person/band (eg Kanye West recently or Radiohead soon in October) but these issues do not exist with Bruce as you really feel he plays for you and only you whatever the distance you are from the stage.

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The E-Street did the job as well, although I found Steven Van Zandt a bit shy. The red-headed first lady Patti Scialfa was there (and their daughter Jessica as well who went on stage to dance with her father during “Dancing in the Dark”) but the real stars tonight for me were Jake Clemons (nephew of the late Clarence) and Max Weinberg whose drumming technique has never been so powerful and subtle at the same time. Anyway, this band would not be what they are without the great man himself and tonight Bruce Springsteen was funny, full of energy, giving emotion, dancing and playing like a 20-year old man,…and I do not have any other words to qualify how this man is, except that he has qualities to which we all should aspire to in our daily life.

For more on this show (article, pictures and videos), please click on this nice link.