A penny for your thoughts makes it very hard to get by in this economy.
I don’t really follow music. Of all the things to keep up with in modern life - movies, TV, sport, books, podcasts, video games - something had to give and for me it was music. It’s probably since I listen to it passively, having it on the background as I do other things. I find it difficult sitting, listening to music before my mind wanders or I get bored since I’m a dirty millennial with a tiny attention span.
One of the few artists I follow - religiously - is Bruce Springsteen. It’s a well documented phenomenon, his legendary concerts closer to evangelical events, inspiring a maybe not as visible, but possibly more passionate fandom than many others today, one which only an artist with forty plus years experience can cultivate. It goes beyond just liking his songs, they bury into you and can move your very soul. There’s even another movie coming out, ‘Blinded By the Light’ with the inspiration the Boss’ songs can evoke at its heart.
It’s been a good few years for Boss fans, first his autobiography followed by the record breaking Broadway show it spawned proving, as if it needed to be, that he must be one of the most naturally gifted storytellers ever. It’s rare to encounter someone with the talent of making the specific so universal, placing you in a scene you can picture, even feel, with only a few words. Sometimes I hear a lyric and think “that’s so good, why do even bother when nothing I write will ever come close?”
Most recently was his latest album, Western Stars. His fourth ‘solo’ album is a collection of ballads tied around the American expanse and the loneliness and beauty that comes with it. There are more upbeat numbers like ‘Tucson Train’ and ‘Sleepy Joe’s Cafe’, and more sombre, orchestral tracks like ‘Chasin’ Wild Horses’ and the titular ‘Western Stars’.
For me, it’s good but as yet hasn’t made much of an impression. Coming back to how I passively listen to music, the tunes, bar a few, don’t immediately sear themselves in your memory, which makes it harder to fully engage with the lyrics. The characters are good, but a bit more removed from my experience, with I think some of the country music elements not translating as well to a city slicker in the UK. Still, it was better than the last studio album we were treated to, High Hopes, five years ago.
More Springsteen music is always a good thing, and with it comes the excuse to delve into his back catalogue, again. Here’s my top five Bruce Springsteen albums, listed in the order they were released.
Born to Run
What an album, a mix of fun, catchy tracks and sweeping epics, all bursting with youthful ambition, potential, anticipation and dreams of great things to come. I’m older than Springsteen was when he wrote this, which is a real existential trigger.
Standout Track - It could really be any of them, but for the beautifully simple opening to the defiant crescendo, it has to be Thunder Road.
Darkness on the Edge of Town
An album I only realise the brilliance of the more I listen to it. A more mature and sedate follow up to Born to Run, with the beginnings of Springsteen’s knack for capturing the resilience and nobility of the downtrodden, everyman working class.
Standout Track - Depends on my mood, but as a tiebreaker it goes to the catchiness of The Promised Land.
In my view his best for writing and imagery. Totally different from everything he’d done before, but they land just as powerfully even without the backing of the E Street Band. Delves into the darkness of the human psyche, but tempered with the hope for something better.
Standout Track - Tough choice, but for doing so much scene setting with so little, and the deeply personal message for him, My Father’s House.
Born in the USA
The album that made him a phenomenon, and for good reason. Springsteen himself considers it a collection of leftover tracks from other sessions, but what tracks. Every one is a straight up classic, from fun and frivolous to dark and brooding.
Standout Track - Deeper than it first appears and, if the legend is true, the best example of doing your work the night before a big assignment, it’s Dancing in the Dark.
This is my curveball, which while not as roundly praised as other works, has a number of top notch tracks, and you feel the anger against those who caused the Financial Crisis in his second album directly related to current events (after The Rising, my number six). Also probably came at the right time for me, when I was in the real swing of Bossmania and saw two shows on the tour.
Standout Track - Though cheesier than other songs, the ebb and flow of good times and bad makes my pick the titular Wrecking Ball.