Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Movie Review - Blinded by the Light



What an odd world it is has been for Springsteen fans the last 12 months.  After Springsteen wrapped up a critically acclaimed run on Broadway, he released a Western-themed solo album with no accompanying tour.  Meanwhile, fans will have not one, but two opportunities to go to the cinema to view Springsteen-related movies.  While Western Stars comes out next month, we are currently in the throws of Blinded by the Light mania.

Well, maybe not quite mania.  Despite rave reviews, this little film has struggled to make any money, with around $15M as I write this (and I'm sure $14M of that came from New Jersey - more on that later).  I can't say I'm too shocked - this sort of came out of nowhere.  I guess you could loosely connect it to the recent rock biopics of other 70s icons like Queen and Elton John, but this takes a completely different course.

Here, we get the tale of Javid Khan, a Pakistani immigrant in the outskirts of London, struggling with the racism and politics prevalent in the 1980s (and unfortunately relevant today).  He finds salvation through a hip-friend, who blows his mind with a couple of Springsteen cassettes.  Through the power of Springsteen's music, he gains the confidence needed to pursue his true passions, both creatively and romantically.  It is the story of the fan - one that is very rarely presented on the big screen.

The story is told in the style of a fairy tale.  From the opening title of Blinded by the Light being presented in glittery font, the movie plays fast and loose with its own reality.  Springsteen music blasts into the movie on a dark and stormy night, people spontenously sing and dance in the street, and plot points rely on random contests where the grand prize is a trip to New Jersey.

The most brilliant decision by writer/director Gurinder Chadha is to have Springsteen simultaneously everywhere in this movie, and yet nowhere at all.  The theater's speakers absolutely drown you in Springsteen's music, while the lyrics are boldly displayed all over the screen (in case you can't understand what he says - and I'll admit, I did learn some parts of "The Promised Land" I had been singing wrong for years).  However, you only see glimpses of the man - aside from a couple of TV screens, he remains tantalizingly out of reach.  This truly encapsulates the fan experience - while a few of us have been lucky to meet the man, most of us can only interact with the art.

The movie has strong performances from Aaron Phagura (playing the militant Springsteen fan who started Javid's journey), David Hayman (as a craggly-faced neighbor, who could've been a British Springsteen himself), and Rob Brydon (of The Trip film series fame).  However, I can't say I was a big fan of the lead (Viveik Kalra), who was basically either moping or smiling ear-to-ear every scene.  Also, as storytelling goes, I wish new wave wasn't presented as "the enemy" (there's a throw-away line that tries to appease this criticism, but the sentiment gets cut-off quickly).

However, this is a hard movie to get mad at.  It is so giddy and charming in its presentation, and it is telling such a small tale - nobody is trying to sell you action figures or build an entire Springsteen Cinematic Universe.  Although, I MUST point out that Javid listens to two tapes (Born In The USA and Darkness on the Edge of Town), then goes to school the next day and says "Is a dream a lie if it don't come true, or is it something worse?", which is from The River!  I almost stormed out right then and there!  I hope someone got fired for that blunder!

As mentioned before, it may not be making much money globally, but I saw it on Labor Day weekend in New Jersey, and it was sold out.  When Monmouth College was mentioned, the crowd erupted in applause.  This movie may have a long shelf-life in the Garden State.

But, in the end, I must agree with fellow LOS writer Steve Snart - it is amazing that this movie exists at all.  In a world where movies are getting bigger and louder, here is a story about someone who doesn't save the world or rise to fame.  It's a movie of the every man, struggling with himself, his career, his family, and his dreams.  It's exactly the type of movie Springsteen would love.

Saturday, August 24, 2019

Album Review - Western Stars



Well, it took a while, but I've finally gotten around to giving Western Stars, Bruce's latest, a proper listen.  Although, I have a feeling that it will take many more listens to fully digest this album.

Western Stars may perhaps be one of the more complicated albums Springsteen has released over the last 20 years.  It doesn't have the pure anger of Wrecking Ball, the hopefulness of Working on a Dream, or the slapdashed appearance of High Hopes.  With Western Stars, Springsteen is exploring the emotions he felt during his self-described "rough 60s". 



Here, Springsteen sounds older and more pained than he ever has - his emotions divorced from the politics of the time.  The songs are often repetitive - many ending with the narrator in the same place as he began.  While four singles were released, there's no bombastic album "pillar" or "rocker"; strings and pianos are relied on over rollicking guitar riffs and banging drums (in fact, the first two singles are tucked away in the back of the album). 

There are moments of surprise (Dave Sancious on "The Wayfarer"), moments of silliness ("Sleepy Joe's Cafe" is definitely the "Queen of the Supermarket of this album"), and moments of familiarity ("Drive Fast" being an echo of "The Wrestler").  But, this is truly an album where the whole is more the the sum of its parts.  It is an album for the lonely, which makes it that much more appropriate that there was no tour to promote it.  Western Stars may be best listened to on the fourth day of a long road trip. 



I tentatively give this 3.5 out of 5 western stars.  It is not an album that I am ready to connect with emotionally, but it is an absolutely strong and unexpected output from our boy as he approaches 70 years old. 

Friday, April 26, 2019

Song Spotlight: "Hello Sunshine"



Today, the first track from the upcoming Western Stars dropped, the melancholy and soothing "Hello Sunshine".  While it will take a few listens to fully digest, I have to say I'm a fan.  Unlike the some of Bruce's recent work, his voice seems very raw (and significantly older) here, and the track is much less produced.  It has a "natural" vibe that's very easy on the ears.  I was hesitant about Western Stars yesterday, given its wonky cover and title, but this has me feeling more optimistic.

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Western Stars drops June 14th!


After a year-and-a-half as a Broadway star, Bruce quickly returned to the studio, and has announced Western Stars, his first album in over five years.  We here at Legends of Springsteen are very excited to bring you round-the-clock coverage (or maybe just an album review and possibly a live concert review).  The first track, "Hello Sunshine", should drop tomorrow, although if you sleuth around the interwebs you can find it now.  Get hyped!

Friday, April 19, 2019

Album Review - American Beauty EP


On this day five years ago, Bruce Springsteen released the American Beauty EP.  Coinciding with Record Store Day, this was a collection of four songs that were considered for the High Hopes record, but ultimately didn't make the cut.  This EP went very under the radar - I don't believe we discussed it on this blog, nor has Springsteen played any of the songs live.  If you are a true Springsteen completist, feel free to go to Amazon and pick yourself up a copy.  However, if dropping $40 for four songs isn't your speed, please allow me to link you to each song, and hey, while you are here, read a few of my thoughts on each song.  



The first track is "American Beauty". Immediately, I get vibes of "Frankie Fell In Love" from High Hopes, so it is easy to see why this cut.  Also, Bruce is definitely singing strange on this track.  It sounds like he is going for a Jagger-esque sound, but sounds more like Little Stevie.



Next up is "Mary Mary" - if you thought Springsteen didn't use the name "Mary" enough in his songs, here he doubles it up.  Written during the Magic sessions, the strings remind me more of something from The Rising.  It's a solid song, but it definitely doesn't hide its demo-ness; the song seems to end mid-sentence.



"Hurry Up Sundown" was allegedly the closest to making High Hopes, and you can see why - it is the most classic "rocker" in the quartet.  Springsteen is double-tracked here, but to my ear it sounds more like there are dozens of Springsteen singing on this one.



Finally, there's "Hey Blue Eyes".  Another thin demo, this was written during the Working On A Dream sessions.  It may be a bit too dark and sexual for Working On A Dream's themes - it even drops another Springsteen f-bomb.

In the end, for as little fanfare as it received, there's really not a stinker here.  It is understandable that these were left on the cutting floor - too similar, too incomplete, too wrong thematic, etc.  However, for my money, the tracks themselves can hold there own among the later Springsteen Working On A Dream/Wrecking Ball/High Hopes catalog.

Thank you for reading about four songs from five years ago.

Friday, February 1, 2019

Super Bowl Picks

You know the deal.



OB: Rams 38, Patriots 31 (Overall 3-4)
Rory: Rams 35, Patriots 34 (Overall 3-4)
Steve: Patriots 45, Rams 38 (Overall 3-4)