My Love Will Not Let You Down
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2.08, 3 January 2001
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Eating Caviar and Dirt
We at The Hitter were prepared to give Bruce the benefit of the doubt on the new live album/HBO special/DVD project. We had made peace with the prospect of overdubbing. (Some of Clarence's sax solos from the last two nights at the Garden helped.)
And unlike many of our friends and readers, we were even prepared to swallow a single-CD release. To us, it seemed possible that you could create a decent "highlights" set over 80 minutes, with more chart potential than a double- or triple-disc affair. And then you could release an entire show on DVD, or a reasonable simulation drawn from the last two nights of the tour. It even seemed possible that such a disc could contain the gargantuan "Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out," because we've burned such compilations for ourselves in the privacy of our own home.
But hold on to your Oakland and Pittsburgh ALDs, folks. Because, if the rumors now circulating on the Net are true, once again Bruce seems to have coughed up a hairball. Yes, it's the man who hacked the "Sad Eyes" section out of "Backstreets" on Live 1975-1985. It's the man who, in 1992, when they said sit down, plugged in. It's him, alright. And here he comes again with a 2 CD, combined 100 minute live album that omits most of the new songs from the Garden -- and virtually the entire second set.
Also circulating hot and heavy in fandom is the rumor that the HBO special will track the live album exactly. Lord only knows what this portends for the DVD, but it ain't looking pretty.
It would be extremely tempting for The Hitter to walk in the clouded wrath of the crowd and pelt Bruce with vituperation. But like one of our former presidents used to say, that would be wrong. Instead, let's try to take a dispassionate look at this piece of...er, this proposed release, and see just how it comes out on the fans' scorecard. Beware, though. We're feeling a little like the East German judge at the Olympics these days. Maybe it's something we ate.
1. Thematic Unity.
Well, that's simple. There is none. It just hacks off the entire
second set and appends a couple of bonus tracks.
Almost any alternative would have been more defensible. Give us a single CD with the highlights of the show. Give us a double CD with a more realistic portrayal of the show. Give us a triple CD with the entire show. But to tack "American Skin" onto the end of the set, almost as an afterthought? Bruce, what were you thinking? Thumbs down.
2. The running time. Just who does Bruce think he is -- The Beatles? Yet while even the Fab Four decided to cough up at least one CD that runs longer than 25 minutes (with #1), each of Bruce's two upcoming CDs are said to clock in at about 50 minutes, out of a potential 80.
This is unacceptable. For sheer greed and laziness, it recalls Bruce's dismal, early 1990s practice of recycling the same previously released material as so-called "bonus tracks" on overpriced import CD singles. (Can you say "Tougher Than the Rest"?)
The decision to leave a full hour worth of CD space blank can only be explained thematically. Yet as pointed out above, Bruce has obviously put no thematic effort into this set at all. Rather, he has chosen simply to give us the first half of a show with a couple of bonus tracks. Thumbs way, way down.
3. Filling the gaps from previous live releases. Of the 13 songs, six of them have been previously released live: "Two Hearts," "Badlands," "The River" and "Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out" (on Live 1975-1985); "Atlantic City" (on Plugged); and "Murder Inc." (on multiple CD singles). Thanks to Matt Orel's discography for supplementing our own feeble memory.
Now admittedly, "The River" is a completely different arrangement (although we never liked it that much, to tell you the truth). And a couple songs are better performances than those previously released. For instance, "Murder Inc." was a definite show-stopper, and we happily greet its inclusion, even though we've bought it two times already.
But the sad fact remains that during the last two nights of Madison Square Garden, from which this set presumably will be drawn, Bruce did the following additional songs (other than new ones) that have never seen live release:
The E Street Shuffle
Don't even get us started on all of the other songs not previously released live that were performed during the rest of the tour, which we understand to have been professionally recorded.
How hard would it have been for Bruce to toss a few of these songs onto the 60 minutes of blank space on the album? And if he was going to pick and choose from the setlist, then why not drop "Badlands" and "Tenth Avenue" and include some of the songs listed above? The only reason to include those two songs is to maintain the basic structure of the show. But he's already junked the entire second set!
To exclude "Jungleland" is especially criminal, because it should have been on Live 1975-1985 in the first place. The bottom line is that fans will pay substantially for live performances that they've bought before. On this score, the album is a dead loser. Thumbs down.
4. New songs. All we can say is that "Code of Silence," "Another Thin Line" and "Further on up the Road" had better be on a new studio album. Oh, did we mean to imply that there would be a new studio album, and that it would come out anytime soon? Hah. Silly us.
What can we say? America just hasn't changed much in the last 20 years. There's a Republican in the White House, the Yankees won the last World Series, and Bruce can't put together a decent live album.
Maybe Bruce shouldn't even try. Maybe
he should just send the master tapes to a dozen monkeys with a dartboard,
and let them choose the setlist. They'd probably do a better job.