1980, Music

The River (1980) by Bruce Springsteen

We were driving back from a ski resort in Vermont – Bolton Valley or Killington, I don’t remember which – and we got slowed by a massive snowstorm. I was in my tweens or early teens. We were driving up the west side of Lake Champlain and we could only get one radio station from Plattsburgh. At the top of the hour DJ said something like “And now, Bruce Springsteen’s classic double album The River in its entirety.” And my brother and I turned to each other in the back street, put our hands up to our faces ala Macaulay Culkin, and screamed in mock terror. My mom turned the radio off.

I have no idea why my brother and I reacted the way we did. I didn’t know much about Bruce Springsteen at the time, as I believe this was well before VH1 spent huge amounts of time and resources trying to convince me that Springsteen saved rock and roll. But something about it seemed threatening or, at least, a horrible way to spend a slow drive in a snowstorm. (Also, in my memory, it’s a triple album, which is so much worse.)

Years later, I pretended I had actually listened to this record and gave it a 4/10 on Rate Your Music because I really didn’t like Bruce Springsteen. And I really didn’t like him because, for most of my teens, various programs on Much More Music (nearly all created by VH1, if I remember) tried to convince me Springsteen had indeed “saved” rock and roll. And so I had this huge bias against him, as this idol of the boomers, who were all too old to care about or understand punk (and everything else that new around the same time that Springsteen was supposedly saving rock music from prog rock, or whatever).

And, the problem is, while I was refusing to listen to Springsteen because of this propaganda, I developed very specific music tastes. And the thing about Springsteen is, his music tastes usually go against mine. Springsteen loves Phil Spector and loves ’60s pop in a way I just don’t. And he can’t help himself as an arranger, more often than not. He sings himself hoarse and he writes about the working class and he dresses (many of) his songs in elaborate arrangements with too many instruments. It’s a thing that never made sense to me, in part because, by the time I encountered his music beyond the hits, my tastes were fully formed, and I don’t like that aesthetic.

I do like Springsteen when he drops the accoutrements and just sings his songs. He doesn’t do that enough on this record, though he does do it on a couple songs. Most of the record is way too arranged for my liking and guilty of the usual impeccable background tracks which do not fit Springsteen’s words or voice.

But the songs are catchy, though it is long it is not lacking in material. And there’s a lot of energy, certainly. I can’t criticize him or his band for lacking in passion.

But I just don’t like it. I like Nebraska and I guess I’d like any other albums of his like Nebraska – provided the whole album is like Nebraska – but I don’t like these big E Street Band records, which seek to recapture the feeling of listening to the radio in the ’60s. 84 minutes of that isn’t better than 44 minutes of it, as you can imagine.


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