Hello friends, welcome to The Listening Booth where I ramble incoherently about what I’ve been putting into my ears. This week we’re going into an old favourite as The Boss comes to town followed by some perfect summer listening and a young hardcore band trying to keep their name in the spotlight. Sound good? I certainly hope so.
Bruce Springsteen – Western Stars
The Boss sounds old. On Western Stars, he’s singing about a lot of the things that we’ve heard him sing about before. There are long roads, girls with a twinkle in their eye and that working-class American Dream that Springsteen has captured like few others. However, it’s all tinged with melancholy. Bruce’s voice isn’t as strong as it once was as he struggles to hit those high notes and you can’t shake the feeling he doesn’t have many more of these left in him.
Not a word of which is intended as a criticism because, and I hate to break it to you, Bruce Springsteen is old. Sure, he still looks fantastic, but Western Stars is his nineteenth album and he’ll turn 70 this year. He’s no longer the fist-pumping hero of yesteryear, but an elderly man dragging himself up there to go again, and I love that he’s leaning into that because growing old as a rock star is hard. So many of these legendary bands have become a parody of themselves, embarrassing themselves on stage as they claim to be as good as they ever were. However, on this evidence, The Boss, like Johnny Cash before him, is embracing his age. He’s using it, and it’s working for him.
For it’s not just the voice that sounds old, but the characters too. In songs like the title track, ‘Drive Fast (The Stuntsman)’ and ‘Moonlight Motel’, Springsteen is singing about people and places that have been left in the past. Sure, they’re not all ready to shuffle off their mortal coil quite yet, but they’re getting there. Their day is gone, and they know it. It’s the perfect words to accompany that voice, as Bruce sings about those who were once there or never quite made it, but who have accepted that. They might not have it all any more, but they still have a bit of it.
And it’s not perfect. Truthfully, you’d struggle to call this a fascinating album. It’s a suitable one, an enjoyable one, but there is no great experimentation here. Then again, should we be looking towards seventy-year-old Bruce Springsteen to experiment? Probably not. I also think some of the arrangements have been over-complicated and one or two tracks could have been skipped entirely (mainly, ‘Sleepy Joe’s Cafe’ which sounds like it was written for the holiday camp circuit). Springsteen on Broadway proved that people are happy for The Boss to tell his stories in a stripped back form, and on songs like ‘Tucson Train’ I would have almost preferred to have been left alone with Springsteen and his guitar. I’m not sure we needed anything else.
However, I still think Western Stars can be viewed as a triumph. It’s a musician adapting to a new stage in his career and doing it with style. Bruce Springsteen will always be held up as one of the best, you can’t argue with that discography, but this is proof that he’s not a legacy act yet. There is still life in The Boss.
Dinosaur Pile-Up – Celebrity Mansions
Dinosaur Pile-Up sound like a lot of bands that you’ve heard before. If you took the early days of Foo Fighters (and even a little bit of Nirvana) before combining it with the music – and sense of humour – of Weezer and The Offspring, then you’d pretty much have Celebrity Mansion. The question is whether you think that sounds great, or fucking awful.
And honestly, on my first listen, it could have gone either way. I wasn’t sure whether I thought Celebrity Mansion was fantastic or irritating, and it took a couple more goes around before I came to a conclusion. Eventually, though, I had to admit (with a smidgen of shame) that I am leaning towards the fantastic side of proceedings. This album is as dumb as the dumbest crab in the crab pot, but fuck me, it is a shitload of fun to listen to.
Because for all of the stupidity, Dinosaur Pile-Up write some bangers. ‘Thrash Metal Cassette’ rips things into gear getting your toe tapping and your head banging right from the start. It’s catchy, uplifting and if played on a sunny day does everything apart from taking a wander through to the fridge to get a beer for you. That’s not the only one either: ‘Backfoot’, ‘Black Limousine’ and ‘Professional Freak’ are all delivered with a swagger and a cheeky grin which wheedles its way into your affections. It doesn’t matter that they are light and fluffy, providing nothing more than what you see on the surface because you’re smiling and having a good time, so who gives a shit about deeper meanings?
If anything, I think Dinosaur Pile-Up could have gone a bit further into embracing their lightweight nature. Celebrity Mansions is thirty-five minutes long, and if I’d been in the editing suite, I’d have taken ten minutes off that. Not by removing any songs, but by shaving a minute off each of them. Get them all down to around two and a half to three minutes and this album would fly even further than it does already.
You can do great and beautiful with music, but sometimes you just need to bang your head and have a laugh. When that’s the case, Dinosaur Pile-Up are here for you.
Cursed Earth – The Deathbed Sessions
Hardcore is going through a revolution. Code Orange turned up, beat a few random people to death with the rulebook and suddenly everything looks very different. If you’re a young band trying to make your way in that scene, it would be easy to get left behind.
All of which means that your singer leaving the band after you’ve released a couple of critically acclaimed EPs is not ideal. However, that’s where Cursed Earth find themselves after Jazmine Luders left under allegations of abuse. It’s a horrible situation for all involved, and left them with a decision to make, what next?
And, interestingly, where they’ve decided to go next is a mixtape. The Deathbed Sessions is not Cursed Earth version two, but I guess Cursed Earth version one point five now featuring friends. Rather than leaping straight into a new singer, they’ve got a bunch of mates together and put out an EP, so how does that work?
Well, it actually works pretty well, this is a decent release that while not earth-shattering, continues to show Cursed Earth’s potential. They write hardcore that makes you want to punch yourself in the face. It doesn’t matter who is doing the singing, the music is generally fantastic, and you can’t argue with that aspect. Tracks like opener ‘Fear’ want to pummel you, and you should let them.
However, that doesn’t change the fact that this is a weird listen. It’s almost like Cursed Earth have become a cover band that writes original songs. I’m not familiar with all of the vocalists involved, but a lot of these tracks seem to have morphed to fit the singer. ‘Deathbed’, for example, features Booka Nile and Sean Harmanis from Make Them Suffer and is dark and brooding as the female vocals bring a more melodic side out of the band. It’s good, I’m just not sure it’s what I expect from Cursed Earth.
It’s an issue that continues into the tracks that do sound more typical of the band. Larissa Stupar (Venom Prison) is on ‘Tyranny Forever’, and it is a ripper of a track, screaming along and attacking all in its path. It’s also a Venom Prison song in all but name. Now, both Stupar and Venom Prison are fucking awesome, so I’ve no issue with that, but will Cursed Earth sound like Venom Prison in the future? Who knows.
And, you know what, maybe we don’t have to answer those questions. Perhaps, this was just something fun that had the added advantage of keeping Cursed Earth in people’s minds while they figure out what to do next. You might even see it as a testing process, with them putting their fingers in the water to see what bites. Either way, it adds up to an EP that is more a curio than an essential, but it’s a curio that you’ll have a good time with, and there’s nothing wrong with that.
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