The Good: Bruce Springsteen's voice
The Bad: Nothing musically or lyrically distinctive, Nothing truly new
The Basics: The Ghost Of Tom Joad is indistinct Springsteen at his very worst (I hope) with not a single memorable track among the twelve.
It occurs to me, as I sit down to write about my latest Bruce Springsteen experience, The Ghost Of Tom Joad, that Springsteen is not, as I was about to suggest getting worse and worse. Because this album precedes The Rising (reviewed here!) and Devils & Dust (reviewed here!), it's hard to say Springsteen is degenerating. No, instead, it appears that Springsteen has a real rocky career over the last decade, at least over the three albums I've listened to recently. Perhaps The Ghost Of Tom Joad is the low point he worked himself up from.
With twelve tracks, clocking in at 50 minutes, The Ghost Of Tom Joad is a low point, though. With a folk-country twang to the rocker's usual distinctive vocals, this album is a departure from the rock anthems Springsteen created in the late 70s and early 80s. And the sound does not reach the sophistication of his popular ballads like "Streets Of Philadelphia" and "Secret Garden." No, here Springsteen is quieter, folksy without charisma and offering the listener nothing new or distinctive. In fact, the songs blend from one to another with little track to track definition.
The Ghost Of Tom Joad is plagued by bad writing and Springsteen here wrote all twelve songs, leaving the blame firmly with him. The songs have predictable rhyme schemes like, "I threw my robe on in the morning / Watched the ring on the stove turn to red / Stared hypnotized into a cup of coffee / Pulled on my boots and made the bed / Screen door hangin' off its hinges / Kept bangin' me awake all night / As I look out the window / The only thing in sight . . ." ("Dry Lightning").
Springteen's lyrics seem especially uninspired, save a line in "Youngstown" musing about what the point of the conflicts in Korea and Vietnam was. But mostly the album is cursed with predictable rhymes throughout and that is disappointing coming from Springsteen. He can do better than such pairings as "command/land," "away/Bay," and "glass/pass" ("Galveston Bay").
It's a sad statement for a writer of Springsteen's caliber when the best written track on the album is a series of collected cliches. Indeed, "My Best Was Never Good Enough," a slow, sad song that closes the album is essentially just a collection of catch phrases closed by a line that turns it all. The song quietly declares, "'Now life's like a box of chocolates, / You never know what you're going to get' / ' Stupid is as stupid does and all the rest of that shit' / Come on pretty baby, call my bluff / 'Cause for you my best was never good enough" ("My Best Was Never Good Enough"). That's the peak of the album right there. How disappointing is that?
Springsteen's instrumentals are equally uninspired. The Ghost Of Tom Joad is a quiet, country-rock album with little in the way of actual rock and roll. In fact, outside the harmonica Springsteen plays on the title track, there is little musically distinctive on this album. Springsteen, undeniably, is the artist of accountability for this as he wrote all of the songs, sang them all, played bass, guitar, keyboards, and harmonica on the tracks, as well as produced the album. This is his vision.
And the quiet, introspective, uninspiring tracks flow from one to another with little differentiation, making The Ghost Of Tom Joad almost an hour of near-acoustic musical mush. The guitarwork is not sophisticated and there's not a single memorable melody on the entire album. My only hope is, as I continue to get Springsteen out of order, that this is the low point.
The best track is "My Best Was Never Good Enough," the rest of the album is unredeemably bad, or at best unmemorable.
For other, former, Artist Of The Month selections, please check out my reviews of:
Barenaked Ladies Are Men - Barenaked Ladies
Modern Times - Bob Dylan
Hotter Than July - Stevie Wonder
For an organized listing of all the albums and singles I have reviewed, please check out my Music Review Index Page!
© 2013, 2007 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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