Was at the Container Store the other day and heard Darlene Love’s All Alone on Christmas playing on the speakers. The song’s got a great E Street Band sound to it, contributed to a good deal by the E Street Band actually playing on the record. Little Steven wrote the song for the Home Alone 2 soundtrack; Steve, Clarence, Max, Danny, and Garry did the instruments.
Every time I hear it, the sound makes me wonder about the nature of the band and its production. Some avid Springsteen fans complain about Bruce not varying the music enough in recent years, saying he should take more chances and not aim for a career-spanning “narrative.” That’s a key word with Springsteen, and one he raises repeatedly while putting together his Greatest Hits album in ’95. As shown in the Blood Brothers documentary, he dumps a more orchestral version of Secret Garden for a sparser one — a lesser one according to other people in the studio. He takes a vote, then tosses the result. “Distracts from the narrative,” he says. Choices Springsteen has made since — for one, closing nearly every show with the message-laden Land of Hope and Dreams — suggest he’s still making many of his decisions with the long view in mind. If you think that’s the wrong approach, and I do to some extent, then the lack of true departures in his sound is a more-than-momentary issue.
But I also think All Alone on Christmas is relevant in that discussion. Put on the Christmas on E Street CD, the song fits in right with the rest. If you give the same band to someone else and he produces the same sound, does the result suggest it’s the band and not the Boss? Sure, Little Steven has been close with Springsteen and played with him for decades. And they like many of the same types of music. And they both love the Spector Wall of Sound. But you’ve got to think a set of blocks can only be arranged together in so many ways. The musical challenge, as usual, lies in combining the blocks when you can’t see the edges.