My two biggest problems with Bruce Springsteen are the hype I grew up with and Springsteen’s aesthetic as a producer (and/or the E Street Band). I’m slowly getting over the first one. And this is one of his few records that sort of addresses the latter problem.
That’s because, for Springsteen, this is an extremely restrained production. Members of the E Street Band only appear on 5 of the 12 tracks, meaning that the other tracks are just Springsteen, as he should pretty much always be recorded!
Now he does overdub himself on some of the solo tracks and occasionally makes poor decisions with those overdubs, but still, solo Bruce Springsteen is, in my opinion, the best Bruce Springsteen.
The band tracks are, for the most part, also remarkably restrained. There are few signs of Springsteen’s past attempts to give his songs the Phil Spector treatment, and I can’t tell you how glad I am about that. This record’s arrangements rarely make me mad and it’s so nice.
As for the set of songs – well, I instantly like them more in this setting than I would in his normal approach. As is so often the case with his music, I can’t help but gravitate to the way (most of) these songs are performed. Is it one of his best sets? Probably not. But it’s easy for me to forgive that.
I have a weird hangup about different arrangement approaches on records and I can’t help but think that this record would be a better, or at least more consistent record, if all the songs were Springsteen solo or all were a more restrained band. (I would prefer the former, naturally.) But this is an extremely minor nitpick.
I honestly have no idea where this ranks among his ’90s records – it might be the first I’ve heard – but I like it more than anything else I’ve heard of his outside of Nebraska.