Bruce Springsteen – Greatest Hits – 4.5/5
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I suppose this review should be taken with a slightly larger grain of salt than usual. I’m sure those who have heard me talk of my musical journey will have heard me namedrop my schooling in ska and cannibal corpse crash course in metal, maybe a few memories of playing old crackling copies of Zeppelin and Sabbath on Vinyl way back when, but this artist – in fact this specific release – has its own small spot in my memory as being one of the first CD’s my family ever owned. I’ve toiled over what release to mention here (one had to be mentioned at some point, I’ve spent too many hours listening to him to have it go anonymous forever) and the only real conclusion I could come up with is to go back to my own beginnings.
Playing an unconventional style of music known as ‘heartland rock,’ it’s a name that feels oddly fitting if also perhaps somewhat meaningless as I couldn’t name another artist that sounds quite the same. With his E-Street band behind him, this release sees him travel through blues harmonica lines, lounge jazz piano, mournful saxophone solo’s, hard hitting riffs with a southern flavour and atmospheric synths. Whilst difficult to adequately describe, it effectively merges blues depression, pop chorus lines and jazz smoothness into a rock format that never feels unnatural or forced. The music here isn’t overtly about singing your sorrows though, the message here with a bittersweet optimism to it; a certain persevering glimmer of hope.
But that’s a gross simplification of all there is on offer here; if the lyrics are truthful then this is a man who has seen plenty of hardship, glorifying homelessness, regretfully speaking of the tragedy of the mafia’s part to play, reminiscing about past lost loves and abandoned sweethearts, and let’s not forget the grossly misinterpreted biggest hit of his career in ‘Born in the USA.’ Treated at as the epitome of patriotism at the back end of the depression when one glance at the opening lyrics of “Born down in a dead man's town/The first kick I took was when I hit the ground/You end up like a dog that's been beat too much/'Til you spend half your life just covering up,” and you quickly paint a very different picture. This isn’t a man to shy away from taboo subject matter irrespective of how personal it is, which invariably is close enough to write about.
His relationship to his homeland is complex too; one could almost interpret many of his songs as demonstrating distaste for it, but that isn’t the case at all. Coming out of Vietnam and the following depression, the declination at the hands of eager politicians is what fuels his anger and frustration, reactions that could not exist without an innate love feeding the fire. Anyone who ranks him as more than a merely competent musician or mediocre vocalist needs to go and expand their horizons, but there’s a certain sense of honesty at play that overcomes any problems this may cause. He may not be the most elegant of musicians but his music is so open and straight from the heart that he may as well have been the inspiration for the styles name. I know this release like the back of my hand and I’d be surprised if it didn’t still have many years left on my sound system.
Highlights: Born to Run, Atlantic City, Born in the USA, Glory Days, Streets of Philadelphia, Murder Incorporated