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3.01, 13 February 2001
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Eating Caviar and Dirt (Part II)
"I hope they will have the decency to clear my name with the same publicity with which they have now besmirched it."
Michael Corleone in The Godfather Part II
We'd be delighted. We saw the Shore Fire press release announcing the track list for Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band: Live in New York City. And we've got to say, it looks like a big improvement. (We say "improvement" in the literal sense. We believe that the track list actually did change, notwithstanding suggestions to the contrary that have been made on the Backstreets web site and RMAS.) Barring any horrible production decisions, such as poor sequencing or an outrageous edit, this album will be what fans have wanted for a long time -- a roughly straightforward presentation of a live concert, with Bruce and the band in peak form.
It's only fair to evaluate the officially announced album with the same criteria that we applied to the track list that leaked out and created such an uproar a few weeks ago:
1. Thematic Unity. The new track list scores far better on this front. If sequenced properly, the album will convey a good sense of what it was like to be there for the whole thing. Rather than omitting virtually the entire second set, the new track list instead leaves off only songs that we could easily do without, such as "Working on the Highway," "Thunder Road," "Born to Run" and "Bobby Jean." (We'll reserve judgment on "Light of Day." We loved it and wish it was on the album, but many others grew tired of it.) Thumbs up.
2. Running Time. Not as good as it could be, but dramatically improved. The officially announced two-CD set clocks in at a combined 130 minutes, which is much more like it. As with Tracks, we still can't understand why Bruce won't use the full space on a disc when there is so much extra material on hand. But at least the length is now respectable. Thumbs sideways.
3. Filling the Gaps From Previous Live Releases. Significantly improved. Four of the six added songs have never seen live release before: "Lost in the Flood," "Don't Look Back," "Jungleland" and "Ramrod." The fifth, "If I Should Fall Behind," was a centerpiece of the show and deserves inclusion on that basis alone. The sixth, "Born in the U.S.A.," falls into the "Murder, Inc." camp: it's an undeniably superior performance to the ones previously released. Thumbs up.
4. New Songs. Well, no progress here, unfortunately. But since we're in a more charitable frame of mind, we feel a little more willing to defer to Bruce's judgment. Maybe "Code of Silence," "Another Thin Line" and "Further On Up the Road" are candidates for a new studio album. If so, God bless 'em. Yet we'll be brutally frank. We did not like any of these songs nearly as much as some of Bruce's other, recent creations -- notably, "Land of Hope and Dreams," "American Skin" or "My City in Ruins." While their omission is unfortunate (especially for Joe Grushecky), it's not a travesty. Thumbs down, but not violently so.
Undoubtedly, some will think that the expanded new album is a response to the overwhelmingly negative fan reaction. We are reluctant to crawl out too far onto this particular limb. Yet the new track list directly counters the most common fan complaints -- the crappy running time, the omission of special performances like "Lost in the Flood," and the failure to present the arc of an entire show. There are indeed several reasons to believe that the Organization was aware of the unfavorable fan response. Either they took it into account when devising the final track list, or the coincidence was happy indeed.
Whatever the reason, this album is a decided improvement. We still wish that Bruce could follow the no-holds-barred approach of a band such as Pearl Jam when it comes to live releases. (We still haven't heard the details of the rumored DVD. Bruce still has one last chance.) Yet this album looks like it will come closer than either its prototype or Live 1975-1985 to capturing the magic that has inspired fans for so long.
Bruce did the right thing. He deserves
a pat on the back. Like they used to say on Hee-Haw, saaaaa-lute!