Saturday, August 17, 2013

85. Born in the USA (1984) Bruce Springsteen

  1. Born in the U.S.A.
  2. Cover Me
  3. Darlington County
  4. Working on the Highway
  5. Downbound Train
  6. I'm on Fire
  7. No Surrender
  8. Bobby Jean
  9. I'm Goin' Down
  10. Glory Days
  11. Dancing in the Dark
  12. My Hometown

Has there ever been a hit song as repetitive as Born in the USA? It announces itself with a synth vamp that basically seems to be the entire song without much variation for the entire of its running length. Much has been made of the fact that the Republican party misinterpreted Born in the USA as a patriotic track about America when it actually documents all that's wrong with the country Bruce loves. Personally I've always been surprised that more people have mistaken it for a great song when it's really all that's wrong with 80's Bruce. It's big and loud and shouty but repetitive and far too slick for its own good.

Thankfully Born in the USA is easily this album's low point and things pick up from there immediately. Cover Me is the high point and one of the best songs Bruce recorded in his entire career. It doesn't sound like a Springsteen song until his distinctive voice kicks in but when it does it's a surprisingly suitable match that works, from his distinctive growl through to the additional "yaws" and yelps he flings in for added effect. The production might have a veneer he doesn't need but the band doesn't shine nearly as strong anywhere else on the album. It's definitely in my top five Bruce songs of all time and the one I'd probably be shouting at him to play in concert.

From that point onwards Born in the USA never hits the lows of its title track or the highs of its second number, although most songs are at one end of the spectrum or the other. I'm on Fire is a beautiful ballad with some low-key organ and guitar providing a backing for Bruce to do something over the top of. I'm struggling to know what to call it. It's sort of a croon but sort of a growl as well which means I should probably call it a crool. Bruce crools on Fire and crools well which makes sense because he's one of America's best croolers and can outcrool anyone. I'll stop now although thankfully Bruce doesn't and brings back his crooling voice to close the album with My Home Town which is another obvious highlight and the perfect album closer.

Other tracks fare less well, I'm Going Down is almost as repetitive and annoying as the title track and Glory Days revisits the annoying synth vamp that Born in The USA perfected. Few things date a song as comprehensively as that irritating habit of playing a main riff on something that sounds like it was bought in a toy shop. Working on the Highway sounds like it was written in an attempt to fire up a fifties diner full of teenagers but sounds more like the sort of thing that eighties teens would have found a bit dull.

If you want to pinpoint the problem with Born in the USA you only have to watch the video clip for Dancing in the Dark. Dancing is a great song but the clip is just dripping with the eighties excess that the album doesn't need. Bruce sings and dances in tight jeans and a shirt which a costume designer spent a long time attending to between each shot. He has a sheen of carefully applied sweat on his biceps but not a drop on his carefully laundered shirt. Meanwhile in the background his bass player and guitarist conduct coordinated dance moves while his keyboard player grooves in amongst the smoke machines and the sax player wears sunglasses and poses for the camera. An adoring audience looks on including one girl who Springsteen pulls out of the crowd. She looks like the all American girl and comes across like she's just walked out of an eighties sitcom (when she was actually about to walk into one). It's all so artificial and staged and nothing that Bruce had been before and thankfully wouldn't be again.

Springsteen is at his best when he's trying to downplay rockstar excess and connect with his loyal fans through his music. His finest hours have been free from veneer, polish and eighties artifice. It's a shame then that he wrote his strongest set of songs slap bang in the middle of the decade that suited him least.

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "How can someone like Springsteen write a song showing his love for the country,when he supports a socialist,america-hating president?"

-Everyone who doesn't think I like do hates America! Silly person.

So is this Bruce's best or just more Bruce you have to endure? Let me know below.

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