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Bruce Springsteen – Born To Run (Part Three) Plus High Hopes, Magic, Tunnel Of Love and The Ghost Of Tom Joad

November 13, 2016

Post Born In The USA Springsteen’s autobiography begins to slog along. He fails at his first marriage, struggles with success, depression, finds peace with his dad, finds his soulmate and never records anything close to the significance of his first seven LPs again. I have diligently purchased every album Bruce has put out since Born In The USA. None of these albums  have been stinkers, but none have matched the brilliance of the first seven.

As I finished the book I started re-listen to his post Born In The USA catalog. I started with his most recent, 2014’s High Hopes. I had forgotten Bruce’s “hip hop” album featuring Tom Morello. It is actually pretty good. As I listened I was reminded that this was a pretty cool update of the Springsteen sound. Not an embarrassing update – a proper update. I looked at my original review and I still like it, but perhaps with less enthusiasm:

Whenever a classic rock act like Bruce Springsteen pulls out a late inning masterpiece I am amazed. The titular song summarizes it all – a brilliant merger of classic E Street band jam, Springsteen dirt under the fingernails optimism and Morello’s hip hop rock guitar. It sets the table for a brilliant album. The songs are political, personal, sentimental, anthems, gritty and rocking – classic Bruce – not bad for an aging rock star in his mid 60s – relevance.

Next I moved on to 2007’s Magic because I had such great memories of “Girls In Their Summer Clothes” which is one of Bruce’s sexiest songs. This is another album I forgot how much I liked.

When I listened to Tunnel Of Love I realized that I like every song on the album. And some I really like. When this album came out I listened to it a lot. I forgot how etched it is into my soul.

In 1995 Springsteen had some challenging demons to exorcise: born and raised blue-collar poor, hardened in bar bands, exploited by the star maker machine – he had survived and thrived. He was now a very rich man – a true rock star. And he was feeling pretty damn uncomfortable. From that stress came a pretty amazing piece of art: The Ghost Of Tom Joad – an ode to the common man. And it was a subtle masterpiece.

Ok this retrospective of post Born In The USA LPs is not defending my thesis: after 1984 Springsteen never record anything close to the significance of his first seven LPs. Of course he did. He just went from being a hit maker to cult recording artist who happened to maintain his arena rock brilliance resulting in mega-dollar grossing tours. He became a rock star who was not content to rest on his laurels and he continues to be compelled to create new material.

The book’s narrative from 1985 until now is rarely as compelling as the first half of the book. In the first half, he helps you understand the source of the art. In the second half he does a lot of self-analysis which is interesting to a point. His personal history from 1985 to now is just not that interesting – he is a hugely successful rock star who doesn’t have rock and roll stories. This led me to conclude that his music from this period was not that interesting either. But re-listening to the samples above proved my conclusion wrong – he has continued to create vital material. I wish he had dissected the source of these albums in the autobiography they way he did for the first seven albums in the first half of the book. Oveall the book is pretty must read for a Springsteen fan.

  1. I’m certainly in agreement with most of your conclusions here. I actually find much to love in Springsteen’s more recent work but nothing comes close to topping his early catalogue.

  2. Interesting in that I had never thought in terms of “the first seven” till you mentioned it. Agreed that those are the best, also agree the old dude still has a lot of life left in him. But I bet if you looked at the catalog of any artist that has an equivalent number of albums over so many years, their best stuff is their earliest work. There might be exceptions but I bet that’s generally true.

    • Dylan managed to pull out some brilliance late career. But I am not very clear headed when it comes to Dylan.

      • No argument there. (Even though I have a really hard time with those vocals.) But that is, as they say, the exception that proves the rule. There’s a fair amount of dross in his catalog that we overlook. Just so happens I literally just finished re-reading his book, “Chronicles.” He knew he was toast by the late ’80’s and it was only by working with Daniel Lanois on “Oh Mercy” that he got his mojo back.

        But at the end of day, both Springsteen and Dylan have such great catalogs, at this point they owe the world nothing.

  3. Real good thought out take. At one time I read everything there was to read on Bruce. That was a long time ago when things weren’t so easy to come by. I got a pretty good idea of what he was about. I just liked the guy but mainly I liked his music. I guess life took over for me and I had other things eat up the time. I was listening to ‘Lucky Town’ the other day. It’s a real good album. They all have their time and place for me. ‘Tunnel’ is a good one for me. It really hit home at the time. It’s that personal experience again. It sounds like we have similar feelings about BS. The guy is full of music.

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