Review Summary: And in that moment, I swear we were all blue collar workin' class types
When did I start loving Bruce Springsteen? This is the guy who can’t get over how and where he was born, whose name comes whenever the semi-hip adolescent plays some Arcade Fire in the car with his parents. When you turn on the River, it’s apparent why a musician like Springsteen can still seem respectable when he takes his band on tour, or, hell, plays the superbowl. While the youthful antics of bands like the Stones were bound to age, Springsteen’s work has been imbued with maturity and wisdom from the start.
The River is a lengthy double album, and it’s as much of an emotional roller-coaster as any good novel or film. You’ve got powerful anthems (The Ties That Bind), playful rockers (You Can Look), and truly touching sentimental pieces (Stolen Car), and every bit seems real. The success of such a sprawling endeavor rests on the one-two punch of impeccable pop craftsmanship and eloquent, relatable lyricisms.
Like any good American tribute album, as it undeniably is, it plays like a tour of the nation by highway, painting scenes of contrast, night and day, desolate and crowded. Bruce’s characters are from all over, but in the end, they’re all the same. Forced to get married in a courthouse on account of the economy, driven away from their homes on Independence Day, struggling to communicate in the shadow of forces out of their control. The genius of it is that he channels it all through an existential exuberance and love for life, even on the tougher numbers.
And we fall right in to his trap. When he wants us to feel, we feel. The tracks on the record that strike us the hardest are when the E Street Band are at their most dejected. We can feel the pain of our narrator in the title track, swooning for the past, simpler times long gone. And Stolen Car, man, that song ***in hits me hard. A true masterpiece in the field of break-up songs. When the stirring Wreck on the Highway comes along to end the album, we feel the emptiness and despair of that final open-road scene: American dreams shattered, left up to the whims of fate. But as the song draws to a close, the narrator holds his lover tighter. It means more now that he’s seen that Wreck on the Highway. If the simplicity and beauty of that musical statement doesn’t knock you off your feet, I just... It’s a great, great record.