There are certain critically acclaimed and successful musicians that I just don’t care much about. U2 is one such band, and so is Bruce Springsteen. His politics I can usually agree with, his heart seems to be in the right place, his working man schtick is admirable, but his music does not resonate in my brain. His voice irritates me to be honest. I have musical completist tendencies, and thus keep trying to like Bruce Springsteen, as he is so often reviewed favorably by critics and friends whose musical tastes I usually agree with. Coupled with the fact that I have no problem purchasing used CDs, especially easily discovered albums by artists like Springsteen, I have a surprising large collection of Springsteen albums accumulated over the years. Here is a thumbnail review of the ones still in my iTunes library.
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Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J. – Debut album, from 1972. Blinded by the Light is ok.
The Wild, the Innocent & the E Street Shuffle – second album. Rosalita (Come Out Tonight) is ok, but drags on too long. The entire album suffers from the same problem.
Born To Run – the album that made The Boss’ career. If I was stuck in a car on a road trip with a Springsteen fan who maintained total control of the stereo, this is the album I’d choose. There are four songs worth listening to: Thunder Road, Tenth Avenue Freeze Out, She’s the One, and Jungleland. Jungleland does have a soft jazz section that grates on my nerves, but the rest of the song is ok, albeit ponderously long. The title track is ok too, I guess, but everyone1 has heard it way too many times and thus the song has lost its lustre. Tramps like us! They really like us!
Darkness on the Edge of Town – not horrible. Badlands, Adam Raised a Cain, Streets of Fire are ok.
Nebraska – meh. Conceptually, the idea of releasing demos instead of the studio version with a full band is interesting, but many of these songs don’t hold my interest for long. In a pinch, I’d say Atlantic City, Highway Patrolman, State Trooper are ok. Atlantic City is the best of the bunch, despite having its lyrics copped from a million early-70s heist films. Maybe the so-called Electric Nebraska (The Nebraska demos were recorded in a studio with the full E Street Band, but never released) would make the songs have more punch? Btw, Johnny Cash did a more powerful version of Highway Patrolman.
Born in the U.S.A. – Not a bad album, but over-hyped and over-played. Springsteen’s lyrics are the very definition of bombast. The kind of album that Ronald Reagan and his cult latched onto (despite not being able to read the lyrics, the chorus was simple enough for Republicans to chant at their rallies) Not to mention there was that music video with Courtney Cox being pulled out the audience. So lame. Glory Days, Born in the USA, I’m On Fire are decent songs, despite it all.
Tunnel of Love – meh. I can’t pick a single song off of this album that I want to voluntarily listen to. The ‘80s drum machines don’t help.
Human Touch – meh. So boring. So generic. I hope the studio musicians got paid big bucks.
Lucky Touch – slightly better than Human Touch, but still boring.
The Rising – yeah, yeah, about 9/11, and yadda yadda. Still long winded arena rock, and not fun to listen to. If pressed, maybe 3 decent songs: Into the Fire, Empty Sky, The Fuse, but my life would not be empty if I never heard them again. Candidate Barack Obama (and Hillary Clinton, and John Edwards) used The Rising as a campaign theme song, but still, snooooooooooze…
We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions – I actually like this album, none of the songs are written by Springsteen, nor by Pete Seeger for that matter, and Springsteen and company seem like they are having a good time singing and playing these folk standards. However, I don’t disagree with Robert Christgau’s review:
We shall overkill, he means. Never have his Howard Keel tendencies, or maybe now they’re Paul Robeson tendencies, tripped him up so bad. The idea is to big up the music and play the jokes you don’t ignore like you’re working a Roman amphitheater. I’m glad to have met the anti-war lament “Mrs. McGrath” and Sis Cunningham’s “My Oklahoma Home,” and sort of hope young people deprived of music appreciation funding will now hear “Erie Canal,” “Froggie Went A-Courtin’,” “John Henry,” and “Jesse James.” Only are young people really ignorant of these songs? And how many of them buy Springsteen albums anyway? Amping up his strange bluegrass-Dixieland hybrid like E Street is just around the corner, he sings his lungs out. But in folk music, lightness is all–and only newbies and John Hammond Jr. lean so hard on the cornpone drawl.
(click here to continue reading Robert Christgau: Consumer Guide May. 30, 2006: Radicals of the Moment.)
Pete Seeger’s versions are all much better, of course, but you probably already guessed I would think that.
Working on a Dream – more boring arena rock, released in 2009. I think when I purchased this album, after reading yet another positive review about it, I decided that I will never like Springsteen enough to purchase another of his albums, at least without hearing it first.
Summing up: there’s about 15-20 decent Springsteen songs over a long career, which to be fair is a higher number than a lot of artists, but for all the incessant hype and adulation surrounding Springsteen, there should be more genuinely awesome songs. The Clash have at least 40 great songs to their name, maybe more, and their career lasted from 1977-1982.2 If I went through my music library, I could easily find 20 songs from dozens of my favorite artists, 20 songs all better than the best Springsteen has to offer.
You may like Springsteen, that is your right, de gustibus non est disputandum, but I think he’s just boring.Footnotes: