Released April 26, 2005
50 min, 55 sec
First off, iTunes, A to Z is dropping to a three-a-week format for the weekly posts. I’ll try to stick to a M-W-F schedule, but I may end up just posting whatever day I feel like after a while. Weekend posts will hopefully continue the way they are now.
I’m really getting my ass kicked by my current college schedule.
Anyway, Devils & Dust.
This album is a strange one, in that it isn’t really a complete album in and of itself; rather, it’s more of a composite album, scraping together songs recorded over a period of a decade, with overdubs and additional mixing done in 2005 when the project actually began. Devils & Dust covers one of the widest recording periods of Springsteen’s career in its subject matter and songs, and only one track – “Devils & Dust” itself – is a “recent” Springsteen composition, recorded around the time the album was being put together.
Springsteen himself describes the album as being a spiritual sequel to The Ghost of Tom Joad. This is apparent, in some ways, as the album is sparse in its instrumentation, heavily influenced by country music, and deals with darker aspects of Springsteen’s common themes. There’s also the fact that the vast majority of the album was recorded between 1995, and 1997, during the Tom Joad tour itself, at the very lowest point of Springsteen’s cultural relevance. In that context, an album like Devils & Dust makes sense.
But it wasn’t released after Tom Joad. It was released after The Rising, Springsteen’s monumental, historic return to the top of the rock world, if only for the length of that tour. After two tours featuring the reunited and reinvigorated E Street Band. All eyes were on Springsteen to see what he would do next. And what he did next was essentially commission Brendan O’Brien to hack together an acoustic country album, and then tour behind it. A strange move, to be sure, boosted up by the fact that two songs rubbed fans the wrong way in “Reno” and “Long Time Comin’.” The latter was a trivial matter, containing the line “I ain’t gonna fuck it up this time,” which is one of the only instances of Springsteen swearing in a studio recording, despite his potty mouth in a live setting. “Reno,” however, features the protagonist soliciting a prostitute and describing his actions in uncomfortable detail, the result being an incredibly raunchy song for a Springsteen record.
The album itself isn’t nearly as aggressively negative as Tom Joad, however, being an altogether more positive listening experience. The album revels in its chosen genre, becoming yet another demonstration of Springsteen’s musical flexibility and prowess at tackling whatever genre he wants. The supporting tour was similarly more light-hearted than Tom Joad‘s, even with the reinstated “shut the fuck up” rules demanding silence during performances, and the album and tour both sold well despite the abrupt change in style and direction following The Rising.
Devils & Dust best stands as an overlooked album, one that is spoken of positively when remembered, but often doesn’t enter the conversation to begin with. By this point, an acoustic album from Springsteen was no longer a shock or a surprise; instead, it was just another diversion from “the main attraction,” no matter how strong the songs themselves were, and the songs have mostly faded away, out of Springsteen’s live catalogue. But, like any Springsteen album, it’s worth a listen, and there are more gems on it than one would expect.