Stranger In Town

Bob Seger & The Silver Bullet Band

Capitol Records, 1978

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg


Listening to Stranger In Town today, twenty years after adding it to the party-time soundtrack of my sophomore year in high school, the thing I'm struck by is -- amazingly, considering the personal context it has for me -- what a mature album this is.

The guy some unkind critics labeled a Midwestern Springsteen lite actually nailed down some of the difficult truths of adult relationships here a full ten years before Springsteen was ready to tackle the subject himself on his 1987 Tunnel Of Love album. The fact that Seger had five years of gigging around the Midwest under his belt before Springsteen was out of high school may have played a part in this. But the key is really the way Seger seamlessly melded hard-driving rhythm and soul music with his searching, often brutally frank lyrics.

The album kicks off in high gear with what is arguably Seger's best song, "Hollywood Nights." That's probably sacrilege right there for many Seger fans, but give me a minute.

His 1976 breakthrough hit "Night Moves" may be the obvious pick from Seger's large catalog, but for me, "Hollywood Nights" has all the emotional nuance and resonance of the former coupled with even greater musical drive. The thundering double-time backbeat at its core is absolutely relentless, as is the unflinching lyric. In "Night Moves," Seger narrates from the point of view of a grown man looking back nostalgically on himself as a teenager trying to sort lust from love and sex from hope. The central idea is a struggle through a whirlpool of overwhelming emotions that are impossible to tame.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

In "Hollywood Nights," Seger explores similar ground from the point of view of a young adult experiencing with great immediacy what it's like to fall so hard in love that you lose all control of your emotions. "And those Hollywood nights / In those Hollywood hills / It was looking so right / It was giving him chills," he sings urgently, and it gives them to me, too. The song is a portrait of the familiar devastation that results when feelings of that magnitude aren't reciprocated. Love is portrayed here as an almost terrifying loss of control, something that can simultaneously uplift and consume you… scary, and true.

Thoughtful observations about what love is and isn't, and what it can and can't do for you, reverberate through most of the eight other songs on this album. Two of them -- "Still The Same" and "We've Got Tonite" -- were substantial hits (#4 and #13, respectively), and have their charms. The latter's whole attitude -- jaded and world-weary but still capable of giving in to romantic impulse -- feels remarkably true-to-life.

Still, I prefer some of the lesser-known tunes here. "Till It Shines" is one of my favorite Seger songs. There's something in the imagery and the tone that seems to sum up Seger's entire persona of the road-hardened romantic, bringing to bear a lifetime's worth of hard lessons that make him wish he could start all over.

Next is a track that's still topical in the '90s -- "Feel Like A Number," Seger's driving barroom rocker about feelings of disconnection and alienation in a society that treats people like statistics rather than individuals. "Brave Strangers" is impressive as well. While the lyric isn't much more than a clever rewrite of "Night Moves" (he even tosses in a reference to "hiding in the backwoods"), the song is arranged and sung with such fire and conviction you can't help getting caught up in the story yet again.

"The Famous Final Scene" is the perfect closer to this cycle of songs about how love revs you up and knocks you down (and still leaves you wanting more), a resigned parting ballad about two lovers whose time has passed. They both know what's coming, and play out their final scene just the way they knew it had to go, without recriminations. It's a measured, mature take on a topic that many artists would reduce to a single juicy kiss-off line, repeated twenty times. Seger plays it dead serious and nails it.

Oh, yeah, and then there's that one other song. But y'know, as much fun as "Old Time Rock And Roll" is, I just couldn't quite reconcile a discussion of the thoughtful lyricism of Stranger In Town with the inevitable image of 17-year-old Tom Cruise dancing around the living room in his jockeys. (And if you've never seen Risky Business… well, I'm betting you will now.)

Rating: A-

User Rating: A-



© 1999 Jason Warburg and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Capitol Records, and is used for informational purposes only.