One Person's Opinion

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Monday, May 02, 2005
Bruce Springsteen certainly deserves his spot in the R ock 'N' Roll Hall of Fame. He's made some great records, like "Born to Run" and "Thunder Road". But he is also clearly the most overrated artist in the history of rock. To the critics, this man can't do wrong.

I have seen this more up close than most, because my local paper's rock critic, Robert Hilburn of the LA Times, has never once given a bad review to a Springsteen performance or album. He indents and italicizes the lyrics, as if they were poetry. Further, he praises Springsteen for the exact same things he criticizes other artists for-- for instance, although Hilburn trashes Billy Joel as undeserving of his record sales and adulation every chance he gets, Hilburn wrote a hagiographic review of Springsteen's "Youngstown", a song about steelworkers that was a complete rip-off of Joel's "Allentown". (If the editor of the Calendar section at the LA Times had any balls, he or she would refuse to assign Hilburn to any Springsteen reviews on the ground of bias. Make the guy buy a ticket, since he's obviously a huge fan.)

Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately), you can't access Hilburn's reviews without paying for the privilege, so I can't link to them here.

I will link, however, to another fan reviewing Springsteen's latest, the spare "Devils & Dust", on Slate, to its credit, links to snippets from the songs on the album. Listen to them. The only word for these songs is terrible. Unlistenable. And even if you think they are better than I think they are, no honest person could rate this anywhere near "Born to Run" or "Glory Days" or any of Springsteen's best work.

The critics did this with Bob Dylan a few years ago. He released an abum, "Time Out of Mind", which sounded horrible. His voice was barely audible, and he couldn't carry a tune even in the nasally way he used to in the 1960's and 1970's. No matter, critics loved it and actually propelled it to a Grammy win. It's probably the worst album to ever win the Grammy, and that's saying something. Nonetheless, Dylan is a sacred cow.

We should have no sacred cows in music. If Hilburn is unwilling to say that Springsteen is all washed up, the Times needs to find a rock critic that will. Nobody cares what people who will never negatively review the Boss think about his new albums and concerts anyway.

(By the way, one other thing. They used to write about the Boss' "solidarity for the working class". With scalpers charging $3,000 for his acoustic shows on the current tour, they sure don't write that anymore.)

I agree with you that (1) nobody should be beyond criticism; and that (2) Bruce has been overrated, lyrically, lately. (But I still think that Devils & Dust grows on you.)

But my biggest dispute is over Bob Dylan. I couldn't stand Love and Theft. I have no idea why critics like it. I get bored, on every song, after 2 minutes. But Time Out of Mind - I have to respectfully disagree with you. I love the atmosphere, I like the lyrics:

I was born here and I'll die here against my will/
I know it looks like I'm moving, but I'm standing still/
Every nerve in my body is so vacant and numb/
I can't even remember what it was I came here to get away from/
Don't even hear a murmur of a prayer
It's not dark yet, but it's getting there.

This is true Dylan blues. motal accident, motal meaning. I love it.
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