March 31st, 1992 was kind of a big day for Springsteen fans. It had been five years since The Boss released a studio album, and the waiting was going to yield us two full-length studio albums. This came with some melancholy, as they were also the first releases from Springsteen after he disbanded the E-Street Band when the "Tunnel of Love Express" tour came to an end. He had cut ties with that band permanently, at least for the time being.
I'm going to tackle this as they are listen on the official website, which appears to be alphabetically. So, we start with Human Touch.
Use Your Illusion albums, which came out around the same time, I tend to think of them as a double album you could buy in two parts.
Much like the GN'R releases, these Springsteen offerings tend to come off better if you look at it in terms of being one statement. A long, kinda rambling statement, but then, most double albums are. That said, there's much more in the way of "individual identity" between the Springsteen records than the Use Your Illusions.
Human Touch was the "soulful" side of the equation. Coming out of the huge boost in fame from Born in the U.S.A., and the confusion and upheaval of his marriage, divorce and beginning a family with Patti Scialfa (Son Evan was born in 1990), it's my impression that Springsteen wanted to change everything. Or at least try to. Part of that was removing himself from the safe confines of the E-Street Band, and attempting to embrace the sounds of the Motown and R& B artists he admired.
Human Touch is that attempt. You can hear it in the excursions outside the typical Springsteen seaside rock idiom. Thing is, full-out soul is not the best place for Bruce, his voice just isn't strong enough for it, for one. Not that any of these tracks really gets to full-out soul. I actually find that a positive about the record. You hear the influence, but it doesn't overwhelm who Springsteen is.
The lyrics also dance around this idea of new beginnings. Pretty much across the board, the songs are about upheaval, for both good or ill. On one hand, you have the apocalyptic craziness of 57 Channels and Nothin' On (which a lot of people hate, but I tend to enjoy as a weird left-turn), on the other the uplifting "time to start again" hope of Roll of the Dice. Heck, he even includes a lullaby written for his first-born son, Pony Boy. Can't get any more "new beginnings" than that. Springsteen was fully aware that he was letting go of a lot of things connected to his past (even moving to California), and trying something new. Human Touch knows that this is a dangerous point, filled with fear and hope, yet it was a change that Bruce felt he needed to pursue.
The choice of moving away from the E-Street Band (with the exception of keyboardist Roy Brittan, who, with Springsteen, Jon Landau and Chuck Plotkin, produced the album, and co-wrote some material - Oh, and, of course Patti Scialfa is on the album) is also indicative of this desire to "start fresh." Yet, it's really not all that successful. Mainly, I feel this is because the session musicians he brought in were so adept at embracing the "Springsteen Sound." They just plain sound like a highly skilled cover version of the E-Street Band. Why just bring in a bunch of people who sound like a copy of the original, when you have the original at your disposal?
When you come right down to it, Human Touch isn't a "go-to" Springsteen record for me. It's not one I'll immediately think of when I want to listen to the boss. However, I'm always amazed how much I enjoy it when I do listen. There are some real gems on this album. I Wish I Were Blind ought to be an out-and-out classic. All or Nothin' At All rocks in all the right ways, and the title track is really nice.
The soul experiment was not a rousing success, and, while every other Springsteen album gets mined liberally during live shows, tracks from Human Touch, and it's companion release, are rarely, if ever, played. That's a shame. However, the soul influence is always on display when Springsteen plays live. The "soul revival" has become such a centerpiece of the entire Springsteen persona, it's amazing to me that so many fans rejected (and still do) his, admittedly imperfect, attempts in that direction on record.
Of course, I think a lot of that still, to this day, has to do with dismissing the E-Street Band.