Bruce Springsteen - Human Touch/Lucky Town
Release Date: March 31, 1992
Record Label: Columbia
The decision to release Human Touch and Lucky Town was probably the worst decision ever made in the Bruce Springsteen camp. Springsteen hadn’t been wrong about many things up to this point in his career, but whoever okay-ed the decision to release one really mediocre record and one really good record on the same day clearly didn’t know much about marketing and the forever-lasting stain one would leave on the other.
It is with the synthy, glossy, overproduced and underwhelming memory of Human Touch that Lucky Town will forever be dragged down. Many people (definitely including me, until as recently as about three weeks ago) dismissed the latter of the two records because of how misguided the former is. Even in 1991, when Springsteen’s management decided it was okay to release the two separate records on the same day (Springsteen was the first artist to ever do this), fans appreciated the singles on Human Touch and little else.
Aside from the title track and the flighty “I Wish I Were Blind,” there is little worthy of note on the 14 tracks that comprise Human Touch. The record wasn’t a step back for Springsteen because it accompanied a wonderful release in Lucky Town, but if it wasn’t for a stroke of fate, the release of the album would definitely be considered the lowest point of Springsteen’s career. Diehard fans will forever despise the record most for spawning the frowned-upon “57 Channels And Nothing On,” more or less considered to be the most holistic departure from everything Springsteen stood for before the release of this album. Everything from the lyricism to the bass line to the ill-advised music video echoes exclamations like, “Boo,” “This is really bad,” and “WTF is this, bro?”
That’s where I’ll leave Human Touch – the record is just awful. If I could slide my finger to the left and delete the album like I do a text conversation on my iPhone, I most definitely would. But when Springsteen went into the studio to record “Living Proof,” which should have been the last song on Human Touch, he ended up recording all 10 songs that turned into Lucky Town – and thank goodness that happened. Much like the essential mistake of releasing Nebraska, the incidental writing and recording process of Lucky Town, which probably lasted under a month total, was one of the best “mistakes” Springsteen ever made. If only it wasn’t coupled with the worst mistake of his career, Lucky Town would have been released on its own and it would have gone down as a rebound for Springsteen following some tragic personal times for the recently-turned-40 rock icon.
Featuring studs like the opening “Better Days,” a cry out for optimism after a dreary time in Springsteen’s life, the jamming title track and the pleading “Should I Fall Behind,” the first four songs of Lucky Town already prove to be more noteworthy than the entire 58 minutes of Human Touch. We also get the heart-wrenching “Living Proof,” the soaring “Leap Of Faith” and last, but not least, the closing “My Beautiful Reward” out of the album’s 10 tracks.
Lucky Town probably would have gone on to be a slightly more appreciated and more commercial version of Nebraska had it been released on its own. Maybe if it was given proper treatment, it wouldn’t have led Springsteen to The Ghost Of Tom Joad. Maybe it would have even led to a proper reuniting of the E Street Band, who were relegated to nothing more than a touring band in the five years between Tunnel Of Love and this dual-release.
But whatever misgivings can be had about Human Touch (and believe me, they are warranted misgivings for sure), it did lead to the recording of Lucky Town, which is a hidden gem in Springsteen’s catalog. It isn’t about to catapult into my favorite releases by The Boss, as I just really began to appreciate this album as a whole recently, and really only the most diehard Springsteen fans could really care about the record, but it is a notable accomplishment for him during The Lost Years without the band at his side. It is unquestioned by most that both of these releases could have been better with the full band, and Lucky Town probably could have used some of the overproduction that we heard on Human Touch, making the dual-release date a relative disaster in Springsteen’s timeline. But as listeners, we ended up with a handful of really solid songs from the fiasco, which isn’t what we were used to with Springsteen, but in the end, not really something we can complain about.
Note: The score reflected to the left is the score for Lucky Town.