I don't know Bruce Springsteen. I never owned one of his albums, I never saw him in concert, and I certainly wasn't listening to him when I lost my virginity or left to see the big world beyond my parents' backyard. So when I saw Born to Run at the EPFL, I got a little excited. Finally, I was going to listen to a great Springsteen album from front to back. Finally, I was going to immerse myself in the musical world of working-class New Jersey. Finally, I was going to understand.
But I don't. I don't understand at all.
Springsteen himself is good. His voice is urgent, and his words are filled with the bitter longing that inspires young men's dreams and middle-aged men's crises.
The band, however, is kind of awful. I mean, they can all play their instruments, but they have no soul. Which is pretty rough, considering the music is mostly a rockified interpretation of classic soul. Clarence Clemens wouldn't know a tasteful sax solo if it came up and bit him. The Brecker brothers, those mercenaries of soulless '70s studio work, are as boring and predictable as ever. Roy Bittan's keyboard performances work reasonably well, as long as you like that overblown Billy Joel style of piano playing. Max Weinberg and Little Steven are the only people who keep the E Street Band from turning into a giant sinkhole.
The music is young and hopeful, in the way that only people who don't have much hope can be hopeful. The vocals are pretty awesome, even if (or maybe because) they border on melodramatic. The individual musicians leave a lot to be desired, but they can't destroy Springsteen's energy. "Meeting Across the River" is the best example of the album's interwoven strengths and weaknesses; the musical performances are terrible, but you can picture a young Bruce nervously riding through the Holland Tunnel and wondering what waits on the other side.
Packaging: n/a (Altered by EPFL)
The original cover is superb, but it's not included here. It was nice of someone at the EPFL to photocopy the front and back, so at least we have a track listing. The version that I checked out comes with two DVDs that I didn't watch. The booklet that accompanies the CD (it's behind the counter, so you have to ask for it) contains the original (boring) liner notes from the album plus a bunch of photos. Big whoop.
Listen if you like: R&B influenced rock like old J. Geils Band, dramatic classic rock like Billy Joel, melodramatic rock like Meat Loaf, or Springsteen-influenced rock like Marah. You may be like me and not care for Born to Run, but it's ridiculous that I've been a rock fan for so long and I've never heard the whole album. Learn from my mistake. Just listen.
If it were food, it'd be: There used to be a pizza place in Jersey that everyone always talked about. They had big slices for cheap, they were open late, and they always won lots of local awards. When I finally tried a slice, the pie was decent, but the crust was limp and the sauce was kind of bland. Its reputation was definitely better than its actual flavor.