After a five year hiatus that brought forth a great deal of soul searching, a second marriage, two kids and the breakup of the band that helped his music and live shows come to life, Bruce Springsteen reemerged in 1992 with not one, but two new albums dealing with all these issues and their resolutions. One would think such deeply personal material would make for some of the strongest, most emotionally raw material of The Boss's career. Unfortunately, poor production and arrangement choices strangle out a lot of the potential these songs have.
Springsteen has often stated that his fans like him best when he has a chip on his shoulder. He may have a point. Three of his best albums, "Born to Run," "Darkness on the Edge of Town," and "Tunnel of Love," were all written and recorded during tumultuous times in his professional and personal life. There's no doubt his darker emotions bring out the best in Bruce, giving a music a soul and edge that most of "Human Touch" just doesn't have.
Some of the songs have potential, but are shot down in their execution. "Soul Driver" is, lyrically, a very strong, dark love song, but musically is mutilated by an arrangement that would make Michael Bolton green with envy, complete with synthesized woodwinds and corny jungle beats. The much maligned "57 Channels (And Nothin' On)" is actually contains a lot of first rate witty touches in its lyrics, but commits musical suicide by taking itself way too seriously. If he had done as a little roadhouse rocker like "Ramrod," it would have been a nice throwaway "River" - type blowout. The biggest tragedy of all is "Real World," which is one of the best songs Bruce has ever written - "Thunder Road" / "Born to Run" / "Backstreets" good - but the album version, aside from some nice guitar work, is soul crushingly bad. Anyone who's heard any of Bruce's solo piano versions knows how great of a song this is, but you'd never know it from this version.
Some songs are simply forgettable. "Gloria's Eyes," the admittedly catchy "All or Nothing at All," and "Man's Job" are harmless but do not make much impact after more than a few listens. And the less said about "Real Man," the better. The synth line alone is corny enough to cause constipation, and the lyrics are beyond abysmal.
This leaves us with the highlights, which, thankfully, are extremely song. The title song was a huge hit single and deservedly so, a passionate ballad with amazing lyrics and a steady, subtle arrangement that fits the song perfectly. "Cross My Heart" is as sexy a song as Bruce has ever done aside from "I'm on Fire," and "With Every Wish" is simply lovely. The exhuberant "Roll of the Dice" is sublime, with Roy Bittan propelling the song along like only he can. "The Long Goodbye" is a terrific, soul bearing rocker with some of his best lyrics. And "I Wish I Were Blind" is an amazingly beautiful tortured love song.
"Human Touch" will be remembered for keeping Bruce Springsteen in the public eye, but not for advancing his artistic prowess in any way. Its outstanding moments are truly outstanding, but its bad points are REALLY bad.