important work in color
1968: Ramblin' Gamblin' Man. 1969: Noah. 1970: Mongrel. 1972: Smokin' OP's. 1973: Back in '72. 1974: Seven. 1975: Beautiful Loser. 1976: Live Bullet * Night Moves. 1978: Stranger in Town. 1980: Against the Wind. 1981: Nine Tonight. 1982: The Distance. 1986: Like a Rock. 1991: The Fire Inside. 1994: Greatest Hits. 1995: It's a Mystery.
The first two albums were mid-western rock recorded abysmally by Bob Seger and Punch; the next three albums were only better by degree. Segers working-class affiliation has linked him to midwest artists like the MC5 and Iggy and the Stooges, but the do-it-yourself, shoestring ethos was artistically unpersuasive in Seger's case, though his stubbornness would ultimately prove victorious on a commercial level. The hit single from the first album ("Ramblin' Gamblin' Man") may have given Seger clout, but by the fourth album (Smokin' OP's), which was filled with cover tunes, The Bob Seger System were somehow making Grand Funk Railroad seem like slick musical mavericks. On "Lennie Johnson" (Noah) Seger even sent a poisoned valentine to John Lennon in a magnificent display of conservative misdirection. Despite bad career moves, Bob Seger persevered and luck finally came his way. All the scrapping around would soon become a part of his song's subject matter as themes crystallized.
Seger's most provocative themes
are more universal than the "working class" tag might
suggest. There is wide appeal to the best of Seger's songs:
"Night Moves," "Main Street," "Like a
Rock," "Against the Wind," for instance, are
romantically nostalgic songs about lost youth and lost innocence.
They echo work by Van Morrison, Bruce Springsteen and Eric
Burdon, among others. Sentimental attachments to youth and the
struggle with time are common to most people; unfortunately,
Seger's ballads are often so loaded with pathos, his variations
feel like repetitions.
Seger's rock and roll songs, "Rock and roll Never Forgets," "The Fire Down Below," "Sunspot Baby," "Mary Lou," "Old Time Rock and Roll," "Ain't Got No Money," "Horizontal Bop," "Long Thin Silver Line," "Betty Lou's Getting' Out Tonight," "Makin' Thunderbirds," are genre specific. Compared to other genre-specific songwriting, Seger is somewhat lacking in depth. The Rolling Stones' rock and roll is more intense, more demanding, more over the top and stylistically impressive, and they too deal with elements of class and power (very little sentimentality is involved). NRBQ are more resourceful, unpredictable, and funnier. Springsteen can be just as pretentious and giddy, but his imagination penetrates. Brother Wayne Kramer, one-time member of the MC5, still tells harrowing stories about the working class; he brings emotional common sense to his situations, without leaning heavily on the pathos. When Seger moves outside of his rather narrow vein of inspiration, he turns towards faceless love ballads with little musical or personal depth ("Good For Me," "Even Now," "Love's the Last to Know," "It's You.")
The problem with Seger's musical
style is its lean, restrained modesty. Despite the rock and roll
textures, the band's effectiveness seems like singer/songwriter
backup invisibility. Even in the most rambunctious of Seger's
tunes, it has been hard to tell the crafted ambiance of the great
session men - Barry Beckett, Pete Carr, Jimmy Johnson, David
Hood, Roger Hawkins, Russ Kunkel, Rick Vito - from Seger's
regular band members Drew Abbot, Alto Reed, Chris
Campbell, David Teegarden, Craig Frost, Charlie Martin, etc.
The allure of Seger's everyman
pathos reached its heartfelt peak on
Night Moves and Stranger in Town. Both albums, and a handful of other songs, are hard to resist though at times you may find yourself wishing you could. A more recent album, It's a Mystery rocks as hard as anything Seger's ever done. But one song on this album - "Revisionary Street" - takes a stand against any kind of reevaluation of musical/personal/artistic/status: what once seemed like Seger's contentious rebel yell, now sounds like a self-centered whine.
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