Human Touch

Bruce Springsteen

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Human Touch Review

by William Ruhlmann

Bruce Springsteen has always been steeped in mainstream pop/rock music, using it as a vocabulary for what he wanted to say about weightier matters. And he has always written generic pop as well, though he's usually given the results away to performers like Southside Johnny and Gary "U.S." Bonds. Sometimes, those songs have been hits -- think of the Pointer Sisters' "Fire" or Bonds' "This Little Girl Is Mine." Occasionally, Springsteen has used such material here and there on his own albums; some of it can be found on The River, for example. But Human Touch was the first Bruce Springsteen album to consist entirely of this kind of minor genre material, material he seems capable of turning out endlessly and effortlessly -- the point of "I Wish I Were Blind" is that the singer doesn't want to see, now that his baby has left him; "57 Channels (And Nothin' On)" is about TV; "Real Man" finds the singer declaring that, while he may not be an action hero like Rambo, he feels like a real man in his baby's arms. And Springsteen, having largely jettisoned the E Street Band (keyboardist Roy Bittan remained), enlisted some sturdy minor talent to play and sing, among them ace studio drummer Jeff Porcaro (on one of his final recording sessions), Sam Moore of Sam & Dave, and Bobby Hatfield of the Righteous Brothers. It's pleasant enough stuff, and easy to listen to, but it is not the kind of record Springsteen had conditioned his audience to expect, and its release brought considerable disappointment. The reaction was exacerbated by the drawn-out release schedule that by 1992 had become common to superstars: this simply wasn't the record Springsteen fans had waited four and a half years to hear. Though at nearly 59 minutes it was the longest single-disc album of his career (which is not even counting the fact that a second whole album was released simultaneously), and though it contained several songs that could have been big hits -- the "Tunnel of Love" sound-alike title track, which actually made the Top 40, "Roll of the Dice," an AOR radio favorite, "Man's Job," and even "Soul Driver," which belonged on the next Southside album -- Human Touch was an uninspired Bruce Springsteen album, his first that didn't at least aspire to greatness. Springsteen may have put out the more substantial Lucky Town at the same time in recognition of the relatively slight nature of the material here.

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