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Old 04-20-2022, 10:07 PM   #11 (permalink)
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Thanks for the reviews.

The last album of his that I've heard is the Rising.

Though I only have Darkness, Born in the USA, Chimes of Freedom and Tunnel of Love in my collection, I've heard just about everything else. He's my father's favourite artist.

The Boss' live shows are where it's at though. The man puts on one hell of a show.
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Old 04-21-2022, 06:11 AM   #12 (permalink)
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Hey, thanks for your comments, and welcome to the forum. Good to know someone is reading!

I'm kind of the same as you: the last Springsteen album I listened to was Magic, and that wasn't consecutively, so I have ones like Western Stars, The Promise, Working on a Dream, High Hopes and so on to hear yet. I got into Bruce via Born in the USA and worked backwards, then on from there when his later albums came out. Of the older ones, I'm not crazy about the debut and you can keep side one of The Wild, the Innocent and the E Street Shuffle (though side two more than makes up for it), but other than that I don't feel he's ever put a foot wrong. Of course, as I say, that's with the caveat that I have recent albums yet to hear, but I don't see that being a problem.

Favourites would be Nebraska, The River, Darkness on the Edge of Town, Born to Run (of course) and Born in the USA, but hell, it's hard to pick out a real favourite when all his albums are so good. Other than Welcome to Asbury Park, N.J., and as already mentioned the first side of The Wild, the Innocent and the E Street Shuffle, I can't think of many bad songs even (well, maybe "Why Can't We Be Friends" off The Rising, don't like that one).

You're right though that he shines best live, and gives great value for money. I only saw him once, here at Slane Castle, but man was it worth the admission!
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Old 04-21-2022, 02:32 PM   #13 (permalink)
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He doesn't release much filler. Sure, not everything he writes is gold. He consistently writes good stuff though. His influence on other artists is far reaching.

I don't have a favourite album. I'm On Fire is my favourite song.
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Old 04-27-2022, 07:20 PM   #14 (permalink)
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My first real experience with Bruce Springsteen was “Dancing in the Dark”, followed by the album, but in truth the first time I heard him - knowing nothing about him at the time - was on the way back from a company Christmas party. Getting a lift home from the boss - with a lowercase b of course, my own employer - I half-heard “Born to Run” on the radio, but mistook the final line for “Maybe we will fall to earth”, and thought that's one hell of a line. Sadly it was not correct of course, but I did at least get to hear the DJ announce who was singing. I paid it little mind really, my head full of heavy metal and prog rock. And then one morning as I prepared to leave after my show had finished on the local radio station, one of the other guys introduced “the new single from Bruce Springsteen”, and spun “Dancing in the Dark”. My interest very much piqued, I believe I caught the bus directly into town and bought the album Born in the USA, thus starting me off on a journey through the Boss's catalogue, which naturally included this stone cold classic.

Born to Run (1975)

Springsteen's third album, it was his breakthrough, commercially and musically, and indeed his last chance to make it big before he was dropped by his management, who footed the bill for the ambitious project. Bruce's other albums to date had been very decent, but had spawned no hit singles and gained little in the way of sales, though they were critically acclaimed. It's rather interesting to note that, though this album contains many of what would go on to be standards of his, there is in fact only one hit on it - the title track - and the album itself only has eight tracks, though that was fairly common in the seventies, unlike now where you can get ten or twenty, or more, per album. The reason for this was mostly mechanical logistics.

For those of you who grew up on CDs or even MP3s, you may not appreciate the nuances of an LP, or Long Player, we had to contend with back then. Each song or piece of music would be cut into a certain groove on the record surface (leading to the term “tracks”, which still survives today, long after its meaning is gone), and you could only fit so much into each groove before the sound would deteriorate, which generally worked out at about four to five songs per side. Records had two sides, but you had to end the first side then flip the record over to hear the second side. So approximately eight to ten tracks was all you could get on one physical disc. If the band or artiste had more than that to put on the album, well that's where double LPs came into being. It seems odd now that a band like ELO could take up four sides of a record with the album Out of the Blue, and yet the songs only add up to seventeen, that's four per side with side two having five only by virtue of one of the tracks being just over a minute. Nowadays that all fits on one compact disc. How times have changed.

Born to Run has gone down in musical history as one of the most important rock albums of the century, and with good reason. Drawing on the influences and styles of his heroes, Dylan and Orbison, and presenting a darker, more mature and indeed more realistic face of America to the world, Springsteen, like Waits, peopled his songs with “broken-down heroes” and “strung-out teenagers” who refused to live the American Dream and rebelled because, well, what ya got? They weren't always victorious in their often short-lived rebellions, but they lived as they wanted to live and, in many cases, died as they wanted to die. Springsteen presented the dark underbelly of American society, and challenged those songwriters of the fifties and sixties who loudly proclaimed that all was well in the land of the free. All is not well, this young upstart roared, and I'm here to tell you about the real America.

With instantly a lonely, desolate, almost hopeless aura, “Thunder Road” opens the album as Roy Bittan's piano backs Bruce on the harmonica before he begins to sing. It's a song of escape, and as the piano takes the tune solo Bruce sings of the night-time tryst between Mary and his protagonist as he tries to convince her to run away with him, away from this one-horse town and off on a life of adventure. ”Show a little faith!” he exhorts her ”There's magic in the night.” Percussion and guitar kick in as he describes the ride down the two-lane blacktop to destiny. You very easily get caught up in the enthusiasm, the youthful exuberance and the promise of a better life lying beyond the eponymous road. Springsteen sings of his plan to make a living - ”I got this guitar/ And I'm really gonna make it talk”, and it's a powerful, joyous and hopeful start to an album that ultimately ends in despair as the glamour and glitz falls from the idea of eloping and the singer realises there is after all no pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, and he is trapped, like so many of his fellows, in a dark and dangerous place. For now though, an exuberant sax from Clarence Clemons joins Bittan as they take the song to its fadeout, and into what is perhaps the only track on the album I don't care for.

I always wondered what a “Tenth Avenue Freeze-out” was, and now I know: nobody knows. Not even Springsteen, who wrote the damn song! How disappointing! But I assume he did at one time know, he probably has just forgotten or else is keeping the information to himself. The song itself though I think relies too much on the horn section, and although it has a boppy, fresh, uptempo piano driving it, this track just has never done anything for me. It's apparently about the formation of the E Street Band, and while I don't hate it, it's definitely my least favourite on the album. It's probably the brass: you know I don't particularly care for brass. It could also be that after the bombast of “Thunder Road” it just sounds like a comedown to me. I don't know; I just will never like it as much as the rest of this album.

We're right back to that bombast though with a fusilade of drums and a blasting salvo on the sax from Clemons, the tempo cracking along as “Night” re-establishes order. The power and passion in this song has to be heard to be believed; it runs along at an almost frantic pace, Bittan's piano chattering along as guitars and sax come along for the ride. Bruce sings of the chance to blow off steam, getting through your job waiting to just let it loose on the roads: ”You work nine to five/ And somehow survive until the night.” It's a short song, but crammed with more emotion and passion than some songs twice its length, and ends on a superb sax break from the Big Man. Things take a total left-turn then for the first ballad on the album, the dark, gritty, desolate “Backstreets”, as the first inklings of the real world intruding on the hero's fantasy one show themselves.

Opening on a beautiful bluesy piano, joined by a screaming organ from Danny Federici the song runs for a full minute before Springsteen comes in with the vocal, singing about his attempts to escape with his lover, ”Hiding on the backstreets”, but knowing that you can't run from life forever. A great guitar solo takes the midsection, the first I think on the album, then the song falls into something of a lull as the hero reflects on his situation alone as he asks "Remember all the movies, Terri/ We'd go to see/ Trying hard to walk like/ The heroes we thought we had to be?” The song then winds up to an incredibly powerful conclusion on Bittan's piano, with Springsteen repeating ”Hiding on the backstreets” about twenty times before the final chorus punches a hole in your heart and the song hammers to a stop. Take a breath, cos you ain't heard nothin' yet!

I would assume everyone has heard the title track, but if by some chance you haven't, well let me tell you “Born to Run” hits you right smack in the eyes with a cannoning drumroll and guitar riff, thundering along as Springsteen relates the pent-up anger of being trapped in a dead-end job in a small town. ”Baby this town rips/ The bones from your back” he warns his girl, "It's a death trap, a suicide rap/ We gotta get out while we're young.” How many youths have screamed the same but never had the guts to do anything about it? Clemons again takes the song with a sweet and punchy solo which has become iconic, and the song then slows down to a buildup as Springsteen sings again about cars and races and promises Wendy ”I wanna die with you on the streets tonight in an everlasting kiss.”

A rolling, swirling organ readies us for the last attack as Bruce brings it home with a passionate, sweat-drenched performance that just has you shaking, and I now hear the correct lines I misheard so many years ago: "Tramps like us/ Baby we were born to run.” In typical style then he slows everything down for the almost muted “She's the one”, with acoustic guitar opening and rippling keyboard accompanying the first verse before the percussion from Max Weinberg powers in and Bruce yells the first of many “HUH!” grunts, and the song takes off. A ballad, you thought? Ah no, not just yet my friend. The drums explode all over the track and Bittan goes wild on the piano while Miami Steve van Zandt racks out the riffs, bandana flying and a grim smile on his thick lips. Of course, the Big Man has to stamp his authority on the song, and so he does, with another pitch-perfect solo on his sax. Great backing vocals take the track into yet another almost pause, Springsteen building up once again to a big finish, this time with a strong presence from Weinberg as Bittan flies along on the keys.

Smoky sax and soft piano then introduce the jazzlike “Meeting Across the River”, which is indeed a ballad, though not a song of love, but of a dangerous assignation. Clemons for once stays more in the background, and the piece is carried by Bittan's superb piano planning. It's a short song, and in truth not one of my favourites, but it leads into one of the standouts on the album, not only the closing track but also the longest by far, at over nine and a half minutes long. “Jungleland” would become another Springsteen standard, and gets going with violin from Suki Lahav before Bittan takes over on the piano as Bruce sings of the goings-on in the city, the things that happen under cover of darkness, when “decent folk” are tucked away in their beds. Deep organ makes its presence felt as Federici comes in, then Weinberg hits it and we're off on the second section of the song.

The tempo kicks up, almost “Thunder Road” revisited in ways, as Springsteen likens wannabe musicians to gang members - ”Kids flash guitar just like switchblades/ Hustling for the record machine/ The hungry and the hunted/ Explode into rock'n'roll bands/ And face off against each other in the street.” A great solo from van Zandt before it all stops to pay homage to Clemons as he leads the song into its third section with a soulful, heart-wrenching solo that carries it from its fourth minute, accompanied by Federici on the organ, well into the sixth before everything descends on the organ and then down to single piano notes as Bruce tells us what happened to the Magic Rat and the Airport Girl, the verse almost spoken, each word stretched out. ”In the tunnels uptown/ The Rat's own dream guns him down .../ Nobody watches as the ambulance pulls away...”

The tragic pathos of the actual realisation of the American Dream has never been so perfectly described as Bruce sighs ”The poets down here/ Don't write nothin' at all/ They just stand back/ And let it all be.” A stupendous piano ending and a wounded vocalise vocal from Springsteen and the album comes to a triumphant close.

TRACKLISTING

1. Thunder Road
2. Tenth Avenue Freeze-out
3. Night
4. Backstreets
5. Born to Run
6. She's the One
7. Meeting Across the River
8. Jungleland

It's kind of really only after the album has finished that you start to realise how well-crafted it is. Starting off with high hopes and visions of a bright future, it traces a path through an existence that becomes barely subsistence, dark deals done on street corners, friends who betray and lovers who leave, and ends in a desperate attempt to gain recognition and acceptance before the realisation sets in that you're stuck in this rathole of a city and there's nothing you can do about it. It's possibly one of the most realistic renditions of youthful hope turning to dour adult pragmatism and realism, almost a defeated acceptance of the life you are forced to lead. The fast cars are gone, the open road is gone and all you're left with are the dark, stinking, crumbling towers of Jungleland frowning down on you like the ghosts of your disapproving parents, but without the added security of being able to turn to them when you're in need. You're stuck here now, no way to get back home to that one-horse town you so reviled when younger, no woman by your side and in all likelihood no car and no job, and as Bruce spits out in the lyric to the closer, you have to make your stand, down in Jungleland.

It's easy to see why this became such a hit and then such a classic. Really, nothing like this had been written before that I know of. Most American singers would have been loath, even fearful of attacking the supposed comforts and security of middle America, and less inclined to dare to suggest that the cities, far from being havens of opportunity where a man might make his fortune, were in reality cesspools of loneliness, decay and despair, where a man could lose his life for simply saying the wrong thing or looking at the wrong person the wrong way. Springsteen dared though; he stood up, guitar in one hand, notebook in the other and snarled “This is the America I see!”

And so many other people began to see it too, and to question the status quo and the values that had been instilled into them. Nobody would try to call Springsteen a revolutionary, but he certainly stood up for the common man, took on the American Way, and tried to show us there was another path we could follow if we believed, as he did, that we were in fact born not to follow, born not to obey or conform, but born to rebel, born to question, born to ask for more than we were told we could have. Born not to accept that this was all there was. Born to strive, to fight, to never give up.

Born, in short, to run.

Rating: 9.8/10
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Old 04-27-2022, 10:14 PM   #15 (permalink)
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His ability to voice the issues of the common man is part of what makes him so revered. He works hard, and was rewarded.

Is it just me, or are lots of bands covering Dancing in the Dark now? I couldn't believe my ears when White Lies did it.

Clarence was awesome. Nobody did a saxophone solo like him. After he passed, his nephew did a bang up job.
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Old 10-19-2022, 06:27 AM   #16 (permalink)
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Nebraska (1982) (Columbia)

There are a lot of singers, a lot of good singers and some great singers, but the proof of the pudding can often be the answer to the question: how does the singer/star stand up without his/her band behind them? In other words, are they accomplished enough an artist to stand out there and do their thing solo, or do they perhaps hide behind a great guitar player, keyboard wizard or drummer? Bruce Springsteen has long been acknowledged as one of the music world's premier singer/songwriters, a consummate artist and entertainer, and in many ways a voice for his age. He had nothing to prove really, having “made it” by the early eighties with albums like Darkness on the Edge of Town, Born to Run and of course The River, but when he released Nebraska, only two years after that chart-smashing double album, it was very much against the grain and not what people had been expecting, least of all his fans.

Recorded originally as demo tracks for the next E Street Band album, every track is acoustic, sparse and with very little in the way of production, leading to a very raw feeling on each. Springsteen eventually decided to release the demos as the next album, and Nebraska was born, as he recounts below:

"I was just doing songs for the next rock album, and I decided that what always took me so long in the studio was the writing. I would get in there, and I just wouldn't have the material*written, or it wasn't written well enough, and so I'd record for a month, get a couple of things, go home write some more, record for another month — it wasn't very efficient. So this time, I got a little*Teac*four-track cassette machine, and I said, I'm gonna record these songs, and if they sound good with just me doin' 'em, then I'll teach 'em to the band. I could sing and play the guitar, and then I had two tracks to do somethin' else, like overdub a guitar or add a harmony. It was just gonna be a demo. Then I had a littleEchoplex*that I mixed through, and that was it. And that was the tape that became the record. It's amazing that it got there, 'cause I was carryin' that cassette around with me in my pocket without a case for a couple of week, just draggin' it around. Finally, we realized, "Uh-oh, that's the album." Technically, it was difficult to get it on a disc. The stuff was recorded so strangely, the needle would read a lot of distortion and wouldn't track in the wax. We almost had to release it as a cassette."

(From interview with “Rolling Stone” magazine, December 1984. Courtesy of Wikipedia)

Whether it happened as he relates above, or whether it was all planned ahead of time to be this way, what emerged was an album which polarised opinion among his fans at the time - some loved it, seeing it as the “real” Springsteen, stripped of - well, everything! - and the man going back to basics, others thought it was a bleak, depressing record, and after the highs of 1980's “The River”, it was a real come-down - but which is now generally acknowledged as one of his finest and most personal works. Personally, I love it, and though it's not an album you listen to if you want to be cheered up (!), it stands as a classic in the man's considerable repertoire.

Kicking off with the title track, you get a good idea of what you're in for here. Low, mournful harmonica, sparse acoustic guitar, no percussion whatever, and Springsteen's powerful yet quiet voice, like a prophet crying in the wilderness. Similar to Steve Earle's “Billy Austin”, “Nebraska” tells the tale, in the first person, of a “Bonnie and Clyde” couple who are so bored with their humdrum lives that they decide to go on a killing spree in a car: “From the town of Lincoln, Nebraska/ With a sawed-off four-ten on my lap/ Through the badlands of Wyoming/ I killed everything in my path.” Apparently this song is based on tbe real-life killer Charles Starkweather. There's no explanation at the end, no reason why the couple did what they did, when they're caught and sentenced to death: “They declared me unfit to live/ Said into the great void my soul'd be hurled/ They wanna know why I did what I did/ Sir I guess there's just a meanness in this world.”

These are not songs of love, nor redemption, nor good-time songs. They're not songs of hope, but mostly of despair, as the characters realise they can never break out of their situation, like “Johnny 99” later in the album, or the unnamed driver in “State Trooper”. There's no escape for these people, and the sense of brooding frustration that coats every track, every line, bleeds through the album like liquid desperation. It's America, far from the land of the free, or the home of the brave, that Springsteen sings about here. It's honest, ordinary, unremarkable for the most part people, going about their dull lives and doing their best to survive, doing what they have to do to make it through to the next day.

“Atlantic City” is a “Jungleland” for the 80s, a more uptempo track but still in essence a tale of people trapped by their circumstances and their station in life: “I'm tired of comin' out on the losin' end/ So last night I met this guy/ And I'm gonna do a little favour for him.” The aforementioned “Johnny 99” is almost funny in its way, as the poor guy gets 99 years for an attempted bank robbery, but the message is clear as Johnny makes his plea: “Your honour, I do believe I'd be better off dead/ And if you can take a man's life for the thoughts that's in his head/ Won't you sit back in that chair/ Think it over just one more time/ Let 'em shave off my hair/ And put me on that execution line?”

After the bleak introduction of “Nebraska” things do rock out a little more with tracks like the above, “Atlantic City” and later on “Open All Night”, but mostly they're dark, desolate ballads which always tell a story. The paucity of instrumentation and lack of a band pushes you to concentrate on the content of the songs, to listen to the stories, like the tough decision faced by the cop in “Highway Patrolman” as he tries to balance doing his job with looking after his troublesome brother, Frankie. “I catch him when he's fallin'/ Like any brother would/ Man turns his back on his family/ Well he just ain't no good.”

One of the best tracks, in my opinion, on the album, comes up next, the toe-tappingly catchy “State Trooper”, with nothing but Springsteen's voice and his strumming guitar to carry the song, his voice echoing into the darkness like the cry of the damned on a highway to oblivion. The guitar work gets quite loud and insistent here, the closest to electric on the album, apart from the later “Open All Night”, which truly rocks out. Before that, there's a stark contrast between Springsteen's current status of rock god with the kid sung about in “Used Cars”, as he declares “Mister the day the lottery I win/ I ain't ever gonna ride in no used car again.”

Then we're up to the standout track, as already pointed towards earlier. By far the fastest and rockiest, and even most upbeat of the songs on Nebraska, “Open All Night” is a fifties-style rocker that just radiates exuberance, joy in the face of bleak despair, for a while. A real “cars and girls” song, the kind of thing Springsteen made his name on, it's a real “Two fingers to the world”, and a short oasis of hope in a sea of despair. In some ways, it really doesn't belong on the album, which is so dark, and yet, through every night must shoot some shaft of light, be it the first glimmers of the dawn, the stars blinking in the sky high above, or just the moon peeking out from a cloud for just a moment, before it is once again swallowed by the night, and the world plunged back into darkness. "Open all night" is that shaft of light on "Nebraska".

If you approach Nebraska expecting another Born in the USA or even Tunnel of Love, you'll be disappointed, but if you want to hear why Springsteen was once rated as the best singer/songwriter since Dylan, this is the album you want to listen to. Just leave the razor blades out of reach, okay?

TRACK LISTING

1. Nebraska
2. Atlantic City
3. Mansion On the Hill
4. Johnny 99
5. Highway Patrolman
6. State Trooper
7. Used Cars
8. Open All Night
9. My Father's House
10. Reason to Believe
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Old 10-19-2022, 06:38 AM   #17 (permalink)
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Nebraska is actually my favorite album from Springsteen and in fact is my number one album of 1982. I love the starkness of his lyrics and the acoustic feel in general. If you remember, Trolls, I did my own critique of the Springsteen catalog at the writing forum and I'm pretty sure I especially raved about Nebraska. I think he would record two more albums in this similar vein but, good as they are, they can't top Nebraska.
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Old 10-19-2022, 09:27 AM   #18 (permalink)
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Yes, fully agree. Like I said, the true test of an artist is in their, if you will, unpluggedness, which is not quite right. It's not enough for them just to be able to perform their material in an acoustic setting. I always have great respect for any one-man-band or any artist who can touch me by just using the barest of instrumentation and production. It's all about the lyrics, usually, but evoking the kind of atmosphere Springsteen does on an album like Nebraska is rare.
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