Full disclosure: I have avoided Springsteen much of my life because I grew up with a bunch of stupid TV shows telling me “Springsteen saved Rock and Roll from Disco.” These interviewees (boomers all) were apparently ignorant of Punk Music but, also, in retrospect, maybe Disco won in the end? Anyway…
I have only ever heard the title track enough to pay attention to it. (I feel like a few other songs sound familiar from classic rock radio.) Regrettably, this record is entirely as overproduced as the title track. Who exactly thought Springsteen’s songs and sound needed a glockenspiel or lengthy piano introductions?
No matter what I do, no matter how hard I try, I cannot escape from my feelings: this record has to be one of the more overproduced records of the ’70s, given the material. (Sometimes overproduction makes sense. Such as with Meat Loaf.)
So my feelings about his songs – and I am definitely in the “Springsteen is a good but not all time great songwriter boat” – are utterly coloured by the desire of Springsteen and his producer to make this record sound like Phil Spector made it. And I have a love/hate relationship with homages. If those homages are tasteful or inventive, great. When they’re not, well, they’re worse than homages and an homage at it’s absolute worst is plagiarism. I don’t feel like this is Spector Wall of Sound plagiarism, I just think it goes too far in that direction. And, as I have said, I feel it is inappropriate to the songs Springsteen wrote. (The only song where the production feels like it fits the song is “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out.”)
I get it, I get it. Springsteen was trying to save his career. And it worked. Good for him.
There are two positives I can think of: The first is that Springsteen absolutely sings his soul out on a number of tracks. He delivers the most impassioned vocal delivery in mainstream American rock in a long, long time. Since the Golden Age of Rock and Roll, I figure. That’s good.
The second is that “Meeting Across the River” is fantastic – and is saved by its sparse arrangement, even if I don’t like Brecker. It’s like an American ’70s crime film in song. It’s among my favourite Springsteen songs I’ve ever heard and I’m glad the arrangement didn’t get it in the way.
All of this being said, I have to acknowledge a couple things: First, this record has been very influential. Twice. First, it helped create the terrible “Heartland Rock” sub-genre. But, more importantly for our era, this record, and Springsteen in general, have had a massive influence on indie rock these days. I mean, the Springsteen devotees are everywhere right now. Just everywhere.
The other thing is that just because I don’t like it doesn’t mean it’s poorly done. There’s certainly nothing wrong with the musicianship, I just think it’s in poor taste. And the songs are mostly above average, if, at times, a little too “West Side Story” – I’m thinking of you “Jungleland.”
So I grant that this plays an important part in many people’s lives. I just won’t be listening to it again any time soon.