Thursday, November 6, 2014

18 Born to Run (1975) Bruce Springsteen

1. Thunder Road
2. Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out
3. Night
4. Backstreets
5. Born to Run
6. She's the One
7. Meeting Across the River
8. Jungleland

This countdown has given me an excellent opportunity to assess several artists that I've always respected but never actually enjoyed, and discover what it is that's keeping me from appreciating them. With Joni Mitchell and Van Morrison it's their voice, with David Bowie it's his production and with Bruce Springsteen it's that face he pulls when he goes shouty.

Actually it's not the face as much as it's the voice he's using and the mood of the song. There seem to be a lot of songs in Springsteen's repertoire which see him take the microphone and shout a big line while the band swells behind him and the volume rises and it gets faster and its all big and bombastic. While this is happening, Springsteen makes a face. I have no problem with his face or any particular expression it pulls. I'm okay with Springsteen's features it's just a visual representation of a Springsteen musical mood that I just don't get. I'm not 100% sure why this is. I have no trouble with loud rock and roll and many of my favourite artists have big voices which they're not afraid to use. When Daltry gets screamy I get chills, when Springsteen gets shouty I get kind of bored.

It might be in part because it seems like a technique that Springsteen tends to over use. He does it a lot and to be honest every time I hear Springsteen from this era I'm just waiting for it come along. Even when a track starts off slowly, I'm still anticipating a build up towards the moment when the band turns everything up to 11 and Bruce gets shouty and pulls the face. I passed every song on Born to Run through the "Does it have Shouty Face Bruce" test and the following are my results...

Thunder Road? Yes. It gets their eventually.

Tenth Avenue Freeze Out? He gets there within the first minute even if the the band don't go with him.

Night? Doesn't go all the way to 11 until the final minute when it definitely approaches ten.

Backstreets sounds like it will never get there because it starts with a gentle piano but by the halfway mark he's well and truly shouting.

Born to Run? Hurtles there within the first minute and pretty much stays there for the entire track. The video clip is one of the best visual depictions of the shouty face you're likely to find.

She's the one?  Another faker, it starts nice and gentle but builds again and by three minutes in he's shouting to compete with a saxophone solo.

Meeting across the river? No. Bruce starts gentle and despite spending the whole song looking like it's going to suddenly launch into 11 territory it says toned down.

Jungleland? With a nine minute running time you would think Bruce has longer to wait before he gets shouty but he's there before the three minute mark.

In other words pretty much every song on Born to Run except one has Bruce in shouty bombast mode after a brief but predictable musical climax. It's a trick that might be really effective once but when it's used on the majority of the album it tends to wear a bit thin.

I've discovered in my musical listening that my favourite Springsteen tracks are pretty much all his quiet and subtle ones. The Streets of Philidelphia, My Home Town etc are all really great songs. I like Bruce when he slows down and uses his fantastic voice as a subtle instrument not something to bludgeon the audience with.  He's got a great voice, writes a great song but for reasons I'm struggling to identify, he bores me a bit when he gets loud and shouty.

Before I started listening to his albums on this countdown, I would have struggled to answer if someone asked me "Do you like Springsteen?" I probably would have said I liked him as a person but not really as a performer. Now that I've delved into his catalogue more I can say I really like him when he's being subtle but I find him a bit dull when he puts his foot the floor and goes full bore.

Born to Run isn't my least favourite Springsteen album, but it's certainly one I don't need to hear again. Every song except one (and that's pretty dull to be honest) builds up to 11 pretty quickly and gets immediately tiring when it does.

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "Timing really is everything. When this album came out in '75, most of the people who had revolutionized rock in the 1960s and early '70s were either dead (Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison), in seclusion (John Lennon, Brian Wilson) or in a declining phase (the Rolling Stones). Meanwhile, Punk and New Wave were still a couple of years away on the horizon. The Bay City Rollers were probably Bruce's toughest competition. The contrast made this album look more innovative than it really was."

-That's actually quite an astute observation. Not sure I entirely agree but it's kind of hard to argue against.

So were you born to run or are you happy walking? Let me know below.

1 comment:

  1. That Amazon quote could just as well apply to "Blood on the Tracks."