At this point in his career, what does the Boss still have to say?
Some fans say he’s already said it, and better. Can Springsteen he repeating himself, exhausted of original ideas and new musical riffs? Well, this album hardly breaks new musical ground. It does feel familiar, but that is not a horrible thing. Familiar is comforting and reassuring, after Western Stars, Springsteen returned to a sound fans knew. And this record is personal.
“The record is the first record that I’ve made where the subject is the music itself,” Springsteen told the New York Times. “It’s about popular music. It’s about being in a rock band, over the course of time. And it’s also a direct conversation between me and my fans, at a level that I think they’ve come to expect over the years.”
Springsteen said in that same interview that several of the songs were ones he started writing early in his career, and the others are more confessional as he looks back on his 71 years.
On the first listen, I was not too impressed with the record. None of the songs jumped out at me. That’s a familiar issue I have had with Springsteen in his career. “Tunnel of Love”, “Born to Run” and “Born in the USA” all had a unique sound, music that lept from the turntable, not even needing the speakers to communicate with you.
Other albums have been somewhat bland by comparison, in large part because he sets the bar so high. We expect to be amazed and are disappointed when that wall of sound does not knock you over on the first listen. Yes, sometimes it takes several listens for it to sink in. Not every song is destined to be a radio hit. Many of his songs need time to breathe and work their way into your consciousness and for your brain to fully process his ideas.
It seems like I am one of the few people who loved Western Stars. Many of his ardent fans took a pass on the album and the film. It was too different and fans did not connect with it. I did. The lyrics and arrangements were bold and spoke to me. I appreciated the change of direction, brief as it was, as Springsteen stretched as an artist. In the past few years, Springsteen released an autobiography, appeared on Broadway as solo, and released Western Stars.
So, when Springsteen returns with a familiar sounding E Street Band album, he gets some pushback because it feels like a well-worn pair of shoes. You can’t please everyone.
The title track from the album represents the musical expression and emotional reach of the tracks on the album. There are several others like “Janey Needs a Shooter” and “House of a Thousand Guitars” that are not groundbreaking but resonate with Springsteen’s songwriting strength.
Once you pop the cork on this album, you are not going to gulp it, rather you let it breathe and savor it. While this may not ultimately rank near the top of his work, it is worth the listen.