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We look at Bruce Springteen's albums

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We look at Bruce Springteen’s albums

Bruce Springsteen’s first album opened with the line ”Madman drummers bummers and Indians in the summer with a teenage diplomat,” which by any standard is pretty silly. But even then, Springsteen’s heart was in the right place, and his albums since have renewed rock’s traditions, breaking new topsoil along the way. More important, his music has always been life-affirming, imparting a rush that made it seem as if belief in yourself could solve any problem. As his new albums, Lucky Town and Human Touch, demonstrate, the earnest, guitar-wielding, old-time rocker that he epitomizes may be passe, but not the power and glory of many of his albums.

GREETINGS FROM ASBURY PARK N.J. (1973) On his debut, the Boss-to-be sounds a little too driven: The songs rush by in a folk-rock blur, choked with enough surrealistic imagery to baffle Dylan himself. Still, the flying-down-the- turnpike urgency of ”Spirit in the Night” and ”Growin’ Up” shows the kid’s got potential. B-

THE WILD, THE INNOCENT, & THE E STREET SHUFFLE (1973) ”Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)” captures Springsteen’s onstage fire, and ”4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)” his knack for gorgeous melody. Still, he’s trying too hard, and the overcooked strings and horns have dated almost as badly as Asbury Park itself. B-

BORN TO RUN (1975) Here it all starts coming together: The operatic boardwalk rock of ”Jungleland” hints at Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound but is all Bruce’s own, as are his chronicles of dead-end kids (and adults) set adrift in the land of highways and fast-food stands. Parts of the record sound even more bombastic than they did 17 years ago, but the ”1-2-3-4!” countdown in the hypercharged title anthem remains one of rock’s great moments. B+

DARKNESS ON THE EDGE OF TOWN (1978) Legal problems kept Springsteen out of the studio for two years, and his anger and frustration spill all over his most taut and melodramatic record. Often overwrought, yet the rage in ”Adam Raised a Cain” and the hopeful undercurrents in ”The Promised Land” and ”Badlands” give him and the E Street Band a hardened, leaner, new voice. Rarely has arena rock sounded so personal. B+

THE RIVER (1980) On this sprawling double album, Bruce loosens up and gives us some of his silliest songs, some of his grimmest, and a few of his greatest-a winding journey through despair, hope, love in the mall, and rock & roll redemption. The carny-barker rockers have an endearing sloppiness, the ballads are stark and intense — and all of it has a joyful spontaneity not often heard in his records. Here’s betting its rustic melody will make ”The River” a folk song in 100 years. A-

NEBRASKA (1982) Bruce solo and acoustic, singing what amounts to a collection of short stories. Good ones at that — the serial killer in the title song, the cop and his no-good brother in ”Highway Patrolman,” the depressed family taking a test drive in ”Used Cars.” Yet the monochromatic melodies (and arrangements) don’t always do the tales justice. B

BORN IN THE U.S.A. (1984) It’s no wonder this 11 million-selling record made Springsteen America’s favorite son. From the brimstone of the title song to the seething passion of ”I’m on Fire” to the Latin accents in ”Cover Me,” the production never lets up. The album strikes a human chord, too, in songs about unemployment, postwar trauma, and the not-so-good old days — and you can dance to most of them. One of the great rock albums. A+

LIVE/1975-85 (1986) A good idea in theory, but this five-LP (or three-CD) box is a letdown. The early recordings are often revelatory, but the numerous Born in the U.S.A. remakes are redundant, the spoken introductions interminable. And given how many truckloads of songs he has recorded and never released, three lost treasures just aren’t enough. B-

TUNNEL OF LOVE (1987) ”Growin’ Up” the hard way. Springsteen puts himself under the interrogator’s naked bulb and confesses that his life isn’t wild or innocent anymore. In light of his 1988 divorce from Julianne Phillips, the songs about self-doubt and marital compromise take on added depth. And his music-the folkie Bruce of Nebraska, but with added instrumental color-has a naked eloquence that matches the sentiments. A

CHIMES OF FREEDOM (1988) Tossed-off four-song live EP from his ’88 tour; only demonstrates that ”Born to Run” should never be done with just voice and guitar. C

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