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Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Bruce Springsteen: The River


1) The Ties That Bind; 2) Sherry Darling; 3) Jackson Cage; 4) Two Hearts; 5) Independence Day; 6) Hungry Heart; 7) Out In The Street; 8) Crush On You; 9) You Can Look (But You Better Not Touch); 10) I Wanna Marry You; 11) The River; 12) Point Blank; 13) Cadillac Ranch; 14) I'm A Rocker; 15) Fade Away; 16) Stolen Car; 17) Ramrod; 18) The Price You Pay; 19) Drive All Night; 20) Wreck On The Highway.

How do I put this right? Basically, with this album Bruce Springsteen was pretty much over as a major artistic force. He himself admitted that The River more or less shaped out and defined his song­writing style for the rest of his career, and there is indeed a bigger barrier between Darkness On The Edge Of Town and The River than between any other two subsequent albums in his life, including all the great ones and all the real shitty ones.

As the «album rock» era drew to a close and the hit single (and, fairly soon, the hit video) re­claimed its positions in the early Eighties, Springsteen and Landau chose the «top» road over the «bottom» road — which meant intentionally dumbing it down in search of mass appeal. There are still patches of uncomfortable darkness on The River, and a few clever songwriting ideas, but for the most part, this is by far the least musically interesting record he'd done to date. Never mind that it is a double LP and that we should expect some filler on a double LP — from a purely song­writing perspective, I would dare say that most of these tunes are filler. Remember all those Roy Bittan piano riffs on Darkness that could be perceived as intelligently composed and ins­pired? Not a single one like that here. Instead, all we get is variations on all sorts of classic rock­abilly, folk rock, and Phil Spector progressions — very blatant variations at that, because The River is not about music-making, it is all about image codification.

This time, we are ʽOut In The Streetʼ again, with the «blue collar life philosophy» thrown right in our face by the simplest, straightforwardest, brawniest of means. ʽI'm A Rockerʼ, the Boss tells us in his cockiest track so far, which sounds like an Eddie Cochran number updated Eighties-style, with a triumphant, exuberant, over-the-top-joyful delivery that basically screams out, "this, boys and girls, is how real rock'n'roll is supposed to be done today!"... well, guess some people are entitled to a different opinion. And this is not even the over-the-top exuberance of ʽBorn To Runʼ: it is something... cheaper. In all respects — the lyrics, the vocals, the instrumentation, the rene­wed application of the same formula with more predictability and less trepidation. And these joyous «rockers» come one after another, one after another, and they're all pretty much the same. Is there really any big difference between ʽCrush On Youʼ and ʽCadillac Ranchʼ, or between ʽTwo Heartsʼ and ʽYou Can Lookʼ, or between ʽThe Ties That Bind and ʽJackson Cageʼ?..

Nor does the «dark» stuff offer that much redemption. Lyrically, there's too much open manipu­lation — the title track, with its sad, but clichéd tale of innocence-lost, is a slightly over-arranged folk ballad which could have worked a little better in «stark naked» form (in two years' time, Bruce would realise the dignity of such an approach himself), but the way it is presented here, crumbles down very quickly under its own pathos. The same can be said about ʽPoint Blankʼ, which tries to melt our sympathetic hearts down merely on the strength of its lyrics and atmos­phere, created at the intersection of Bittan's and Federici's soft, romantic jazzy playing — but no real hooks in sight. And why did ʽDrive All Nightʼ have to be eight minutes long? Why not eight hours then — so that the title could reflect reality? Particularly since there is nothing going on at this relaxed tempo, other than some basic dull atmospherics.

So much for the disgruntled moping. But then, once we have gotten that off our chests, let us also admit that in some ways, particularly in certain primal and straightforward ways, The River is... a lot of fun. Yes, these are clichéd, well-worn hooks, but... I can complain about ʽCadillac Ranchʼ all I want and write pages on how this stuff only pretends to be rock'n'roll and how it ain't got the truly authentic spirit, but do I deny the catchiness and the energy and the dedication of the E Street Band and its leader? Or even the rough sense of humor displayed in ʽYou Can Look (But You Better Not Touch)ʼ, where the protagonist is prevented by a stringent society from indulging in his friendly animal instincts, all set to another one of these neo-rockabilly melodies and en­hanced with a garage-style lead guitar part? Or the efficiency of the basic hook of ʽHungry Heartʼ, with a Supertramp-ish keyboard melody and Beach Boy harmonies combined to render the idea of unfulfilled emotional yearning as simply as it gets?

Basically, I would not want anyone to think that I am scornful of The River's vibe in the same way that I would be dismissive of, say, Bon Jovi (who would take quite a few lessons from their New Jersey neighbor, but never to good effect). These here are safe, simple, über-accessible tunes that directly pander to the lowest common denominator, but what saves them from constituting an anti-musical / anti-intellectual criminal act is that they are written and performed in the spirit of youthful innocence. Although the instrumentation is already smelling a bit of the Eighties' tech­no­logical boom, The River is anything but a New Wave album — its melodic and atmospheric carcass is almost completely construed from Eddie Cochran rockabilly, Ricky Nelson teen pop, Johnny Cash country folk, and Phil Spec­tor grand pop elements from the late Fifties/early Sixties, and this surmises an atmosphere of total inno­cence and directness.

If there is a problem as such, it lies not with Bruce, but with the way this album has been treated in «mainstream» musical criticism — like some sort of sprawling, majestic, all-out-American panorama, with endless five-star ratings and continued admiration for how well the songs depict «the small victories and large compromises of ordinary joes and janies whose need to understand as well as celebrate is as restless as his own» (guess who). Relax, people! The more serious you get about The River, the less respect you have to pay to your own intellect. The best way to treat it is just to regard it as two hours of simple headbanging fun, with occasional patches of theatrical darkness thrown in for diversity's sake. Then at least you don't have to bother about «filler» — because there is really no filler here as such, everything is more or less on the same level of musi­cality and intensity.

So is this a thumbs up or what? Ultimately, yes. An unambitious Springsteen is not nearly as impressive as the successfully ambitious Springsteen of Darkness, but he still seems more agree­able here than the way-too-uncomfortably ambitious Springsteen of Born To Run. And as for the record being too long, I respectfully disagree. I do not at all see any «great single LP» hidden in­side this «merely good double LP», and since most of the songs do not outlast their welcome and the general vibe is acceptable, it could have been a triple or quadruple one, for all I know (in fact, it really could have, considering how many outtakes from the Darkness sessions ended up here and how many more songs were written in 1979-80). And you can turn this opinion both ways — on one hand, the songwriting formulae of The River work so well that they would indeed be reused by The Boss on a regular basis for the next thirty-five years, on the other hand, it ensures that from now on, Bruce would forever remain in this «kinda okay artist with lotsa mass appeal» role, permanently locked out from more interesting or, dare I say it, experimental artistic inspi­rations. So, if you're one of these «looking for extra character development» types, The River might just be the last Springsteen album to look out for (well, you could also use Nebraska for a nice post-scriptum flourish, but that's about it).


  1. It's interesting to look at where Springsteen was at the time of this record. On the one hand here was a guy who had serious artistic ambitions beyond just selling records. On the other, the hopes of fans and critics alike were placed on his slender shoulders as the future of rock, which necessarily required a certain mass appeal in his music.

    How do you square those two things? We all have an instinct to please, or give people what they want, especially the more insecure among us. And THAT level of adulation? It's a tidal wave.

    Darkness was a perfectly judged response - artistic and of broad appeal. Sooner or later though ...

    As the review says, there are not just loads of songs here but loads of songs going in different directions: rock anthems, party songs, romantic songs, social commentary and world-weary songs full of despair.

    For me though, there's enough of the "artist" - in the observation of real working people condensed into little short stories - to make it artistically coherent.

    Above all, there are countless good tunes. He was still at the stage of his career where he could real off great melodies without hesitation - a stage that wouldn't last much longer (does it ever?).

    1. Even some of the cornier tunes, like Point Blank, are great examples. Just imagine if someone like Adele wrote it - it would blow up and people would fall over themselves proclaiming her genius. Whatever happens, this album proved once and for all that this was an undeniably gifted, great songwriter. It laid andy dissent to rest.

      For me, the album still works as quintessential Springsteen because it has enough realism to it. The upbeat songs have upbeat lyrics. It adds up. Born in the USA falls down because he tried to marry depressing portraits of life with upbeat dance anthems. It was like he was trying to get the working class to say: "it's great down here!". Never mind television, Bruce Springsteen is the opium of the people!

      Sure, plenty don't like the diversity on this album, or the catchiness of many of the songs. But the authenticity and the vision are still there. And so is the musical talent.

      A great album.

    2. "the hopes of fans and critics alike were placed on his slender shoulders"
      Silly fans and critics. It's 1980 we're talking about. I was 16 and fully aware of what happened in England:

      Ace of Spades.
      British Steel.
      Iron Maiden

      At the other hand:

      Keep on lovin' you.
      Hold the line.

      In between: Back in black.

      I'm not presenting my personal taste here. It was obvious though what the future of rock was. It wasn't Springsteen.

  2. "let us also admit"
    Not me. I find it hard to get farther than halfway any Springsteen song. I don't have that problem with Eddie Cochran and Ricky Nelson.
    The album charted high, but the eponymous single didn't.

    "headbanging fun"
    Sorry. I loved to bang my head since 1976, but never have been able to do so on any Springsteen song.

    1. I think he was thinking fist-clenching or teeth-grinding fun.

  3. I appreciate your measured appreciation of Springsteen. While I've often gone too far in the "hating" Springsteen direction, one should also avoid going too far into the "loving" direction.

    I see Springsteen as a tragic case of wasted talent. The lyrics are good. There's some musical skill (guy is a pretty solid guitarist when he wants to be). There's even some composing ability. And even multiple times when he's combined those traits into great music.

    However, more often than not, he wastes his abilities on empty bombast and calculated "street poetry" that is designed to get the "dumb masses" stomping their feet for a little pseudo-rebelliousness.

    While I get what you mean when you say "headbanging fun" I have to join MNb in stating that I'd rather head bang to the Ramones or Motorhead, bands with a sliver of Springsteen's raw talent, but with a lot more honesty and integrity about their approach i.e. they just make music without trying to make a point.

    Honestly, I find their work to be truer art than Springsteen's populist postures. Unfortunately, it didn't have to be that way: he could have mattered globally. Instead, he's provincial and will be forgotten sooner rather than later.

    1. Springsteen: "Wahn...Tyoo.. Thray...FAAWWWERRRRR..."

      Lemmy: "What's that horrible noise coming out of my amp...MAKE IT LOUDER!"

  4. Both of these comments are coming from the perspective of viewing music as pure escapism. The examples you refer to - and of course you could have referred to almost anyone - are the sonic equivalent of popcorn movies, where you got to the cinema, buy a super deluxe box of popcorn and proceed to have your "emotions" tugged this way and that by the bad guys beating people up, and the heroes (or superheroes these days) coming in to save the day.

    And that's absolutely fine. But don't call the likes of Motorhead or even the Ramones "art". As escapist pleasure, they both work. As anything of substance, they don't.

    Personally I don't mind music that's escapism. I have it on the radio or at home. It's diverting - which is the point. But I can't LISTEN to it.
    You can criticise Springsteen for trying to do more than that - on your own admission ("trying to make a point" etc) - but really you're just making a subjective statement about your own taste.

    My point would be, taking the history of rock n'roll, almost nobody tried to write about real people, real experience, real emotion - however poorly you think he pulled it off - as systematically as Springsteen. And please (because we had the discussion on the review for Born to Run) don't mention this song or that song, or even this album or that. We're talking about having a clear artistic focus, in the way that the Blues, or early Hip/Hop did.

    As to his success at doing it, well, I think by and large he pulled it off, given the limitations imposed by the art form. But I'd never claim that he was a genius. My admiration for him - aside from appreciating that he was a great songwriter per se - comes from the fact that he even tried.

    1. "Personally I don't mind music that's escapism. I have it on the radio or at home. It's diverting - which is the point. But I can't LISTEN to it." Hence the magic of Eno. Or any given late period Beach Boys song.

      Although, now that I think about it, Eno doesn't want to divert us as much as be a backdrop to whatever we're doing at a given moment. That's kind of what The River was for me. I was driving 20+ miles to work every day when I bought the tape and played it over and over. It's definitely great driving music (Stolen Car, Drive All Night, Wreck on the Highway...)

    2. Claiming that Motorhead or the Ramones' music is not art, whilst Springsteen's is, is ridiculous and pretentious. All music is art, some good and some bad, with different goals and aspirations. The Ramones' art, with its admittedly limited goals, works for me more often than Springsteen's. F*ck "escapism" and "substance" -- music is what about sounds good, message or no message. If your message is good/well-written but the composition is lackluster, you've failed as a musician -- vice versa and you're still ok.

    3. The music of Motorhead and The Ramones are art. It's easy to say and I'll say it again. Not just art, but great art.

    4. "My point would be, taking the history of rock n'roll, almost nobody tried to write about real people, real experience, real emotion as systematically as Springsteen."
      This is simply not true. I've never liked punk that much, but one of it's goals was writing about real teens, their real experiences and real emotions. The same for Status Quo, as simple and straightforward as they always were. And I repeat that in Western Europe and England SQ reflected way better what real working class teens felt and experienced than Springsteen.

    5. Even earlier than punk and the Quo is anyone that tried to avoid simplistic boy-loves-girl stuff, either through isolated teens (the Beach Boys' "In My Room") social upheaval (the Who's "My Generation", the Animals "We Gotta Get Out of This Place"), and whose music is far more interesting and less formulaic and pretentious (and when the Who were pretentious, they justified it with better music) than Springsteen's.

  5. "I'm A Rockerʼ, the Boss tells us in his cockiest track so far, which sounds like an Eddie Cochran number updated Eighties-style" I always heard him saying "My maracas...Baby, my maracas!" This led to the follow-up line in my head: "Shake them timbers, rattle them bones/I'm the best shaker since Davy Jones." Again, I was alone in a car for extended periods of time...

    "ʽHungry Heartʼ, with a Supertramp-ish keyboard melody and Beach Boy harmonies combined to render the idea of unfulfilled emotional yearning as simply as it gets?" Supertramp? Not hearing that, but this is one of those "I'm a happy screw-up" songs. I cannot deny the melody is beautiful, catchy, and emotionally engaging. Trouble is, the lyrics put me off. He's basically justifying being a deadbeat dad to a catchy albeit childish tune (Irony or just blatant "pop instincts"?) in the name of "love". Shoulda left this clown in Kingstown, Sister.

  6. My biggest issue with this album has been 'London Calling' (and The Ramones' 'It's Alive', but I guess that this doesn't count. Or does it?). This one here has nothing against any of the better songs on LC (and there are plenty), so why should I listen to four sides of 'The River' in all its (at least to me) pointless mediocricy twice?

  7. I find it fascinating (as well as profoundly irritating) how Springsteen gets on the nerves of many middle-class people, given that I am part of the tribe myself and I regard Springsteen as the greatest songwriter in rock music, ever. The amount of hostility in these reviews (the oh-so-clever etiolated hostility that comes coated in faint praise) and most of the comments is pretty disconcerting.

    Could it just be, let's just entertain the idea for one second, that Springsteen has written a huge number of great songs, some of which are here - songs that shed a compassionate light on people's lives, concerns, joys and sorrows, desires, rages, sarcasms, escape fantasies, and all the rest of the impoverished intellectual lives of those MA-less ruffians? Could it be that he has done so in a way that (overall) is musically interesting, melodic, striking, powerful, and not too sentimental, AND that is readily comprehensible to those who would not sit through an hour of Robert Fripp making little electronic noises, or even of Dylan vaguely croaking about geranium kisses? Could it be that that's what irks the mandarins, much in the spirit of "Where the populace eat and drink, and even where they reverence, it is accustomed to stink" (Nietzsche)?

    The Beatles and the Rolling Stones have acquired an aura of "cool" with the decades. The Who and Dylan have always been about that. Springsteen is as good a songwriter as any of those (please cut it with that "his music is decent but unremarkable" disingenuous rubbish), but of course he's never been cool for the chattering classes, because he doesn't pander to our self-image. The "message", if there is one, that one can bring away from his songs is the uncomfortable one that there is no essential difference between one's psychic structure and those of those stupid Marys and Joes who'll never set foot in a university. I suppose it's more comfortable, if one listens to rock music, to delude oneself that the "real spirit of rock'n'roll is either Dylan's (whose output contains a lot of great stuff, but also a LOT of meaningless wordplay, cheap snark, and plain silliness), or say the Ramones (guilty pleasure, no intellectual pretensions, etc.), than to find oneself empathising with someone loading crates down on the dock alongside people who spend their working lives doing just that.

    1. Oh, I was thinking that a comment like this might eventually come up: "you're just pseudo-intellectual snobs who hate Bruce Springsteen, a great songwriter no worse than any other great songwriter, simply because you hate the guts of the Common Working Man". Such an easy argument, really - explaining everything in one pleasant swoop.

    2. Plus the working class in western Europe never seemed to care that much about Springsteen, which makes the comment rather void.

    3. This is bananas. You're the one full with crazy delusional ideas and thinly concealed disdain for and about "the working class". What you are saying, almost explicitly, is that working-class people are incapable of understanding or relating to "weird", "difficult" music like Bob Dylan.

      I really feel like telling you something rude and swearing a bit while doing it.

      If indeed you believe that there is no essential difference in psychic structure between yourself (self-proclaimed middle-class that you are) and people "loading crates down on the docks", which btw is a ridiculously outdated, pre-feminist and, dare I say it, middle-class conception of what the working-class is, then why would not working-class people be just as able to dig in to songs about "geranium kisses" as the "chattering classes"?

      I'm not writing here to attack Springsteen, or defend him. I'm pretty sure he himself could tell you how mistaken you are... didn't he himself speak about how "Like a Rolling Stone" blew his mind? Wasn't he obsessed with "Astral Weeks"?
      For Springsteen, there's nothing weird about "loading crates down on the docks" and loving "Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands". For you, these are incompatibles, only middle-class people whose self-image is flattered can find Dylan cool. Well I'm not middle-class and I love Dylan's music to death. But then I never found it very "cool"... you seem stuck in some sort of shallow world where people do indeed worry about maintaining their social status by not being found listening to the "wrong thing" or not being appropriately hip... and I guess Springsteen seems appropriately politically correct to you.

      Or maybe you just really love his music, which I can respect and understand, and I'm glad for you if you do, because love of music is a wonderful thing that has brought me a tremendous amount of joy throughout my life.

      However, I must say, that as far as I can see, the only one here who has expressed any contempt for working people is you.

    4. I think there IS a certain snobbery that seeps into criticism of Springsteen's music (and the man himself) - beyond the matter of taste or disagreement about how good it really is. (I'm talking generally here, not about any specific comments above). And to be fair, the comment wasn't saying that people who like him don't like Dylan rather than some of the pretentiousness or unreality that infects his lyrics - a fair comment surely.

      For me the distinction is between people who like songs that are about real life and those who prefer them as escapism or - perhaps - a marketplace of ideas (which i don't mean cynically).

      And really what that comes down to is FASHION. The thing about Springsteen is he never tried to be fashionable (or if he did was terrible at it). For most people music and fashion are linked because they get into music when they're teenagers - when fitting in is the be all and end all. I was never very cool in my teens - and I gravitated towards his music because it just felt real and unpretentious. All around me - (80s and early 90s) - where bands putting as much effort into their look and image as the music, whether they had talent or not. Springsteen felt like a guy you thought you could meet at the end of the day in a bar and talk about what you'd gone through, sharing some real emotion along the way. That worked for me. It still does, tho' my musical tastes have moved on since then.

      At the end of the day, he IS a great songwriter. As I said earlier, the River blows away any dissent. It's hard to think of many other albums in pop or rock history that showcase someone's songwriting talent - the sheer depth and breadth and versatility of it - to the same extent.

    5. As far as I know, Dylan was born and raised in Duluth "Shitville" Minnesota and not in Buckingham Palace so I don't see that much gap between those two in terms of a "starting point". When it comes to artists, it's less about experiences and more about how they choose to interpret those experiences I think...

    6. "The River" hardly blows away any dissent -- and as far as double albums go, "The Beatles" did a far better job of showcasing songwriting talent and versatility, between the successful experimentation with many different styles and John's ever-improving lyrics. "Blonde On Blonde" shows one of rock's greatest songwriters at his peak. Even "Exile On Main St.", despite its own faults, is more of an accomplishment by your standards. "The River", at its core, is a combination of his last two albums -- "Born to Run" done a little better, "Darkness" done a little worse.

      I was a loser in high school too, and I gravitated towards The Beatles, Pink Floyd, The Doors, Led Zeppelin, and Genesis. Why? I liked the music (the lyrics too, in a lot of cases). I didn't do it because they were "cool" -- they just struck a chord with me.

      I can appreciate gravitating towards an unpretentious artist, and I agree -- Springsteen seems like he would be a great guy to grab a drink with and talk with. I understand that we all like different things, but the impression I get from you is that, in your mind, Springsteen is deserving of special praise for doing his own thing as the different trends passed him by. Every band charts their own course, and "selling-out" is only an issue when the new music sucks. I've always thought that Springsteen was a great lyricist (whether or not I liked the aura they gave off), but his composing skills weren't nearly as consistent -- that he wrote real life stories doesn't negate the fact that "Jungleland" is boring and lackluster, and that he could do much better. If the music doesn't thrill me, why listen? -- I'd just read the lyrics like an unaccompanied poem. "A seasoned witch may call you from the depths of your disgrace" may be pure fantasy, but the music behind it pulls me in. Would you say Yes weren't artists? It's that kind of evaluation of music that leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

      To wrap up, Springsteen is a flawed talent, and this album is a perfect demonstration of it -- good and enjoyable, but not a mind-blowing masterpiece. And I hope you are not really as pretentious as you seem (and the same applies for me, if I've ever given any readers here the wrong impression).

    7. Same "anonymous" as before. My name's Andrew, btw.

      I own my previous comment was a wee bit too aggressive, but, guess what, I'm offended too, so that was reflected in my tone. I also included some quotes ("loading crates..."), which perhaps made it sound as if I too spoke or thought that way. Nope, I don't.

      Re: G.S.: It doesn't have to be as crude as that. While it's true that "high" and "low" culture are more mixed today that 50 years ago, the argument still holds true that culture tends to stratify, and that social actors will usually elevate some cultural products at the expense of others. There is more "cultural capital" to be had by listening to Dylan than Springsteen, so the middle classes are more likely to like cool enigmatic Bob than sweaty straightforward Bruce. This is true not only of "pseudo-intellectuals" but also of real ones.

      Re: Anton J. After you've cooled off, I hope you'll consider re-reading my comment. I did not say, nor do I believe, that working class people are "incapable" or relating to Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands and suchlike; I argued that "weirdness" and "difficulty" in art are generally prized more by (1) The middle classes; (2) People with some intellectual pretensions. So bright working-class teenagers often get into Dylan's music precisely because it sets them apart from their denser classmates who listen to whatever's on the charts. Springsteen has a larger fan-base, with varying degrees of musical sophistication; not sure about today, but back in the 80s his fanbase was predominantly working class, so he was coded as "working class fodder" himself, and snobbery is still very evident whenever the man is discussed. I do love his music, but to do so I had to overcome my contemporaries making not-so-jocular jokes what liking Springsteen said about my "social perspirations" (it's the UK). There are social determinations in things like "taste". They do operate strongly on everyone, and it's difficult to shake them off.

      Traveller: I agree with everything. The only thing I'd say is that not all teenagers want to fit in; some want to "fit out", i.e. to distinguish themselves from (some categories of) their contemporaries through their choices. For me, listening to Springsteen as a teenager also meant _not_ to be one of those who listened to (a) Radiohead, (b) Iron Maiden, (c) Jennifer Lopez etc.

    8. What? Springsteen isn't cool? Since when??

      I think he himself has gone on record as saying The River was a difficult record to make. It feels that way. Also, in my tiny opinion it suffers from having to follow Darkness, which (again, in my opinion) is the single greatest artistic statement he ever made. But come on people, it's Bruce Springsteen. In 1980. Aside from The Beatles, Stones and Dylan between 1965 and 1958, and maybe London Calling or Never Mind the Bollocks, this is about as culturally relevant as pop music gets. And it just sounds awfully good.

    9. "so he was coded as "working class fodder" himself, and snobbery is still very evident whenever the man is discussed"

      I don't mean this aggressively or anything but could you find anything to substantiate this claim with? I can't claim to have read everything about Springsteen but he seems very much to be a critics darling, with George being one of the few reviewers who seems to dissent from this view.

    10. Well, "snobbery" may not have been the best word to describe the whole of Springsteen criticism. To their credit, most rock critics have no problem with music by working class musicians (unsurprisingly, since maybe 90% of the best rock music is from there). It's probably better to say that his music has always been associated with a certain class and its listening habits, and that an open-eared appreciation of its value has often been hampered by this rigid association in a way that has not happened to, say, the Beatles or Dylan. Sorry I have no time to gather quotations, but I can say that in most books and reviews of his work I've read, the class element is always a prominent feature of commentary: sometimes, probably most often, it has positive connotations (Springsteen as spokesman of the People and similar tropes); sometimes not (snotty references to "Joes and Janes", or indeed Starostin's old review of Born to Run (I paraphrase: "this music makes you believe you're a hero, whereas you're just a smelly biker"; granted, his language is subtler these days but the attitude hasn't changed much).


    11. Different Anonymous here!
      I find it hilarious that the other anonymous dude has lambasted George, and to some extent Bob Dylan, for being a middle class pseudo-intellectual, when his comments actually make him out to be one of those himself. And as for his comment about Duluth "Shitville" Minnesota? I know the town is kinda infamous for the whole postcard thing, but I honestly wonder if I should give him that much credit. The "off-handedness" of the remark really just strikes me as an insinuation that every town in a rural area is just a cesspool. Fuck off, you elitist prick.

    12. You fuck off, you populist prick! (How's that for roughneck populism, buddy/mate?)

      And anyway, there were more than one "anonymous" writing before you took over with your scorching cleverness.

  8. "It's hard to think of many other albums in pop or rock history that showcase someone's songwriting talent - the sheer depth and breadth and versatility of it - to the same extent."

    There are so many albums that top it in that regard that I wouldn't even know where to begin.

  9. I was never a visionary like Dylan, I wasn’t a revolutionary, but I had the idea of a long arc: where you could take the job that I did and create this long emotional arc that found its own kind of richness,” Springsteen says. “Thirty five years staying connected to that idea. That’s why I think the band continues to improve. You can’t be afraid of getting old. Old is good, if you’re gathering in life. Our band is good at understanding that equation.” - Bruce Springsteen

    Has anyone understood the concept of longevity more at such a young age? Listen to the studio recording of Backstreets and it's reaching too much. It needs less bluster, needs to be less portentous. Then listen to a 2014 recording of it. The (largely) same band play it with less false urgency and the song is sung with all the sadness and regret that a 65 year old can give it. It's immeasurably better.
    All the songs from Darkness and BTR sound better these days, sung from the perspective of an older man. Songs from the River not so, they were mostly a bit lightweight to gain anything over time. But as lightweight goes these were pretty great.

  10. A thought just crossed my mind and now I am curious: why has the other BS - Bob Seger - never been mentioned?

    1. Because Bob Seger is not even close to being in the same league as Springsteen.

    2. And thank whoever for that.
      Bon Jovi have been mentioned just because of being from New Jersey (and some more, I don't remember, maybe ripping off Springsteen or sth like that), so why not Bob Seger? I mean, come on, there is a connection, although he is from Detroit.
      I despise Springsteen, so he clearly is in a lower league for me. I still prefer Seger's 'School Teacher' to any of Springsteen's output I -deliberately- have listened to (ended with this one here). Short, sweet, loud, rocks like hell. And funny coincidence: they both became immensly unintersting with their respective first 80s album.

  11. "2 + 2 = ?" is still one of the all-time great garage rock songs, and it's a shame Bob Seger is hardly ever remembered for it.

  12. Your review is actually more damning than just saying this is a bad record. Here Bruce goes, intending this to be his sprawling masterpiece concerning the trials of the little people and the triumph of rock n’ roll – and here you go calling it a minor album! I remember reading an interview with Bruce at the time, going on about how songs like “Sherry Darling” were big character studies or something. Give me a break.
    Actually, this is the first Bruce album that I ever bought. The production and vocals, IMHO, was much more disciplined than his earlier stuff, making it more accessible. I really like the rockers. All very catchy, if not lyrically very deep. Except for “Jackson Cage”, which I find very intriguing and intense. What exactly is it about?
    The ballads are more problematic. The three interspersed in the first half of the album are perfectly sequenced. “I Wanna Marry You” is really trite and dull. The title track is brilliantly produced, but I admit I have a hard time sympathizing with this guy for making a stupid teenage mistake. He made his own bed, let him lie in it. It does work as a cautionary tale. “Independence Day” (which I first heard live in 1978) is superb, though, continuing the theme of “Adam Made a Cain”.
    But then we hit “Point Blank”(also in my 1978 concert), which stops the momentum dead in its tracks. This overlong, meandering thing actually got a ton of airplay, although I fail to see why. As for the lyrics, Bruce continues the theme of “Jackson Cage”, but with a bit of snideness and condescension – “Look where you’ve ended up. You should have stuck with me, baby”. A bit sexist.
    I don’t think the album quite recovers after this, culminating in three monotonous ballads that get us ready for Nebraska. Especially “Drive All Night”. This song should have been faded at the four minute mark. Instead, we get four more minutes of Bruce screaming himself hoarse. I guess he was trying to prove how “passionate” he could be, but it ends up proving how obnoxious he could be. Prove it all night, indeed. With much better material available, how did this even make the album?
    Still, I rather listen to this than the overdone, tedious bombast of Born to Run by a long shot. Better put on my flame retardant suit now!