#6: Bruce Springsteen, ‘Born in the U.S.A.’ (1984) vs. Pearl Jam, ‘Ten’ (1991)

Pearl Jam’s Ten was one of those albums that pushed albums like Born in the U.S.A. to the back of the CD shelf for a while. It was the angsty early 90s; alternative was in, and classic was out. The rawness of grunge made a lot of the music of the 80s seem a little lame, including “heartland” rock from the likes of Bruce Springsteen. None of this was helped by the fact that the early 90s were not Bruce’s finest hour.

Ironic, as it turns out, considering 1) Pearl Jam and Springsteen, as crusaders against injustice and corruption, are birds of a feather; 2) Pearl Jam were influenced by Springsteen, particularly in their no-holds-barred, marathon live shows; and 3) Born in the U.S.A. is proving to stand the test of time better (helped, no doubt, by the resurgence of The Boss’ “cool” quotient in recent years).

Don’t get me wrong – Ten is a pretty great album, but this is not even particularly close.

In the spirit of the title of Pearl Jam’s debut, here are 10 reasons why Born in the U.S.A. must win this battle:

  1.  Born in the U.S.A. opens with “Born in the U.S.A.”, a song so indelible that if you’ve heard it once you remember it forever. That’s how you open an album – like we’re marching into war. Also, Max Weinberg’s drums on that song – wow.
  2. While we’re on it, “Born in the U.S.A.” has a long tradition of being misunderstood by idiot politicians and conservative columnists who can only process the most-repeated seven syllables of the song, so they think it’s an anthem, not an indictment. Bruce continues to try to educate the nitwits. Points for longevity and patience, Bruce.
  3. Born is twelve great songs that are all memorable in their own way. The tracks on Ten start to meld together a bit, especially on the weaker second half.
  4. “Alive” is an insanely great song, especially Mike McCready’s mad guitar solo at the end. OK, this is actually a vote for Ten so I guess the score is now 3-1.
  5.  Eddie’s lyrics are solid – a raw kind of poetry about every sad thing you can think of (suicide, mental illness, domestic abuse), but Bruce can tell entire novels in a handful of verses (e.g. “No Surrender” and “My Hometown”).
  6.  Springsteen inspired bands like Pearl Jam. Pearl Jam inspired bands like Creed. Not PJ’s fault, but damn…
  7. Bruce has a sense of playfulness on Born (e.g., “Darlington County”), even as he is making serious statements about the poor and disenfranchised. Ten is just sad, sad, sad. A little levity helps on repeat listens.
  8.  Born can speak to you at any age. Kids can feel the gotta-get-out desperation of “Dancing in the Dark” and the older folk can appreciate the teasing sting of “Glory Days”.  Ten is best digested by moody teens and early 20-somethings, and is more likely to be outgrown.
  9. Pearl Jam waged war against the evil empire that is Ticketmaster. OK, this is another voted for Pearl Jam – 7-2.
  10.  The best albums finish great, and Born ends with the triple punch of “Glory Days”, “Dancing in the Dark” and “My Hometown”. Does it get any better than that? Very rarely, and certainly not Ten‘s “Garden”, “Deep” and “Release”.

Let’s also note that both albums were monsters on the charts, but even on that front Born rules. It sold 30 million copies and generated seven – seven! – top 10 singles, while Ten sold a “mere” 13 million.

So now that Bruce has thumped poor Pearl Jam, just to show that everyone can still be friends, here is a video of Eddie Vedder and Springsteen singing “Highway to Hell” together.

JG

WINNER: Bruce Springsteen, Born in the U.S.A. (5 points)

BATTLE TALLY

80s: 20

90s: 24

EARNED POINTS
80s: 57
90s: 63

Next week’s post – #5: Paul Simon, ‘Graceland’ (1986) vs. Lauryn Hill, ‘The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill’ (1998)

#25: Bruce Springsteen, ‘Tunnel of Love’ (1987) vs. Sublime, ‘Sublime’ (1996)

Listening to the Boss’ 80s masterwork is like splashing cold water on your face. It is always refreshing. As if defragging my brain, this album is exactly what I needed to refresh what was building up as musical clutter from all these album battles. It is a treasure from start to finish. Prior to this battle, I knew none of the songs, save for a mild familiarity with the title track. Not only has it cleared my mind. This album has completely reformatted my view on 80s rock music. Perhaps I have been too hard on you, 80s rock music. Especially when records like Tunnel of Love exist.

Where many rock legends from the 70s failed to successfully adopt the 80s musical sound technologies, Tunnel of Love does it with such taste that I regret not feeling nostalgia when I listen to it. Its use of synthesizers is a mature take on the newish 80s sound.

Even with that high tech sound, its traditional quality remains strong. Take the first track. “Ain’t Got You” wallops you with a true traditional ‘this dance hall’s a’ rockin” sound. It’s confident. The whole album is confident.

And those heart wrenching lyrics. Like on “Cautious Man”:

Billy felt a coldness rise up inside him that he couldn’t name…Just as the words tattooed ‘cross his knuckles he knew would always remain…At their bedside he brushed the hair from his wife’s face as the moon shone on her skin so white…Filling their room with the beauty of God’s fallen light

The words are beautiful but I think something really bad happened.

The Boss is all grow’d up with his compilation of mature takes on all the different aspects to love. All the ugly and the beautiful. The song Tunnel of Love is a complete joy. From its weird atonal start to its cool groovin’ all-tonal synth progression. The lyrics are a sharp take on adolescent love from a man who has been through it all.

Well, I can feel the soft silk of your blouse…And them soft thrills in our little fun house…Then the lights go out and it’s just the three of us, yeah…You, me and all that stuff we’re so scared of…Gotta ride down baby into this tunnel of love

I think its mild obscurity, compared to his other monster albums, helps its ‘ear’-ptics. It just sits there in the Bruce cannon, unassumingly being awesome.

So, on to this battle’s victim. Sublime is fine enough. A great soundtrack for the 90s university scene. Perfectly fine songs to drink to, to dance to, to whatever to. You know, just “rocking and rolling and what not”. It’s a full blown epic mix of peppy rock, grunge, punk, hip hop and of course reggae. All with lyrics that elevate it to a thinking man’s Limp Bizkit.

If you were to track Sublime like a night at a university dance bar, it starts off feelin’ oh so fine. You’re starting to buzz off the first few beers. That’s the first few tracks. It starts off strong with “Garden Grove”, lesser “What I Got”, and “Wrong Way”. The bar is jumpin’ by “Santeria”. Six beers/tracks into it, we have hit the sweet spot. But that ends quickly. We get a little over excited and the night starts to become a shit show after 7 beers/tracks in. Track/beer 8 thru 13 is a bit of a mess. Still fun, but a bit too confused and a bit too aggressive. But by track/beer 14 something magical happens. The drunken mess finds synchronicity for the last few tracks/beers. The album ends gloriously. From “What I Got (Reprise)” to “Doin’ Time”, it’s a stone cold jam.

In the morning that splash of cold water on the face is gonna feel so refreshing.

JS

WINNER: Bruce Springsteen, Tunnel of Love (3 points)

BATTLE TALLY

80s: 10

90s: 16

EARNED POINTS
80s: 17
90s: 31

Next week’s battle – #24: X, Los Angeles (1980) vs. Pavement, Slanted and Enchanted (1992)

#43: Bruce Springsteen, ‘Nebraska’ (1982)vs. TLC, ‘CrazySexyCool’ (1994)

 

These albums are polar opposites. Nebraska is a stripped down depressing barn stomp and Crazy Sexy Cool is highly produced sweaty sex romp (exception being the righteous mega-hit “Waterfalls”). As much as CSC is a stone cold funkified-hip-hop jam, Nebraska is not that at all. It’s completely and perfectly bleak.

What both albums have is soul in spades. They got soul for days! Bruce‚Äôs titular first track, “Nebraska” is as if a grizzled country boy sliced his belly open and spilled his guts out on the table for all to see. Even an upbeat blues bar anthem  like “Open All Night” has a heartbreaking edge to it. On the paranoid drone shocker “State Trooper”, Bruce’s screaming yelps of “Woooo!!” are an unsettling wake up call of raw emotional energy. The rest of the songs are a collage of desperately brilliant Americana that is more compelling with each listen.

Crazy Sexy Cool is a different kind of soul. One that makes you wanna drop your hips and pucker your lips. I love the first track, a quick spit of verse by the late Phife Dawg introducing the ladies and setting the stage for the party to come.  Phife passes the mic to the ladies and they take us to their libido lagoon filled with deep circuitous roots running through dark organic wet earth giving rise to thick buttressed tree trunks.

This battle is a bit like comparing a low budget indie movie to a highly produced epic.  At the Oscars last year, Moonlight won out over the highly polished La La Land.  I am going to give the win to Nebraska over Crazy Sexy Cool for the same reason. Despite the deep base and glossy grooves, Nebraska is a deeper look into the human condition and just has more substance.

JS

WINNER: Bruce Springsteen, Nebraska (1 point)

BATTLE TALLY

80s: 5

90s: 3

EARNED POINTS
80s: 5
90s: 3

Next week’s battle  –  #42: The Robert Cray Band, Strong Persuader (1986) vs. PJ Harvey, Rid of Me (1993)