I understand why a lot of Boss fans love this record. More than any other record of his I’ve heard, this one has a (relative) lot of songs I know, and I generally avoid Springsteen as much as possible. There are at least four songs here which, to me, are among the most famous Springsteen songs (because I have heard them many times). There are a few others that I may have heard too. But the point is that this feels close to a greatest hits record, to me, simply because of the familiarity factor which, for me, was not present on most of the other Springsteen records I’ve listened to. (The exception is Nebraska, the one Springsteen album I really like, where I know all the songs because I actually listen to it.)
This record really doesn’t sell me on Springsteen as one of the all time great songwriters any more than most of his records do. All of the songs are good – and at least one I think I might decide is great, but it could be because I’ve heard it too much – but I have long come to terms with the fact that I am just not entirely in love with him as a lyricist. This is particularly true on this record where there are a couple songs where their upbeat choruses disguise the messages of the songs; most famously on the title track but also on “Glory Days” and probably on a few others. (“Born in the U.SA.” is like the polished, original version of “Keep on Rockin’ in the Free World.” In both cases the chorus sells the verses short because it’s too damn easy for people to ignore the chorus. Also, and totally unrelated: “Glory Days” has always sounded a lot like “Less than Zero” to my ears.)
But it’s not the songs that are the problem. For me, it’s never the songs that are my problem with Springsteen. (He’s a good songwriter! He’s just not a great songwriter in my opinion.) The problem is the dressing he and the E Street band give his songs. His songs are almost always about the working class and others down on their luck. And they are always so damn polished and slick. This record is no exception, as terrible ’80s keyboards – and gated drums, for fuck’s sake – provide hooks and so a great deal of the emotional heft of his lyrics is lost to synthesizers that will sound super ’80s in only a few years.
This is probably one of Springsteen’s better set of songs but I am once again just so utterly annoyed by the production and arrangements that I am driven to distraction on virtually every track.
7/10 I guess