Happy Bruce Springsteen week. The Boss released his 18th album, High Hopes, yesterday, and to celebrate, he dropped by Late Night with Jimmy Fallon to sing about Chris Christie and discuss ducks and horses. Unfortunately, we couldn’t get Springsteen to join us for a panel on Rosa vs. Santiago, but we can rank all of his studio albums, minus We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions (it barely counts), from worst to best
And yes, we ALL know Hammersmith Odeon London ’75 and Tracks are awesome, but they still don’t count.
17. Human Touch (1992)
Unless you’re the Velvet Underground or Outkast, even the greats release sh*t albums from time to time. Human Touch is Bruce Springsteen’s sh*t album. Released the same day as Lucky Town, Human Touch is both cursed with a well-meaning, yet creepy album title and an overload of thickly dated production and imposter lyrics. Springsteen recorded the album with an unfamiliar team of session musicians — that explains why it sounds so aimless.
16. The Ghost of Tom Joad (1995)
The second, and weakest, of Springsteen’s three acoustic folk albums, The Ghost of Tom Joad is an attempt to duplicate the stark minimalism of Nebraska, and a failure. The simple act of a man plucking an acoustic guitar in a dark room doesn’t make for “brave” music, which is what Rolling Stone called The Ghost of Tom Joad; more often than not, it makes it boring, especially when the songs are as repetitive as “Balboa Park” and “Dry Lightning.” It’s hard to tell when one ends and another begins. One major highlight: “Youngstown,” which benefits from a striking full-band performance.
15. Devils & Dust (2005)
And the third acoustic album…What slightly separates Devils & Dust from Joad is more involved arrangements, yes, but also, Springsteen’s voice begins to match the subject material. It’s huskier, deeper, more worn down by time, which befit the tortured themes. The title track picks up steam as it goes, so that by the time Springsteen begins howling on the harmonica, it feels like you’re being led on a journey from a man who’s seen it all, not someone who’s only read a Steinbeck novel. There’s also a song about having sex with a prostitute. That’s cool.
14. Lucky Town (1992)
Lucky Town. Let that sink in: Lucky Town. Why is it that when rock stars begin to age, their album titles get worse? I’m looking at you, Empire Burlesque-era Bob Dylan. Anyway, the stripped-down Lucky Town wasn’t a companion piece to Human Touch in release-date only: they’re both soulless and hollow, lacking the oomph of a “Backstreets,” let alone a “Spirit In the Night.” There’s a few decent songs here, including “Better Days” and “If I Should Fall Behind,” but not enough to make for a must-own album.
13. High Hopes (2014)
High Hopes is a collection of good songs — some covers (Suicide!), some standards, some new arrangements of old classics (“American Skin (41 Shots)”) — that make for a mediocre album. There’s little thematic unity tying High Hopes together; it sounds like the work of a guy who’s been in the business for decades, and felt like covering the Saints, because he’s Bruce Motherf*cking Springsteen. Carry on as you were, sir.
12-10. Magic (2007)/Working on a Dream (2009)/Wrecking Ball (2012)
I’m not convinced these aren’t all the same album. All three are fairly good, were described as “the best album since…” by seemingly every reviewer when they came out, and sound enough like impassioned throwbacks to better Bruce days gone by that it’s easy to buy into the excitement of the moment. BRUCE IS BACK, BABY. Six months later, once you’ve moved on (JOHN MELLENCAMP IS BACK, BABY), the allure is gone, and you realize Magic, Working on a Dream, and Wrecking Ball are fine additions to a stacked discography, but hardly essential.