Monday, February 29, 2016

On Finally Hearing Born to Run

Last August, forty years and one day after the release of Bruce Springsteen's Born to Run, I wrote a blog post all about the fact that I had never listened to it. My attempts to justify this oversight - perhaps even to frame it as some kind of protest - basically amounted to: "Well, I've heard Thunder Road and the title track, so I think I've got the basic gist of it."

Hand-wavy bullshit, I now realise. Judging an album on its best-known tracks is so the opposite of what The Album Wall is supposed to be about that I'm actually kind of ashamed of myself; where would I be today if, for example, I had assumed that Losing My Religion was the only song from R.E.M.'s Out of Time worth hearing? I would have robbed myself of Country Feedback, Belong, Me in Honey, Near Wild Heaven, Half a World Away...

You get the picture. At any rate, I finally got around to purchasing Born to Run a couple of weeks ago, and I'm pleased to report that, yes, Joel '15 was wrong: there are *numerous* worthwhile tracks on that CD besides Thunder Road and Born to Run itself.

None of them are more worthwhile than Thunder Road, of course, but then few songs are.

One of the excuses I gave for ignoring Born to Run was an assumption that I kind of knew, based on what little I'd heard and read, what the album sounded like. Turns out I kind of didn't! When I wrote that blog back in August, I was already familiar with the two albums that preceded BtR (Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J. and The Wild, The Innocent & The E Street Shuffle), and so I knew that Springsteen wasn't always the stadium-chewing superstar I first encountered after picking up Born in the U.S.A. for £1 at a car boot sale. But I think I thought that Born to Run was the moment he became that guy; I was kind of right (She's the One, for example, is a lot more straightforward than anything on Springsteen's first two LPs), but I was also kind of very wrong (Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out would have sounded right at home on Greetings, as would've Meeting Across the River on E Street Shuffle).

Born to Run is a far more complex album than I expected from a no-filler eight-tracker that basically served as Bruce Springsteen's golden ticket to massive commercial success. Instead of simply ditching his established style in favour of something more poppy, it appears that The Boss cracked the big time by funnelling his bruised characters and bruisin' street narratives into a single theme: the desire to escape. Born to Run, Thunder Road, Night, Meeting Across the River...the people in these songs are all united by a common longing to back out of their respective dead ends and speed off into a brighter future. Much easier to sell to a mass market than whatever the heck this is:

But though Springsteen was moving towards more broadly appealing themes, his music remained unpredictable. Even Born to Run's simplest song, She's the One, surprised me with its sudden, Styx-ish keyboard riff; labyrinthine closer Jungleland is like its own miniature rock opera.

I'm not sure that Born to Run will ever be my favourite Bruce Springsteen album - The River and the similarly-named Born in the U.S.A. still occupy warmer places in my heart - but damn if Roy 'The Professor' Bittan wasn't at the peak of his game when this record was made. This album is packed with glorious, pealing piano patterns; I knew about opening verses of Thunder Road, of course, but I had no idea that Jungleland and Meeting Across the River and Backstreets contained similarly splendid string-hammering. In fact, had I only listened to the first minute or so of Jungleland back in August, I might have gone out and purchased Born to Run right there and then instead of spending an entire blog post bragging about my own ignorance.

Oh well - you live and learn.

No comments:

Post a Comment