Unlike Nebraska, Bruce Springsteen's 1982 unplugged masterpiece, the Boss' latest is a big-production acoustic venture, larded with atmospheric keyboards, earnest mandolins, and all the accouterments money can buy. To his credit, Springsteen has crafted his finest album in years, far better than dronefests such as The Ghost of Tom Joad. "All the Way Home" and "Long Time Comin'" could be Tunnel of Love outtakes -- not quite classics but solid in every way. "Black Cowboys" is the best Bob Dylan song Dylan never wrote. But the overall vibe is bleak and mournful, and Springsteen seems to have forgotten what made his glory days so great. It wasn't the social commentary (real blue-collar folks don't spend much time brooding over the plight of the working class); it was the spirit and aw-shucks enthusiasm. It was hope, not hopelessness, that won us over. Now he sounds like the blowhard at the party who can't just have a drink and stop talking politics.
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