Monday, February 6, 2017

Yet Another Bruce Springsteen Compilation: Chapter And Verse Is An Odd Mix.

The Good: Good lyrics, Moments of voice and music, Duration
The Bad: Repetitive sound, Oddly overproduced at key musical moments
The Basics: An odd compilation of the entirely obscure and the overly familiar, Bruce Springsteen's Chapter And Verse is more average than exceptional.

I generally like the works of Bruce Springsteen. I like compilation albums from Bruce Springsteen because there are a number of his albums where the two or three known hit songs on them are the superlative songs and some of the other tracks are just filler (it seems). So, as I peeked back in on Bruce Springsteen and his newer works, I was somewhat surprised to discover that 2015 and 2016 seemed to be the Years Of The Springsteen Compilations! One of the pure compilations - as opposed to newly-released live show albums that dominated Springsteen's 2015 released - was Chapter And Verse.

Chapter And Verse is a career-retrospective album that is sold on the early recordings Bruce Springsteen was involved with - songs from The Castiles and Steel Mill - that were previously unreleased. The "new, fresh" content is paired with exactly the songs one might expect a Bruce Springsteen compilation album to contain - "Born To Run," "Born In The U.S.A.," "Brilliant Disguise," etc. The result is a compilation that stars out noisy and unsophisticated and develops into the coldly familiar, with little left that truly intrigues the ear or mind.

With eighteen songs, clocking out at 77:51, Chapter And Verse makes good use of the c.d. medium. All of the songs on Chapter And Verse were written or co-written by Bruce Springsteen and he provides the lead vocals on all of the songs. As well, Springsteen plays guitar on almost all of the tracks and he is credited with producing Chapter And Verse. Chapter And Verse is very much the compilation album Bruce Springsteen intended to release.

Musically, the songs on Chapter And Verse are very much what one expects of Bruce Springsteen. The songs vary widely only between rock ballads and straight out rock and roll songs. The early songs - the previously unreleased ones from before Bruce Springsteen launched his solo career - are up-tempo, guitar-driven rock songs that are much more noisy than they are melodic or memorable. They are balanced by the familiar ("Born In The U.S.A.") and the contemplative - ballads like "The River" and "The Ghost Of Tom Joad." But, songs like "Baby!," "He's Guilty (The Judge Song)" and "Henry Boy" have a predictably less-sophisticated quality to the instrumentation, indicative of the young artist and performer.

Vocally, Chapter And Verse is mostly a compilation that makes the implicit argument that Bruce Springsteen has an amazing voice and a register he performs in. Springsteen growls sexy and smooth through songs like "Brilliant Disguise" and while "Born To Run" may be more melodic and energetic, it is still clearly Springsteen's voice. Springsteen does not present any of his falsetto songs in this compilation, so Chapter And Verse is a celebration of Springsteen's distinct and wonderful voice.

While the compilation might not be the most exceptional one, Chapter And Verse does a good job of showcasing Bruce Springsteen's exceptional writing style. It is very easy to see how Springsteen rose to popularity and prominence with lines like "In the day we sweat it out on the streets of a runaway American dream / At night we ride through the mansions of glory in suicide machines . . . It's a death trap, it's a suicide rap / We gotta get out while we're young / 'Cause tramps like us, baby we were born to run " ("Born To Run").

The thing is, on many of Springsteen's newer works, he clearly still has something to say. When Springsteen sings ". . .we know that come tomorrow, none of this will be here / So hold tight to your anger / Hold tight to your anger / Hold tight to your anger, and don't fall to your fears" ("Wrecking Ball"), he makes a cry out for relevance in a world that might have forgotten him and he succeeds with all who hear him. Springsteen has a number of timeless messages in his works.

Sadly, it is not all great on the writing front. Early works like "Baby I" illustrate a very youthful lack of sophistication with the writing, as one might expect. While with The Castiles, Springsteen wrote "Baby I don't need your tender kiss / Baby I you'll never miss . . . 'Cause I got someone new / Somebody better than you / Somebody who'll be true / Somebody better than you" ("Baby I") and it is hardly his most memorable poetry!

Despite the weird mix, Chapter And Verse is a decent compilation worth listening to, at least for those who have not yet picked up any of Springsteen's other compilation albums.

The best songs are "Ballad Of Jesse James" and "The River," the low points are "Baby I" and the less memorable "Badlands."

For other works by Bruce Springsteen, please check out my reviews of:
Born To Run
Born In The U.S.A.
Tunnel Of Love
Greatest Hits
The Ghost Of Tom Joad
Live In New York
The Rising
Devils & Dust
We Shall Overcome - The Seeger Sessions
Working On A Dream
High Hopes


For other music reviews, please check out my Music Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2017 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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