Bruce Springsteen. The Boss. The musician who single-handedly put New Jersey on the Rock and Roll map. Hes responsible for some of the most critically acclaimed albums in the history of rock. The most famous of these albums is arguably 1975s Born to Run. Yet, despite its fame, Ive never heard any songs from it.
All right, maybe thats a slight exaggeration. Im pretty sure Ive heard all of Born to Run” and parts of other well-known tracks, like Thunder Road and Tenth Avenue Freeze Out. But when it comes to hearing this record as a whole, its completely alien to me. As one of my friends, a big Springsteen fan, said to me, “This must be rectified.”
My first reaction was one of pleasant surprise. My previous experience with Springsteen’s music, such as the Super Bowl performance, had left me unimpressed for the most part. From the opening track, though, Born To Run had me hooked. The style, the swagger, and the sheer density of this album already makes it a classic. That’s without even mentioning the excellent instrumentation and Springsteen’s insightful, working-man lyrics.
The first few seconds of “Thunder Road” had me admittedly worried. The harmonica sounded a little too much like country music to me. But within a minute, I knew my fears were misguided. The building piano provides great support when Springsteen’s voice comes in. The sense of longing in his vocals adds a touch of emotion that’s difficult to find with many singers. When the full band kicks in, it’s like falling off a cliff into a cacophony of music. I was stunned by how layered this album is. I guess that’s what happens when you have a band as big as Springsteen’s. I can see where groups like the Arcade Fire got it from.
The horn section of “Tenth Avenue Freeze Out” sounds like it could be in a classic (e.g. Sean Connery) Bond film. The transition into a more groovy piano/horn combo flows smoothly where it could have been clunky. Springsteen sounds as joyous here as he sounded desperate in “Thunder Road”. Both he and the E Street band are having a great time.
“Night” kicks the speed up a couple notches. The ringing notes of a guitar fills up the background nicely as the horn section and Springsteen’s voice take center stage. Even though it isn’t a hit song, there’s no reason why it couldn’t have been. It’s got number one written all over it.
The minute-long piano solo of “Backstreets” builds nicely into the first verse. Another song that deals with longing and loss, Springsteen’s voice alternates between sadness and almost anger over the pain the characters have experienced. However, it goes on a little too long for me. By the end, the emotional impact has been diluted too much for it to hold as much effect as it did at the beginning.
From there, the album moves on to “Born To Run”. What’s there to say about this track that hasn’t been said? It’s a classic, and it fully deserves to be one. The guitar, the piano, the all-or-nothing lyrics, and The Boss’s delivery are all perfect. It’s the essential Springsteen song that could single-handedly launch a band to stadium stardom.
The progressive piano throughout the track is what makes “She’s The One” work. While guitar and drums are later layered over it, the piano’s still the hook that everything else latches on to. It takes a blistering saxophone solo in the middle to pull attention away from the piano. This is another number that could have been a hit on any album.
My only low point on the album comes with “Meeting Across The River.” After the excitement and electricity found throughout nearly all the record, this song sounds average by comparison. Springsteen’s half-talking, half-singing delivery falls flat, and the trumpet moves too much into jazzy territory for me. It would have worked better as a shorter interlude between “She’s The One” and “Jungleland” than as a full track.
The violin performance at the beginning of “Jungleland” is hauntingly beautiful. Reminiscent of “Backstreets,” Springsteen sounds tiredly depressed, even as the music swells around him. The crescendo of instruments makes this one of the most epic songs of all time. While it clocks in at over nine minutes, the variety of changes keep it from getting stale, and instead offers an amazing closer to an equally amazing album.
Well, now I know what I was missing: an inspiring, powerful album that saw Springsteen reaching for heights few musicians ever imagined. Thankfully, The Boss’s reach doesn’t exceed his grasp. He fought his way to the top, and the battle is laid out here for all of us to see. What a spectacular battle this turned out to be.