The Ghost Of Tom Joad

(1995), 5/10
Named after the protagonist in John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, The Ghost Of Tom Joad is more stylistically palatable than Springsteen’s 1992 albums, sticking to acoustic arrangements instead of working with faceless L.A. studio musicians, but musically there’s little happening. The Ghost Of Tom Joad is often compared to Nebraska, but while Nebraska was intense in its desperation, The Ghost Of Tom Joad is laid back guitar strumming with neo-Woody Guthrie lyrics, and Springsteen only produces a couple of memorable songs. The title track was later popularised by Rage Against The Machine and ‘Youngstown’ is the most melodic song here, although the electrified version on the New York City live album is much more compelling. The annoying string of clichés in the closing ‘My Best Was Never Good Enough’ (“If God gives you nothin’ but lemons, then you make some lemonade”) makes it stand out as the worst song. The Ghost Of Tom Joad is consistent enough in tone that it makes some sense as to why it’s sometimes regarded as one of Springsteen’s better records, but it’s nowhere near peak Springsteen for me.

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