The one-time music critic has been in Bruce Springsteen's camp for more than 30 years. With the Boss's new album at No. 1, Jon Landau tells us about his balancing act over the years as manager and producer
Jon Landau once wrote probably the most famous statement ever made by any rock critic, when in 1974 he said, in a long defunct publication called the Real Paper, ”I saw rock & roll future and its name is Bruce Springsteen.” But Landau wasn’t content to watch that future play out without his direct participation. He did his part to make that pronouncement a self-fulfilling prophecy by getting out of the journalism business and back into the production and managerial side. From 1975’s Born to Run through the Human Touch/Lucky Town double-hitter in 1991, Landau co-produced all of Springsteen’s albums, and he continues to this day as his manager.
Springsteen’s acclaimed new album, Magic, has generated more instantaneous fan enthusiasm than anything he’s done since 1987’s Tunnel of Love. As part of our series on the men behind Magic, EW spoke with Landau to get his take on how Springsteen pulled off this particular hat trick.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: People always wondered why Bruce didn’t use the E Street Band for an entire album between 1984 and 2002. I always imagined that there was a feeling he didn’t want to indulge in nostalgia, that he felt it was time to put away childish things, as it were. It feels like that dilemma was solved on this album, somehow.
JON LANDAU: Well, I think that takes you a little bit into the relationship that has developed between [producer] Brendan O’Brien and Bruce. And I think that on the Rising album, which was the first time they worked together, they were just getting used to each other’s style. This time they were just totally ready for the kind of interaction that they have. One of the things about this album that I personally find different is that this really is the most guitar-dominated record that I believe Bruce has ever made. The guitars, the number of them, the range of them, are the dominant sound most of the time. And with our two great keyboardists, a lot of times in the past, the keyboard sound was a little more dominant. And I think some of the force and power of the record is related to that development.
Legendarily, a lot of stuff that Bruce writes gets left on the cutting room floor, because an album gets streamlined and things don’t fit. This is his shortest album since Lucky Town — and it’s a full half-hour shorter than The Rising — so I would imagine that was even more the case here.
That is a good point. One of the things Bruce did do that we talked about is he kept this record very tight and focused. The actual length of the album is not exhaustive. What I encouraged from my corner was just a certain playability. And the record moves like a rocket from beginning to end, and that’s a great feeling. It’s obvious from the record that the artist was aiming for a certain level of concision and tightness and focus, and maintaining the flow going from one song to another; the sequence is very meticulous. But it’s not a case where there’s a zillion outtakes or things of that nature. There’s very little.
One thing I didn’t think I’d hear on one of his records again was the whole Phil Spector/Beach Boys influence.
”Girls in Their Summer Clothes”? That’s a masterpiece. When I heard some of it in its more finished form, I was as surprised as anybody. [(Laughs)] I think the occasional use of strings that Brendan brings into it enlarges some of the pieces and really does help to drive it into that sphere. I don’t know that anybody was setting out to remind people of anything that specific. Whereas on the album Born to Run, Bruce had Phil [Spector] very much in his mind, along with some other influences that were guiding his hand. Bruce, if he hadn’t done what he has done, [could’ve] had a whole other potential career as a — oh my God! — rock critic. There’s nobody I know of who listens to more current and old stuff. Bruce is just a person who’s thrilled with music.
NEXT PAGE: ”Bruce himself is a great record producer. It’s just that producing entirely on your own has some of the shortcomings of a lawyer doing his own case.”