1.15.2008

Bruce Springsteen: Born to Run

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.

Music: 3.5 EPFL library cards out of a possible 5
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.

12 comments:

The Mad Hatter said...

Not a Springsteen fan myself, either. I have a lot of respect for the guy, but not much else. I do own Born To Run, though -- not because its amazing, but because I do generally like it. How it became so propped up as it is, I'll never know.

Blogness on the Edge of Town said...

Chuck, in my experience the best way to appreciate Born to Run was to first listen to it when I was under 20 years old, which is a tough state of mind to duplicate later on in life. That said, I don't pull it out much these days, but absolutely love hearing those songs in concert -- and not just because of nostalgia; I think the band still really nails them. But to really get started on the Bruce experience, check out the suggestions here:
http://blogs.townonline.com/Springsteen/?p=752

bob_vinyl said...

I wonder if it would ruin everything if the band was less pedestrian. Springsteen is a people's poet of sorts, yet by virtue of being the poet, he's also a little aloof. Maybe the weakness of the band keeps everything grounded for the very people for whom his music is written.

Barbara said...

Hi Chuck,

I think you may know that I love Bruce. I love the music, the songs, the man himself. The band is not perfect, but they are perfect for him. The main thing I disagree with that you said is that they don't have soul...I don't see what you're seeing.

I think if you saw them live you'd understand better. Bruce LIVE is so full of soul, and energy and passion you can feel it in the air.

I agree with what Pete said about getting into Springsteen at an early age. I was 17 when I first started listening to him and saw my first Bruce concert at age 20. Haven't missed a show since.

I think its a matter of taste, of course not everyone is going to like his music we all have different tastes. But I had to jump in and defend the band :)

bob_vinyl said...

I think the age point is a good one, but I also think it has to do with when in Springsteen's career you first heard him. his music is personal in nature, but for those of us who first heard him around Born in the USA, it was hard to make a personal connection with him and his music. He was huge and everybody liked it. In a sense, through no fault of his own, he had become generic.

taotechuck said...

The age comment is relevant and insightful, and that might explain why I like the song "Born to Run" (which I first heard when I was about 12) but little else on the album.

There's something else at work as well. My ears can't hear the original Springsteen songs without also hearing the 30 years of knockoffs that followed them. I bet this album would sound much different to ears that hadn't yet heard Meat Loaf, Bob Seger, Red Rider, or Huey Lewis.

taotechuck said...

I posed this question over at "Blogness" in response to his link, but I'll ask the rest of you. For someone who is less than impressed by his first foray into a Bruce album, what five songs would you recommend I hear? (Please take into account the fact that I'm not a big fan of Clarence & Co., at least not what I've heard here.)

Blogness on the Edge of Town said...

Chuck, click on my name above to find my best effort. I'll have you know you gave me a headache. I hope you're happy!

The Mad Hatter said...

Chuck,

I have been told that Springsteen is an acquired taste. Unfortunately, I don't drink coffee, for that very reason. Why consume filthy black liquid to acquire something from it? Good luck with your search for even 5 decent Springsteen songs. Age belies wisdom, nostalgia is a rotten grotto for not being able to let go; and if you haven't gotten into Springsteen at this point in your life, you never will.

taotechuck said...

Blogness' post about the best five Springsteen songs is pretty funny. Thanks for enduring the headache. Now I will listen and learn.

(Please no sax solos. Please no sax solos. Please no sax solos.)

gypsyangel said...

I heard BTR when it was first released, and it knocked my socks off...and then I listened to NO Springsteen until 1999.

In 1999, at an age well beyond my early 20's I saw Bruce's reunion tour, and my fate was sealed. The 'something' that makes Springsteen the phenom that he is to legions is a visceral, in-person thing. Albums have never reflected the greatness of the truly great performing bands, and Springsteen is no different. One must see him to truly understand.

Anonymous said...

I respect all of your point of views....but he and his band aren't
""legends"" for no reason! If he was a one hit wonder, the world would of told BRUCE and his band that.