Thursday, June 14, 2007

No. 18: Born To Run

Band: Bruce Springsteen
Album: Born to Run
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: Springsteen's breakthrough album has some of his most evocative songs, as well as the best production.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: I'm not a Springsteen fan. His blue collar rock anthems like "Jungleland" fail to move me.
Best song: "Thunder Road" is a well-written song and I enjoy the covers of it by Mary Lou Lord and Tortoise/Bonnie "Prince" Billy. Really, though, the piano-driven way it's recorded makes it sound like a jock jam.
Worst song: Everything else stinks.
Is it awesome?: To someone, yes. To me? No way.

You know my biases. This is the key one. I don't like Springsteen. I find his gravely, almost-Tom Waits vocals to be irritating. I find his blue collar rock songs about New Jersey or (even worse) the dust bowl to be complete nonsense. I don't care about the streets of Philadelphia.

But, I'm trying to go about this project with a somewhat open mind and I'm trying to find positives in the music. A lot of people I know love Springsteen and there is a certain poetry to songs like "Thunder Road" and "Born To Run." As I mentioned, I really enjoy the Tortoise and Bonnie "Prince" Billy cover of "Thunder Road," specifically when Oldham sings "Mary's dress sways/like a vision she dances across the porch."

But, after listening to this album three times (in a row. The sacrifices I make for this stupid project) all I can think is "wow, this sounds like the kind of album you can only enjoy in a car." It sounds like driving on an open highway at night. This is not a compliment. I've driven many times through central Illinois in the middle of the night. It's boring.

Maybe it's fun in New Jersey. It isn't fun in the Midwest.


bob_vinyl said...

"It sounds like driving on an open highway at night." To me, that is a compliment. Not that driving is fun, but that kind of uneventful journey is life most of the time and I think that's why Springsteen resonates with so many people. Like you, I'm really not one of them, but I can appreciate what he does even when I don't really like it.

The music does have a tendency to be kinda pedestrian, but he is really like a people's poet (whether you're one of those people or not) and I wonder if the whole thing would work if the music stood on its own.

taotechuck said...

I reviewed this recently, and you and I agree on a few key things.

First of all, I think Tortoise/BPB found something incredible in "Thunder Road" that Springsteen failed to evoke. Their cover floored me. It feels desperate and sad, while Springsteen's feels overwrought and melodramatic. And I'm not a Tortoise fan. At all.

"Born to Run" is a pretty great song, particularly because there's none of the musical masturbation that's so prevalent on the other songs. When Clarence Clemons plays sax, he holds a single note over each chord of the chorus; it fattens up the sound without the "look at me" type of performance that fills the rest of the album.

And I'm with Bob. Saying you can only enjoy it in a car sounds like a compliment to me. But yeah, driving at night in NJ is different than the midwest. Lots of curves and hills, at least on the good roads. You have to be very in-the-moment.

SoulBoogieAlex said...

Here's where your biases truly start to fail you. Though I love your project and quite enjoy some of your insights failing to recognize "Born To Run" as an absolute R&R classic is just plain wrong. Springsteen summarized R&R like no other artists has ever done before or after him. While his studio albums often didn't live up to his live performances, "Born To Run" is the exception. It is simply the best synthesis between Roy Orbison, Phil Spector and Bob Dylan ever created with some Bo Diddley, Duane Eddy and Steve Cropper thrown into the mix.

The cars and girls in Springsteen are metaphors for bigger desires and promises. To me Springsteen captured teenage angst much better than Nirvana (for example) ever did. His songs are cinematic gems that transcend his personal experience. There's a universality to his material that goes beyond his blue collar background. Though his first three albums were in a very optimistic vein, R&R exorcisms , he gradually got an eye for the down side of his promise, especially on "Darkness" and "Nebraska". Promises can be broken, dreams can remain out of reach.

Clearly Springsteen reached far beyond the Jersey shore, the man sold over 60 million albums throughout the world for Christ sake. Although sales are hardly a testimony of quality, see Whitney Houston or Michael Jackson, it does make it very difficult to claim a locality to music once it went all over the world.

The album might not hit home to you, but it is right up there with the best work of the Beatles and the Stones. Though I never got into the Beatles much, I'd never claim there place in music is overrated. Same as I feel Springsteen's importance to the preservation of R&R can't be understated. "Born In The USA", outdated as the production may sound these days, is basically one of the few R&R albums that did anything in the eighties and his live performances were as instrumental as "The Blues Brothers" movie in bringing classic Rock and Soul back to major audiences.

I'd warmly recommend downloading his '78 Winterland performance to get a different perspective on the man.

12/15/1978 - Prodigal Son At Winterland, San Francisco, CA (A TOP 55 SHOW)

Entire show (250+ mb)

Taken from the BTX MP3 Index it is one of the greatest live performances ever. It is very hard to find an artists who could beat Springsteen at that game. There is a reason why he is one of the most recorded artists in the bootleg field.

Sorry, rant over.

Anonymous said...

You are absolutely right SoulBoogieAlex live is by far the best way to hear Springsteen. Though I certainly recommend Passiac Night for the beginner (I actually think Main Point is the best). Winterland is the one show I have that I don't get (I admit I only have 5 on CD [300 bucks!], I need to go over to that website and download some more. Anyway, two words you fail to mention are sincerity and passion. Bruce is unlike almost any rock star (maybe U2, another one this guy hates) in that regard.