By Stephen Lee, November 27 2017 —
In the past, Bob Seger’s best work blended elements of folk, country and rock to create music with universal appeal. His newest album, I Knew You When, doesn’t match the diverse songwriting of his past work but still manages to captivate listeners with a couple of standout songs.
The biggest pitfall of I Knew You When comes from an attempt to capture the woes of a musician’s life on the road. Unfortunately, few people can connect to this theme. Seger’s greatest strength throughout his career was his ability to lyrically connect with people. Few know the feeling of isolation that comes from stardom, making songs like “Runaway Train” and “Highway” seem out of place in Seger’s repertoire. They’re clumsy, overdriven attempts to capture a hard-rock past that overpower the beauty of his more emotional songs. If Seger stuck to his more expressive material, I Knew You When would be much stronger and more impactful.
The album includes covers of Lou Reed’s “Busload of Faith” and Leonard Cohen’s “Democracy.” The former is a faithful cover that brings more groove than its original. The latter is lyrically poignant in relation to modern politics but doesn’t leave a strong mark.
Some songs on I Knew You When maintain Seger’s famous melancholic tone. The title track is an ode to the mortality that hounds the aging icon. Parts of the album are an elegy for Seger’s friend, Eagles founder Glenn Frey. Songs like “I’ll Remember You” express the grief experienced when Frey died. They’re beautiful lamentations for loss that many can understand.
The execution of I Knew You When is confusing. Its more expressive songs are drowned out by roaring, stereotypical hard-rock tracks that do little to connect with the listener. This album had potential as an elegy to departed rock musicians, but its message is lost beneath copious overdrive with little substance. Overall, I Knew You When does not hold up with Seger’s more poetic previous works.