Unless Black Pistol Fire decide to drop a new album on the same day as Springsteen’s, April 26 was the most exciting day of my musical year. Both Bruce Springsteen and Taylor Swift dropped singles. I normally don’t review singles, cause they’re too short for me to say much about, but two of them coming from artists I specialize in, I think I’ll make an exception.
“Hello Sunshine” by Bruce Springsteen
“Hello Sunshine” is pretty much exactly what I was expecting from the announcement Springsteen made April 25th, when we all first heard about it. It was billed as a callback to his solo work (meaning Tom Joad and Devils and Dust, Nebraska is so removed and had such a different writing process it sits in its own category,) and it certainly is. The snare drum brushes, the plodding guitar, the way instruments are consistently added at predictable intervals in the song — if they lyrics weren’t so generic, I’d say this is what you’d get if you played a robot those two albums and asked it to create a song replicating them. The only particularly novel thing about this song is the use of strings in a role that would traditionally be filled by Roy Bittan on organ (no word on who is on this album yet), which harkens back to The Rising, the 2002 album he released in between his solo records.
What really concerns me isn’t that this is such a low quality song coming from Bruce Springsteen–that’d only be surprising to someone who hadn’t been paying attention since 1992. It’s that this is the debut single off the album. This is what Bruce thinks is so good, he’s putting it forth to sell us on his new idea. If this is his new idea, his new idea is older than him. Springsteen doesn’t sell like he used to, but he still has that guaranteed sales. I think the upcoming album, Western Stars, will be certified Gold, maybe even Platinum, but will not get kind treatment from the critics like Wrecking Ball did, if this song is indicative of the album.
I keep waiting for him to write the follow up the Wrecking Ball. It was such a great album, a real comeback from the slump he’d been in for 10 years. The mixing of what he learned working with The Sessions Band with his rock n roll roots, it was really something special. The last album, High Hopes, was mostly outtakes from albums with the E Street Band from the previous years. Now this is outtakes from solo work. When are we going to get a truly new Bruce Springsteen album?
“ME!” by Taylor Swift
Just before starting to write this, I wondered “what will we think of Taylor Swift in 30 years?” The rock stars of yore did some horrible stuff, but we don’t really confront their fans about it the way we confront fans of contemporary pop acts about their choice in music (note: I’m not old enough to know if people ever confronted Jerry Lee’s fans about that 13 year old he married in the 50s). Time has a way of absolving artists of the details of their careers. Only time will tell if Taylor Swift and Ariana Grande will have redeemed legacies like Chuck Berry or have permanent stains on them like Ike Turner.
That said, Taylor isn’t doing a great job of shaping her legacy. Her latest single, “ME!,” falls into the same trap as Reputation of writing in a style because it’s popular, not because you know how to do it. The video has some really good moments in it, but those moments are completely unrelated to the song. If I’d had listened to this on Spotify instead of watched it on YouTube, I would have an even more negative opinion of the whole thing. The music is as uninspired as “End Game” and the lyrics are as tired as “Bad Blood.” The only hope it gives me is that it’s got a sense of humor about itself. Taylor yelling at Brendon Urie in French while referring to their cats as “our young children” was obviously the highlight, but also moments like the contrast between the dozens of actors suited identically to Taylor as she sings “you’ll never find another like me,” or even the odd lyric “hey, kids, spelling is fun” that I thought was a laugh for the video but when I listened to the Spotify version is actually in the song. Maybe Taylor is trying to be funny? I don’t know. ME! raises more questions about the future of Taylor Swift than it provides answers.
Mind you, it’ll never be too late for Taylor to reinvent herself into something better. She put out 5 stellar albums. She’ll be collecting royalties on “Teardrops on My Guitar” for the rest of her life. Even if she doesn’t put out another good album until the 2030s, she’ll never leave the spotlight enough that we won’t notice.
Elizabeth von Teig is a musician and author living in Brighton, Massachusetts. Her expertise is classic rock, folk punk, and the blues.