“Souls of the Departed” is an outlier on the generally apolitical Lucky Town album. It’s a harrowing protest song that goes where protest songs rarely go, criticizing not just senseless war and inner-city violence, but those who could be doing more to help, and don’t. It’s musically bracing, and ends with an explosive guitar solo. I would have ranked it higher, but I don’t really like Springsteen’s vocal approach – he seems diffident and not fully committed at times, keeping his cool instead of projecting passion.
The first verse is about a soldier in Iraq “detailed to go through the clothes of the soldiers who died”; the second, about a 7-year-old who dies in a schoolyard shooting in East Compton, Calif.
“In the hills, the self-made men just sighed and shook their heads,” sings Springsteen at the end of the second verse.
In the bridge, the singer thinks about his own son, safely tucked into bed. “I want to build me a wall so high nothing can burn it down/Right here on my own piece of dirty ground.”
This leads to a positively scathing third verse, where he sings, “I ply my trade in the land of king dollar/Where you get paid and your silence passes as honor.”
Does Springsteen feel he’s singing about himself? Who knows. But you can’t listen to this song and not think to yourself, “I should be doing more.” And that’s the point.
Background facts: “Souls of the Departed” is from Springsteen’s 1992 album, Lucky Town. He plays all the instruments himself, except for the drums, which are played by Gary Mallaber.
According to Brucebase, Springsteen has performed “Souls of the Departed” in concert 101 times, mostly in 1992 and 1993.
On each of the 70 days leading up to Bruce Springsteen’s 70th birthday (on Sept. 23, 2019), NJArts.net will do a post on one of The Boss’ best songs of the last 30 years. We’re starting with No. 70 and working our way up. For more on the project, click here.
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