Monday, February 1, 2016

Ranking The Albums: Bruce Springsteen (18 - 16)

He meekly crawled onto the scene in 1973 with an album that received little fanfare. He would journey forward to become one of the most famous musicians in the history of rock and roll. What has been left behind so far is a body of work that not many artists can achieve. And the brilliance of all these records is what makes it such a challenge to rank them all.

And let’s be honest, after number 17, almost every album is equal until we get to number 5. That’s what makes this project so difficult yet so exciting. How do you rank such fantastic pieces of work? It’s like ranking Monet’s paintings or Michelangelo’s work. It is very hard to create a ranking list when almost everything on it is a masterpiece. Fortunately I am up for the challenge.

As of this writing, Bruce Springsteen has released 18 official albums, both as a solo artist and with the E-Street Band. I could have decided not to include his solo work in this project, but felt it was best to be all inclusive. For obvious reasons, live albums and hits collections are not included when ranking an artist’s albums. 

Here are albums 18 through 16: 

18 - The Ghost Of Tom Joad 

No one can argue that The Ghost of Tom Joad is the worst album in the entire Springsteen discography. And unlike other albums that will be mentioned later on, there is no saving this album by explaining it was an experiment or a time that Springsteen was going through. The Ghost of Tom Joad is just a bad album. If not for the completeist in me, I wouldn’t even own this album. There are 3 decent songs on the entire record (“The Ghost Of Tom Joad,” “Youngstown,” “Across The Border”), and two of them are incredible when performed live, because the arrangements have been redone. The rest of the record is just terrible. The songs are slow with nothing but an acoustic guitar backing them. And the guitar work barely has any movement. It’s all chords strumming to make a song. Clearly, The Ghost of Tom Joad suffers from no E-Street band and no direction. Every band with a storied career is entitled to one bomb and this album is Springsteen’s. And yes, he does get a pass for it.

 17 - High Hopes 

It is understandable that High Hopes would rank so low; it was a collection of leftover songs that Bruce threw together and called an album. There is a reason that some songs never appear on a record and High Hopes has a few examples of this. But it also has a few moments of brilliance and it is those brilliant moments that save it from being horrendous. The highlight of the album is the studio version of “American Skin (41 Shots).” This was a song that Springsteen had only released on a live record (Live In New York City) and hearing a proper studio version was an absolute treat. “High Hopes” is another terrific song that helps pull the album together. Written by Tim Scott McConnell, Springsteen put together a terrific version of this contemporary rocker. Overall, High Hopes suffers from a lack of cohesion, but there are moments that shine. It’s those moments that make the difference. 

16 - Tunnel Of Love 

Tunnel Of Love is an album that lacks polish. The record released prior to this was Born In The U.S.A., so perhaps Bruce felt it was time to mix it up. He went from one of his most iconic, stadium anthem, rock records, to a stripped down, softer album that was heavy on keys and low on leads. He also broke up the band after this record and tour. And while it is not a terrible album, Tunnel Of Love is one of the low points in Bruce’s career. The album does contain one of the most underrated and all but forgotten Springsteen gems in “Spare Parts.” It’s a hard rocking song that nostalgically called back to themes he wrote about in the 70s, but this time with a female protagonist. I’ve always felt that “Spare Parts” never got the attention it deserved. And without actually double checking, I believe it has the least number of live performances out of any Springsteen song. And that is a true shame. There are other solid songs on Tunnel Of Love as well including “Tougher Than The Rest,” and “Brilliant Disguise.” But these are paired with clunkers such as “Cautious Man,” and “Valentine’s Day.” With a little more focus and direction Tunnel Of Love could have been a much better album. 

Up next --- albums 15 - 11. 

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