Monday, January 8, 2007

Bob Seger v Bruce Springsteen



Why Bob Seger isn't as highly praised as Springsteen is worth asking, and it come down to something as shallow as Springsteen being the cuter of the two. In areas where we all say it counts--talent--Seger has it over Springsteen by huge margins; he's a far better singer (one of the most under rated in rock and roll), and he's a superior songwriter. It's not as if Seger hasn't had his dalliances with fads and pretentiousness, because I have enough old Seger albums to testify that his worst music is as misguided as the grimmest rock music ever released. But he's been a trouper, a constant tour-dog, a tireless professional and eternal journeyman who has always added more tricks and licks to his repertoire. The longer he played, the better his singing and songwriting chops became. Springsteen isn't a phony by any standard, and there's something likable about the guy despite the fact that I think his music is so much less than rock critics find it. His lyrics are occasionally interesting stew of impressions that are more muddle than atmosphere, or even mood.

For all his musical fanfare, for all his verbosity and blaring dynamics, Springsteen has always seemed like someone who was at the brink of saying something memorable , only to choke. Seger, in mid career, dropped any ambition he had to become the next Dylan and Beatles and developed a lyric style as natural and sweetly clear-eyed as anything Chuck Berry himself could have worked out. Seger continued to suffer from lapses of taste and inspiration , of course--remember that he never transcended his journeyman status--and produced some albums where he was witlessly trying to rewrite "Night Moves" over and over, proving nothing other than extended bouts of introspection didn't serve Seger well at all as a songwriter. Even so, it's not unfair to say that even with his aggravatingly erratic output, the best of Seger's work in a spotty career surpasses Springsteen's consistently middle-brow musings.
Seger did write "Hollywood Nights" in what sounds like a deliberate attempt to write in Springsteen's drive-all-night style, and it displays Seger's fatal flaw of trying to write in a voice other than his own. It sounds like The Boss, and likewise sounds crammed with so much pop-culture mythos that it winds up being mush-mouthed like Springsteen's grander attempts at significance.

Springsteen, though, has fared better when he pares back his excess and gives us some tub-thumping rock and roll; "Born in the USA" is a great song because it works on a strong backbone of a relentless beat, and The Boss sounds righteously pissed off; "Seger's epochal "Ramblin' Gamblin' Man" is the model for this, and I've no doubt other Seger songs --"East Side Story", "Persecution Smith", "2+2=?"--were on Springsteen's mind when it came time for him to write a song that was topical and pissed off.Seger hasn't been the most consistent songwriter of all time, but his best work--and there's a lot of it-- easily bests Springsteen's work for economy, punch, grit. Seger has often equaled the genius of rock and roll masters Chuck Berry and John Fogarty in writing what actually constitutes the life pulse of rock; short songs, spiked and fine tuned rage in the lyrics, and creditable, riveting beats to make the two or three minutes memorable, cathartic, and infinitely re-playable.

Seger's strength as a lyricist is that he's not introspective and that what he has to say isn't hindered with club-fingered attempts at metaphor;unfortunately, Seger attempts poetry time and again, with laughable results, but his ability to recover these gaffes places him over Springsteen , who has not reined in his grating habits of poet-speak. Bruce takes too many paragraphs to say "ouch".

Each of this songs, rockers and ballads, are notable for their lack of padding, filigree musically--there are no footprints of "grand music" here--and lyrically they are keen examples of the sort of lyrics Seger writes best and effectively, straight talk, unmarred by any reach for metaphysical density, in voice that is something along the lines of what William Carlos Williams had in mind when he spoke of the American voice. Again, I've already spoken to Seger's faults and inconsistencies as an artist (bloat and bad poesy have visited his muse more
often than I care to admit). But he's been superb much more of the time in his four decade career, and his best work trumps Springsteen's output, which to me is the essence of poltroon mongering.

Where the trend had been for codgerly rock stars to give their careers a third act with the issuing of albums wherein they croak their way The Great American Songbook, graying Blue Collar Hero Bruce Springsteen goes the other way and releases an album of old folk songs. The search for authenticity continues, and the plain spoken Springsteen--remember when each of his lyrics were interminable operas of intemperate desire?--sings it plainly, clearly, simply. No swelling melodies here, no subtle segues or seducing counterpoint.


The new folk album , some have said, is suitable for Bruce, as he was never a great melodist anyway when he was doing the songwriting. I'm not a huge fan of The Boss--it takes too much work to reissue the same objections, and after twenty something years of bitching and groaning, I'm willing to maintain he's done music I've liked without embarrassment.Bruce Springsteen isn't Duke Ellington or even Burt Bacharach as a melodist, but that was never the point of his work, since his sound is big, brash and in-your-face rather than, catchy, seductive or otherwise subdued with subtler chord selection. His music is equal parts rhythm and blues, Phil Spector,British Invasion and folk rock, with generous portions of Kerouac, Dylan and a wee tram of Whitman stirred into the mix. For the sort of blue collar exhorting he does about love, death, being broke and struggling for a better future, Springsteen's melodies are exactly as they need to be; at their best they work as well as anything a popular pop-poet has managed to do. When his work is contained and crafted, sufficiently edited,he's easily as good as Dylan as a melodist, the equal of Seger, the equal of John Lennon. I have found too much of his music overworked, grandiose and cluttered with the kind of business indicative of someone who hasn't found the central theme of what they're writing about; we see this in poets who compose at length , leaving no trace of a parse-able idea behind them, and one can witness it as well in novelists--Franzen, DF Wallace--who haven't in them to cut away the excess so the art may show. Springsteen has this problem as well, a habit of overwriting, and the effect in his longer, louder pieces tends to me a little Maileresque, circa the mid to late Sixties, where he keeps preparing to say something profound and yet the message is deferred. I prefer the punchier, grabbier, riff-based rockers he puts forth, or the terser, grainier ballads. The big band material he comes up sinks as fast as any Jethro Tull concept album has in the past. It's about songs, not the arrangements.


Springsteen singing old folk songs and protest songs interests me not in the least, although it might be a means for him to ease into the writing decent material for his next great period. Dylan landed into a profound late period, as did the Stones and certainly the quizzical Neil Young. Bruce would be a dandy addition to the grand pantheon of old guys.Productivity isn't , by default, a desirable trait. Talented artists can dilute their impact and lessen the esteem they've held in with the rapid issuing of mediocre, substandard or half baked albums. Costello and Dylan are prime examples of this, although both songwriters frequently rebound with strong albums after some artistic lagging. There's an appeal for artists who aren't in a hurry to release product--I am a fan of Paul Simon's solo career (not crazy about Simon and Garfunkel music, which hasn't worn well) who has released albums at a snail's pace over the last thirty plus years; he's a careful writer, and his body of work is therefor rich with strong, moving, intelligently evolving music. His musical ideas work more often than not. The same may be said for Steely Dan, a band I've always admired for their consistent excellence for melody, production, oddball melodies and especially well crafted lyrics.Being slow to release albums of late places Springsteen in honorable company.

9 comments:

  1. Good to see Bob Seger get some recognition -- seems to have dropped from most of our consciousness. I was reminded of this recently when I consulted my digital library for one of his albums only to realize that virtually all my recordings of Seger are on vinyl -- I think I probably have 10 on LPs and only 2 on CD. Considering how long ago I made the switch.......

    I think your observations on his music are spot on. And Seger was always better in concert that on record -- clearly a real professional with a very professional band. I think I have seem him in concert at least 8-10 times and was never disappointed -- and when he came to town, there was never any question about buying tickets -- that was just given.

    I am slightly more impressed with Springsteen than are you. I don't think he ever again came up to the standards of Asbury Park or the Wild, the Innocent and the E St Shuffle. Once he became an industry, it seems he was just putting out a trademarked product. This was really apparent by Born in the USA (the record and the tour -- where I saw him twice).

    But I do like his darker, non-E Street Band recordings, as well much of the in concert recordings.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Anonymous3:09 PM PDT

      Listen folks seger is fukin great and yes way better then bruce, just think before 1974 bob had 7 lp's out already, are they all great, no but they have some great kickass songs here are a few you might want to checkout and iam talking pure rock@roll bruce has never had any better then these plus bruce cant match bob seger voice in these early songs, east side story. Lucifer. 2+2.heavy music. U.m.c. Looking back. Check these out people then tell us how much better bruce is then seger.

      Delete
  2. Brian Auger!! Oblivion Express!!

    ReplyDelete
  3. - STRAIGHT AHEAD (Brian Auger)

    babe we've come a long way
    we've seen 'em come and go
    sure it's been easy
    where god only knows

    it was no way
    to carry on

    it was a guess
    to find the answer
    lies straight ahead
    straight on

    we all learned our lessons
    we all paid our dues
    sure it's been easy
    where god only knows

    it was no use
    carrin' on

    it was a guess
    to find the answer
    lies straight ahead
    straight on

    we all learned our lessons
    we all paid our dues
    sure it's been easy
    where god only knows

    it was no use
    carrin' on

    it was a guess
    to find the answer
    lies straight ahead
    straight on
    straight on

    ReplyDelete
  4. Brian Auger. Good organist, jazzy like the Incredible Jimmy Smith, whom a friend of mine saw play the blessed instrument at a church service conducted in the South LA home of the Rev.Johnny Otis. Yes, the House of Otis. Della Reese was there to, and she shook my hand and told me "God loves you and I love you too." I remember that Reverend Otis had a big parrot in his study where we interviewed him.

    Brian Auger had a good singer, Julie Driscoll, who did a good cover version of Dylan's "This Wheel's On Fire." Much better than the Leslie West version, who once told me that he'd play guitar with my face if I asked if I could jam with him again. Then there was the time when a carnie asked if I'd like my harmonica shoved my ass. I put down my beer and left the lot.

    ReplyDelete
  5. I wanted to give my ex-wife a lift, so I bought her the first two Atomic Rooster albums. I left them on the kitchen table, then went down to The Cave and waited. The Cave was a bar on lower Garnet with a façade made out of crinkled up pink stucco or maybe calcified putty. You went back there to sit in the moist dark and let rock and roll do its thing upon America. We really believed people like Atomic Rooster would get Richard Nixon out of the White House; the English had psychic powers back then. As I recall, everything in The Cave was black, except for tiny points of crystalline light and incredibly pure greens and reds shining out of the liqueur bottles. A lot of time went by, which I marked by noting the Night Owl crowd pouring in and out, in and out. In a sense I am still waiting. Atomic Rooster broke up and The Cave was torn down a long time ago. I’m not sure where the wife is.

    ReplyDelete
  6. I like Bob Seger more than Sprinsteen. Better voice, better songwriter and an excellent band behind.

    I agree with Kid Rock when he introduced Seger in Hall of fame and said Bob Seger is the most underestimated rock star.

    BOB SEGER = ROCK AND ROLL.

    ReplyDelete
  7. This is Atin from Mumbai, India. Listening to a greatest hits selection of Bob Seger time and again, I never fail to be blown away by the power of Bob Seger's voice and his incredible songwriting - great hooks, catchy melodic songs and more importantly the sparse and dynamic arrangement of his songs sound great on my speakers when played loud and never fails to lift my mood and spirits and to make me more optimistic of the world or the day ahead!

    Oftentimes I wonder when listening to a Bob Seger song, if I am listening to a Bruce Springsteen song - but of course as if Bruce Springsteen were suddenly given the ability to sing more powerfully, write catchier songs and emote ten X better! Springsteen's songs just never seem to have the same effect.

    So I searched the terms 'bob seger bruce springsteen' on Google and wanted to see what others thought of when comparing the two and I came across this post!

    Seriously I wonder why I don't come across Bob Seger's name more often in popular culture and why he is not venerated more than he is!

    ReplyDelete
  8. Nar Lee Beest7:25 AM PST

    Here's a gnarly, tonsil-twisting blues-grouser I'll bet you don't remember -- Andy sounds like he's trying to squeeze out a wristwatch between his cheeks and diggin' every minute of it:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wippQdCkZP4&feature=related

    ReplyDelete

Say something clear and smart.Lets have a discussion.