Monday, July 28, 2014

A Crack in Everything: Born in the USA

It's time for another instalment of A Crack in Everything, where we discover that even the best albums have their problems. Click here to see which albums I've already scrutinised.

For quite some time, Born in the USA was the only Bruce Springsteen album on my rack. Sure, I had his Greatest Hits, but if we're talking about proper, 'this is how these songs were meant to be heard' studio albums, BitUSA was the sum total of my Springsteen experience until I finally picked up Nebraska a few months ago.

Still, I've no idea why I waited so long to double my Springsteen fun. I picked BitUSA up for £1 at a car boot sale back in 2005, and I loved it more or less immediately. The big choruses, the endearingly dated sound, the fact that 50% of the album's songs were deemed worthy of single release...everything about Born in the USA was (and still is) right up my street,

It's not perfect, though. Like any album, BitUSA has its flaws, and here's the first:

That's Cover Me, the second track on the album. It comes straight after the bombastic title track, and if you ask me, it's one of BitUSA's poorest moments

See, Born in the USA opens the album with a bang - a big one - but as soon as Springsteen has announced himself with that grand opening gambit, it feels like he immediately switches to defence mode.

Because Springsteen fans love Yu-Gi-Oh! references.

Compared to everything else on BitUSACover Me and Darlington County sound like filler. I'm not saying that they've no place on the album whatsoever (the record would feel too short at just ten tracks), but The Boss should have spread them out a little more. And he shouldn't have placed them so early in the album, because they really dampen the impact of the opening track. It's like a carpet bombing followed by a water fight; even the title of Cover Me sounds like a request for reinforcements, a desperate shout that you'd hear from an army in retreat.

Fortunately, Working on the Highway exists - what better way to regain all that lost momentum?

Admittedly, aside from that sequencing issue, I have very few holes to poke in BitUSA. I'm Goin' Down is the lowlight of an otherwise flawless second half, but it doesn't drag everything down like Cover Me and Darlington County do - it's tucked away far more strategically, and so it's far less detrimental to the overall journey. Besides, anything would feel like a comedown coming off the back of No Surrender and Bobby Jean.

"And then one of those sax solos comes in, and you get goosepimples, if you like sax solos."
- Nick Hornby

Really, my only other complaint concerns something that I've already mentioned: the slightly dated sound. It's odd, because this album came out nine years after Born to Run, but where Thunder Road still sounds brand new...

...Dancing in the Dark sounds decidedly '80s.

It's not really a bad thing - as I said earlier, I rather enjoy the cheesy '80s-ness of it all - but all the same, the production does feel a bit muted. For all the explosive impact of tracks like Born in the USA and Working on the Highway, they could have hit even harder with a little more oomph on the desk.

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