18. Lucky Town (1992)
After all the time and effort poured into Human Touch, Springsteen was apparently struck with a sudden lightness and inspiration that allowed him to cut a whole ‘nother record in just weeks. Following the template just set by Guns ‘N Roses releasing Use Your Illusions I and II on the same day, Springsteen and manager Jon Landau made their case for doing the same with Human Touch and Lucky Town. It was released on March 31, 1992, along with Human Touch, as they’d wished.
Originally, I was going to just list Human Touch and Lucky Town together, arguing they collectively represented the same low point in Springsteen’s career. No doubt, there are plenty of the same issues here — the studio musicians, songs that feel like hollow Springsteen imitations — but Lucky Town is also clearly better than Human Touch by a decent margin. It’s still not great, and is still easily at the bottom end of his catalogue, but it’s better than I had given it credit for, perhaps due to the fact that it’s inextricably linked to Human Touch through their shared release date.
Much of Lucky Town actually feels like Springsteen, which is a marked difference from the generic gloss of Human Touch. Comparatively, it’s rougher, but that doesn’t make it some raucous echo of The River or something; assisted by the clinical hand of a studio band rather than the E Street Band, there’s still a certain soul lacking here. Thankfully, the songwriting talents that were lacking on Human Touch crop up more here. “If I Should Fall Behind” was actually played with the reunited E Street Band, unlike almost anything else from this era, and “Living Proof” seems to have its supporters amongst certain wings of the fan base. Personally, I’ve always thought “Better Days” and “Lucky Town” were pretty strong.
After the dual release of Human Touch and Lucky Town met with a relatively more muted response commercially and critically, Springsteen spent a lot of the ’90s laying low, by his standards. He began raising a family, spent time living in L.A. and traveling through the Southwest. On the heels of the massive success of the 1994 single “Streets Of Philadelphia,” he recorded a whole album of like-minded songs, only to never release it, instead putting out the sparse The Ghost Of Tom Joad in 1995. As the decade tipped toward its second half, the idea of reuniting with the E Street Band was already flickering in his mind enough to warrant a one-off, and reportedly awkward, occasion to record a few new songs for his 1995 Greatest Hits. By the end of the ’90s the full-fledged reunion would be realized, Springsteen’s least productive or engaging decade would be behind him, and Lucky Town would mainly be left in the past with it.