Friday, May 2, 2014

Album Review - Hero by Clarence Clemons


When this blog first began, I considered myself a very passionate and knowledgeable Springsteen fan.  However, over two years later, I have absorbed a disturbing amount of Bruce information, including two biographies, two comic books, and countless strange Youtube videos.  Recently, after seeing the E Street Band get inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, I figured it was time to step up my game and learn more about the backing band that created Springsteen's signature sound.  Having been amused by Clarence's 80s-tastic video for "You're a Friend of Mine", I decided to dive into the album that spawned it: Hero.

Based solely on the timing of the album's release (November 1985), this album could be easily categorized as a shameless cash grab at the apex of Springsteen-mania.  Unfortunately, there's nothing on this album that disproves this hypothesis.  The sound here is classic 1980s, as you can hear bits and pieces from the decade's iconic bands throughout the album, such as Duran Duran ("Temptation"), Prince ("Kissin On U"), Journey ("Christina"), and Hall & Oates ("You're a Friend of Mine").  You could easily imagine many of these songs being played during a montage in Beverly Hills Cop or Rocky IV.  The lyrics here are very simplistic and literal, lending credence to the thought that this album was hastily put together post-Born In The USA.  However, what helps make this manageable is that Clarence is self-aware of the nature of the project, often referring to himself as his "Big Man" persona, describing himself with Boss-esque cartoonish hyperbole.

There isn't too much to say about this album.  There are some lyrics and music choices that have aged like milk, but let's be honest: Clarence was not aiming to make Born To Run here.  Hero was made for a specific moment in time and for a very niche audience (people who loved Bruce Springsteen and wondered what it would sound like if the saxophonist sang).  That being said, there are a few songs that were worth noting, such as his surprisingly effective love ballads like "Cross the Line" and "Christina".  Other tracks are fairly strong musically, but are dragged down by surface-deep lyrics.  I feel that if Bruce had a once over look "It's Alright With Me Girl", he could have come up with something stronger than: "It's alright with me girl, if you tell me the truth.  It's alright with me girl, do what your heart tells you to."  However, my main complaints with this album mirror my complaints about Clarence's biography: while it is funny and light-hearted, it ultimately feels phoned in and unsatisfying.  I'd rate this a 2 out of 5 stars: if you are an E Street die-hard, feel free to check it out if you are curious, but it is not essential listening.