This one has taken its own time coming. I had intended this for a couple of months back but something else kept catching my fancy. But then a podcast I heard on BDWPS catalysed my finally writing this piece. There was a bit on Black Sabbath (no, there is only one other, albeit trivial, relationship to this post) on that podcast, on how they had a few more layers to their sound that they’re generally given credit for. Musically and lyrically, it would be a terrible thing to compare Bruce Springsteen to Sabbath. You see, for a lot of people around me, Springsteen’s associated with big, hard rock ’n roll. Having heard the man for so many years and over a large number of songs, that image couldn’t be further from the truth. So that portion on Sabbath was the kick I needed to complete this post showcasing the Boss on slow-burn. And even in that, the man displays so many facets to his music and writing.
The defining characteristic of Springsteen’s music is his storytelling. His portraits of characters make him a Charles Dickens of the music world. The musical roller-coaster of “Racing In The Street” – with its quiet piano gradually getting strengthened by the organ, drums, bass to rise and then fall and again to build up towards the end – carries the despair of the woman who
sits on the porch of her daddy’s house
But all her pretty dreams are torn
She stares off alone into the night
With the eyes of one who hates for just being born
In his songs he wraps the desperate hope and futility of the small time crook who has a “Meeting Across The River” in a masterpiece of storytelling set to a hypnotic jazz/pop tune on what, in my opinion, is one of the greatest popular music albums ever made
as also the chilling first person account of rampaging killer Charles Starkweather (and his girlfriend) on “Nebraska”.
If he exudes raw sexuality on “Fire” (he never managed to get a proper hit out of it even though it landed a huge #2 on the charts for the Pointer Sisters) with its heavy use of the bass and his sweaty vocals, he brings out a surprising near-falsetto to tell a playful tale of teen lust (we’ve all been there, I’d like to think) with just a bit of wit and slyness on the country-flavoured “All I’m Thinkin’ About”.
Even an otherwise mediocre album like “Human Touch” has a few stand-outs. Lyrically the retrospection and cautionary message on “With Every Wish” don’t break any new ground. What I find endearing about this song is its beautiful use of the muted horn, layered on top of deft touches on the drums and bass.
This quieter mode of Springsteen has lent excellent voice to some superb movie soundtracks – the sombre “Dead Man Walking”, the sensual “Secret Garden” (a personal favourite) and the searingly touching “Streets Of Philadelphia”
I was bruised and battered, I couldn’t tell what I felt
I was unrecognizable to myself
Saw my reflection in a window and didn’t know my own face
Oh brother are you gonna leave me wastin’ away
On the streets of Philadelphia
These are just a few aspects of the music of a man who’s not been afraid to constantly change directions. I’ve not liked all those changes but I’ve always respected him for it. Some of you who read this blog have followed Springsteen’s music a lot and I’m sure you’ll have your own personal favourites. I hope the rest of you have found something here that you like.
P.S.: The trivial Springsteen-Sabbath connection – both of them in the early stages of their careers were in bands called ‘Earth’ (not the same I think, since they were at that time not on the same side of the Atlantic).