Saturday, February 1, 2014

Classic Springsteen That Holds Up Today: Born To Run!

The Good: Lyrics, Instrumental accompaniment
The Bad: SHORT, Not the most imaginative vocals
The Basics: Born To Run still resonates after almost forty years!

My first conscious experience with Bruce Springsteen’s pre-‘80s works was actually a parody. Robert Wuhl used to sing his version of the song “Born To Run” during one of his comedy routines on New Jersey and I remember seeing that as a kid. So as I sit down now to listen to the album that is older than I am, Born To Run, I find myself frequently smiling irrationally even to some of the darker songs. Born To Run was Bruce Springsteen’s third album and it was his breakout; it remains one of the two seminal Bruce Springsteen albums, with just cause.

Almost forty years since its original release, Born To Run is probably the most famous working class hero album of Bruce Springsteen’s. While most of the songs have heavily political undertones, the album also has Springsteen singing about relationships. The impact of economics and relationships is poignant throughout Born To Run, even if Springsteen’s vocals are very safe for him and his established range.

With only eight songs, clocking out at 39:26, Born To Run is arguably most hampered by its short duration. Springsteen, as we know, has had something to say for quite some time and it’s hard to believe there was not additional audio material from producing Born To Run that could have been included when it was remastered for compact disc. That said, the album is a legitimate success for the content it possesses. Bruce Springsteen wrote all eight songs – both the lyrics and music. Springsteen also provides all of the lead vocals and plays instruments (usually guitars) on each track. As well, Springsteen was a co-producer on the album, so it is hard to argue that he was not able to present his distinct musical vision with Born To Run.

That musical vision is not hampered by Springsteen’s vocals, though Born To Run is hardly a great example of the range he actually possesses. Born To Run has Springsteen spending most of his time at the higher registers – not the falsettos he would eventually do, but the higher tenor range, as opposed to the lower, growling sound he would do in the 80’s – sounding more like a similar-era Bowie than the familiar (to a child of the 80s and 90s) Springsteen. That said, Springsteen illustrates pretty impressive lung capacity and he sings most of his songs very clearly so his lyrics may be easily understood.

Born To Run has Springsteen accompanied by guitars, organs, percussion, and bass. Instead of choosing between piano or guitar, Springsteen’s E Street Band accompanies him on both and the sound is much richer for what (lyrically) seems much more like a Folk album than a rock and roll outing. Springsteen and the E Street Band also mix up the sound by throwing in trumpets and the occasional brass instrument (as well as a violin) to shake things up auditorily. The result is actually an album with so much instrumental sound that it’s hard not to pick something new out of each listen (at least for the first eight spinnings like I went through!).

Lyrically, Born To Run is most made up of musical storysongs, like one gets from folk singers. Springsteen sings about American life and he does so with a vividness that is compelling. In fact, before it degenerates into an insufferable repetition of “hiding on the back streets,” “Backstreets” is powerfully poetic. With lines like “One soft infested summer / Me and Terry became friends / Trying in vain to breathe / The fire we born in / Catching rides to the outskirts / Tying faith between our teeth / Sleeping in that old abandoned beach house / Getting wasted in the heat,” (“Backstreets”) Springsteen perfectly paints a picture with his words.

Not only focused on painting pictures of specific times and places, Springsteen also uses Born To Run to present thoughts on human relationships. When Springsteen sings “With her killer graces / And her secret places / That no boy can fill / With her hands on her hips / Oh and that smile on her lips / Because she knows that it kills me / With her soft French cream” (“She’s The One”), he wonderfully captures the emotions of desire and frustration. Springsteen understands attraction and unrequited love and he presents it well on “Born To Run.”

On Born To Run, Springsteen also has a tendency to go for longer – and less conventional rhyme schemes. For example, on “Jungleland,” he opens with “The Rangers had a homecoming / In Harlem late last night / And the Magic Rat drove his sleek machine / Over the Jersey state line / Barefoot girl sitting on the hood of a Dodge / Drinking warm beer in the soft summer rain / The Rat pulls into town rolls up his pants / Together they take a stab at romance / And disappear down Flamingo Lane,” which is not at all a typical rock stanza.

Ultimately, Born To Run holds up for the most part and is a poignant album of American life filled with the desire, longing for something better, and dreamy nature of the American dream presented by Bruce Springsteen.

For other works by Bruce Springsteen, please check out my reviews of:
Born In The U.S.A.
Greatest Hits
The Ghost Of Tom Joad
Live In New York
The Rising
Devils & Dust
We Shall Overcome - The Seeger Sessions
Working On A Dream
High Hopes


For other music reviews, please check out my Music Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2014 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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