Close your eyes and Bruce Springsteen is a grungy looking 26 year-old rocker who is changing the world of Rock ‘n’ Roll. Open your eyes – Bruce is a 58 year-old who continues to rock a changing world. It feels like magic, the way he and his band can still play with the same passion of 30 years ago and it’s amazing how their sound elicits memories of our own youth. That sax, the glockenspiel, the incessant pounding drums and guitars, the tinkling piano, the blue-collar poetry and growling delivery – did anyone else ever make music like this?
The angst of the 20 something year-old voicing concerns about lost jobs, doomed love affairs and struggling families has been replaced by the concerns of an aging man who sees the future as a desperate place. Where as early Bruce focused on the individual struggle the older version writes from a global viewpoint although he still brings it back to the personal perspective. In recent years Springsteen has become more overtly political and he doesn’t spare his opinions here about current issues. “Last To Die” questions the loss of blood in a war that he refers to as a mistake. “Long Walk Home” is wrapped in the kind of language Springsteen has been identified with – descriptions of an American working class life and small towns. But there’s a question mark at the center of the song – something has changed about American life – for better or worse? “Devil’s Arcade” finds Springsteen writing a rousing ballad for a new generation of veterans. The more things change the more they remain the same.
And so it seems with Springsteen and the E Street Band. There are new elements in these arrangements, namely strings, both as orchestra and individual instruments. But this is vintage Bruce and band. This album brings us as close to the early days as we’re likely to get and its quality stuff. These guys are some of the most accomplished musician’s in rock today – or yesterday – and they haven’t lost their edge. Clarence Clemons continues to produce the most unique rock saxophone of anyone who’s ventured to use that instrument in the genre, and he’s a pretty great backing vocalist. Drummer Max Weinberg keeps that beating heart going with the help of Garry Tallent’s bass. Roy Bittan and Danny Federici provide the keyboard work with a deft touch and Nils Lofgren and Springsteen play guitar like buzzing chain saws. Not to be overlooked, Patti Scialfa stands by her man with her trusty vocal support.
There is a new vitality to Springsteen’s writing; perhaps inspired by the reunion with The E Steet Band he’s rediscovered that 3 chord rock that surprises you with its capacity to create a variety of melodies. Lyrically the guy only gets better and there are some absolutely beautiful tunes on this record to match his romantic imagery. “Girls In Their Summer Clothes” is one of his loveliest offerings.
So maybe it’s true what he sings about – the world is a dangerous place and only getting tougher - but if you’ve gotta go you might as well go dancing; Bruce and the boys are prepared to supply the soundtrack.
And an addendum: Columbia pushed the release date of this album up in order to make the Grammy Award deadline. My prediction, Springsteen, who has never won Album of the Year, will take it this time round.