Bruce Springsteen – Born To Run

Born To Run (1975)


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


Oh, boy. Here we go. And I thought Arcade Fire fans were gonna get mad at me for giving Funeral a B+. However, I’m fairly confident that if forced to I could probably beat up most Arcade Fire fans. Whereas many Bruce Springsteen fans are in the mafia. I mean, Little Stevie was LITERALLY IN THE MAFIA (on TV). So please, please don’t whack me, guys.

OK, so as a native New Yorker I can’t help but get in a few cheap shots at old whipping boy New Jersey. Obviously, I’m not the first. Which is why Jerseyites have such an inferiority complex that when someone like Springsteen does rise out of the (smelly, smelly) swamp and become an international superstar, his virtues and accomplishments get hyped and amplified by slovenly laymen and adjacent East Coast media elites alike to the point where a very good album like Born To Run gets blown up into this grand, irreplaceable statement to end all statements, and the cultural significance of the record and what it means to people overshadows, you know, the actual music. Some people view Born To Run as almost a religious text that gives people meaning and instruction on how to live their lives, and to them calling it anything less than a total masterpiece is akin to refuting the word of God. Fortunately I’m an unrepentant heathen so I have no problem doing either of these things. Hey everybody, the Bible is a bunch of made-up fairy tales, Muhammad was a pedophile, and Mormons are a bunch of gullible morons! And Born To Run? It’s solid. Good album. Classic? No fucking way.

Let me be more charitable. Born To Run is, in fact, half a stone cold, unassailable classic, and half decidedly average. So let me start with the good half, so I can establish that I’m not just being contrarian and that I love the hits on this album as much as anybody else. For instance, the title track is plain and simple one of a handful of the best songs—from both a compositional and sonic/arrangement/recording perspective—that the rock ‘n roll genre has ever produced. I mean, come on. It’s Bruce’s opus, operating almost like a symphony in its masterful use of dynamics, meticulous instrumentation, and sense of sweeping, romantic drama. It’s virtuosic in every sense, and it holds up so well even after being flogged absolutely to death by every radio station in the world for 40 fucking years not just because of its impact in terms of gut emotion and adrenaline, but also because of how much work went into creating a recording with so many layers and textures that there’s something new to discover about it on every listen. Yeah, you know the guitar lick and the count-in and the sax solo and everything, but have you ever actually listened to the song really closely on good headphones? The sheer amount of micro-overdubs and overlapping guitars and keys and bells and everything is head spinning, and explains why the damn thing famously took so long to record.

So that one’s good. So is “Thunder Road,” one of the most weirdly structured classic rock radio staples there is – and one of the best. There’s no real chorus to speak of, and there’s barely even a verse – it just kind of freewheels along as Bruce rambles on about getting the hell out of Jersey, picking up steam as it goes until its circular piano line finally releases into that famous horn riff. “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out” and “Backstreets” are certainly more conventional, but have no less of an impact, the former with its infectiously funky groove and the latter with Bruce’s incredibly powerful wailing, pained vocal (and has anyone else noticed that the guitar solo melodically quotes “The Loco-Motion”? Because it totally does). These are unassailably great songs, even if the thoroughly romanticized lyrics throughout the album mean I can’t quite connect to them as much as the more grounded stuff Bruce would write later.

The rest? Not so much. Especially “Meeting Across The River,” which is dull and half-written to the point that no record claiming to be “The Greatest Rock Album of All-Time” can truly live up to that title when it only has eight songs and one of them is of such comparatively subpar quality. But even beyond that… take something like “Night.” At its core, it’s a well-constructed rock song. But remember the joyous, spontaneous atmosphere that mind The Wild, The Innocent & The E Street Shuffle so much fun? Yeah, that’s gone. Born To Run is so worked over, calculated, and densely arranged that that it feels sort of cold and detached in places. Like, “Night” is supposed to be about busting off the shackles of an oppressive workday and busting out into the streets to let loose and have fun, right? Well, that’s what the lyrics are about, but the music is so machinated and overblown that the song fails to convey a sense of rawness, looseness, or release that could have driven those lyrics home. I have similar issues with “She’s The One,” which starts out sounding like it’s gonna be really, really cool—when the main guitar comes in leading this MASSIVE Bo Diddley beat, it’s undeniably powerful—but never really gets out of second gear and just sort of grinds along, making it seem like that wall of sound production is just being used to cover up the fact that there isn’t much to the song in the first place. And then there’s the fact that, well… (again, please don’t whack me)…

I don’t really like “Jungleland” very much.

What do you want me to say? It sounds too much like “Thunder Road,” it’s nine and a half minutes long but feels like it’s 25, I think the universally fellated loooooooong ass sax solo is boring, and I feel as though it’s one Bruce song where his characteristic bombast crosses over the line into melodrama. I do think the last minute or so is pretty neat in a dramatic Hollywood movie soundtrack sorta way. But otherwise it does very little for me on an emotional or musical level. Fucking sue me.

Do you see what I’m saying though? I would never argue that Bruce didn’t come up with some truly generation-defining, transcendent shit for this album. I’m just not able to look past the fact that he came up with some very middling shit for it too.

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