Bruce on Botox and Pollard on Par

Veteran rockers do what they do and Beirut disappoints

Bruce Springsteen and the E-Street Band

Magic (Columbia)

Some friends of mine swear Bruce looked Botoxed in his 60 Minutes interview the other week. I didnâ’t see it, so I donâ’t know, but thatâ’s how this album feelsâ"like old skin stretched too tight. Itâ’s not a bad record, although it sounds kind of awful; the mix is cramped and crowded. But in its big, borrowed hooks and worn anthemic clichés, it comes across as a little eager to please.

Itâ’s Springsteenâ’s most tuneful work in years, but the tunes are maybe a tad too effortless: first one sounds like Tommy Tutone, second one like Steve Earle, third one like...well, like Bruce Springsteen (like â“Cover Me,â” to be specific). The lyric sheet is rife with rote mytho-poetry and stock phrases he hasnâ’t leaned on since Born to Run. (Itâ’s possible he has been done no favors by his recent indie acolytes, bands like the Hold Steady and Arcade Fire who venerate the young, windy, wordy Bruce rather than the sharp, spare writer he became.) Compare a Magic line like â“Everybody has a friendâ” to â“Everybodyâ’s got a hungry heartâ”: one of those lyrics is true and one of them isnâ’t, and the distance between them says a lot about this album.

Of course, honesty is hard and insight is harder, and the strain has shown in Springsteenâ’s recent records. This time around, he seems to have given himself a free pass altogether. The E-Street faithful may be inclined to do the same, and thatâ’s fineâ"heâ’s earned it. But earning it and needing it are two different things. â"Jesse Fox Mayshark

Robert Pollard

Coast to Coast Carpet of Love and Standard Gargoyle Decisions

(Merge)

I wonâ’t start this review by saying that former Guided by Voices front man Robert Pollardâ’s oeuvre has copious passages of genius tempered by a glut of frustrating, opaque songs that seem unfinished; thatâ’s a moot point. Well, I guess I just did. We all know what to expect from rockâ’s premier man of letters. And releasing two separate albums on the same day isnâ’t that audacious a move for the ever-prolific Wild Bob.

Coast to Coast Carpet of Love and Standard Gargoyle Decisions present two sides of the Pollard coin. The former is ostensibly on the pop side, while the latter focuses on rock, but the albums are better conceptualized as craftsmanship (Coast to Coast) versus stream-of-consciousness (Gargoyle). Of the two, Coast to Coast actually rocks moreâ"the fully realized songs are more conventionally produced and represent some of Pollardâ’s best post-GBV material to date. As with even the most slipshod Pollard collections, Gargoyle certainly has its merits, though theyâ’re sandwiched between several vexing and mislaid experiments that should have stayed in the lab. Pollard aficionados are advised to pick up both releases and separate the wheat from the chaff on their own. Pollard delivers literate, enigmatic pop/rock that sounds just as new as it will decades from now, but he asks for a little work from listeners. But like any learning experience, itâ’s well worth the effort. â"John Sewell

Beirut

The Flying Club Cup (Ba Da Bing)

Zach Condon, who records with a loose collection of friends as Beirut, suffers from a chronic case of whimsy. On The Flying Club Cup, Beirut drowns its indie pop with what seems to try to pass for traditional European folk instrumentationâ"accordion, clarinet, trumpet, glockenspielâ"but canâ’t cover up the fact that what they make is essentially mid-1990s Elephant 6-style pop.

The songs are solid, if overwrought, and Condon delivers them with a sonorous, sometimes affecting, sometimes unbearably keening, voice. But the intrusion of arch instrumental interludes like â“La Banlieueâ” and the hermetic insularity of the world conjured up by Condonâ’s songsâ"a shallow imaginary tableau cobbled together from Cabaret, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Fiddler on the Roofâ"overwhelm the few moments of legitimate grandeur (â“Cliquot,â” the end of â“The Flying Club Cupâ”). â" Matthew Everett

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