Of Devils & Dust

Springsteen remains rock's most convincing savior.

By Steve Volk
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 0 | Posted May. 4, 2005

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The exchange encapsulates Spring-steen's view of rock 'n' roll's healing power. Yeah, a great song can rev up a party. But in dark times the right track can save a life.

That may seem like too much power to grant to something so small and everyday as a song. But Springsteen's built his career on being a true believer. And Dust revels in people's ability to find salvation-or at least a salve for their wounds-in unlikely moments.

On "Matamoras Banks," the drowned narrator announces that "The turtles eat the skin from your eyes so they lay open to the stars"-as arresting an image as you'll find on any pop record.

Acoustic instrumentation is fleshed out by hushed backing vocals, keyboards, strings and horns that waft through the songs like smoke. His own vocals are restrained, notable chiefly for their tough Country and Western shadings and a bright falsetto.

He could have overdubbed those vocals until he achieved technical perfection. But on "All I'm Thinkin' About" his voice shudders and cracks as he reaches for notes so high his intended lyrics deflate into
silence.

Such oblique, vulnerable moments wouldn't have been permissible on The Rising, which lived for the broad statement and sweeping gesture.

But for all their differences, the title image of the new disc flows directly from The Rising: the Devils of war and terrorism, the Dust from eradicated lives inside the World Trade Centers-from the deserts of Iraq and Afghanistan. There's also a subtler through-line from one disc to the next that reveals the altogether pleasant place at which Bruce Springsteen has arrived.

On "Maria's Bed" he liberally steals and reshapes lyrics from The Rising's "Further on (up the Road)." In both versions, he dons his "dead man's suit and a smilin' skull ring," his "lucky graveyard boots and a song to sing."

In that first take the gruff narrator is lost and looking for signs in the desert's dust. But the new song mocks that same notion-calling it "fool's gold." The sweetly trilling singer leaves the desert behind to "live in the light of Maria's bed."

In many ways Devils & Dust also sounds a retreat-from the political to the private, from the commercial to the concentrated. This is, after all, the same man who tried to sway last year's presidential election with the force of his music.

He failed there-or at least his efforts couldn't overcome others' mistakes. The implication of this is that one man might not be able to save a nation. But he can save himself.


spin cycle

>>SONG

Gorillaz's "Feel Good Inc."

Think back, please, to the first time you heard "Hey Ya!" Never mind how sick you became of the song after hearing it hundreds-perhaps thousands-of times on the radio, at parties, even on your stereo. Just think how exhilarating your first time was, and you'll have an idea of how I felt when I heard the new Gorillaz single "Feel Good Inc." Damon Albarn's come a long way since girls who were boys who liked girls to be boys-with a little help from some dance and electronica-inspired friends (such as Dan the Automator and Cibo Matto's Miho Hatori). On "Feel Good Inc.," which has perhaps the most New Age-y chorus in a dance song in recent memory ("Love forever, love is free/ Let's turn forever you and me," Albarn sings), De La Soul shows up for the hypnotic hip-hop midsection and proceeds to rap some lyrics that sound like they were written on crystal meth (oddly, that turns out to be a good thing). Act fast-before you get so sick of the song that you curse Albarn for ever leaving Britpop behind. (Doree Shafrir)


>>SHOW

Marta Topferova

Czech singer/songwriter Marta Topferova ends her world tour in Philadelphia this week, having been on the road in support of her third album La Marea. The album is a perfect example of what makes the willowy vocalist so appealing. Sung entirely in Spanish, with a satisfying brushed-drum shuffle for background, La Marea serves as a perfect forum for Topferova's husky jazz-vocal stylings and as a vehicle for her to show off her latest musical conquest (she already plays several different instruments)-the Venezuelan cuatro, a small four-stringed guitar. The Art After 5 concerts in the Great Stair Hall of the Art Museum are always friendly, laid-back affairs, with food and drink available and tables for those whose butts get sore from sitting on the marble steps. It's a nice, stress-free way to spend the evening, and Topferova should fit in perfectly. (Liz Spikol)

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