Well, the album has arrived – just in time for the US election. And, yes, there are references to the state of the nation. Burnin’ Train could be seen as a metaphor for America, while no prizes for guessing the subject of these lines: “The criminal clown has stolen the throne, he steals what he can never own.”
But in a world of fear and division, Springsteen has given us an album of understanding and hope. As JFK said, “What unites us is greater than what divides us.” Springsteen has crafted a classic that shows that the personal is more important than politics. Just as he did with The Rising after America was devastated by 9/11, he offers songs of healing and hope.
At a time when we’re unable to see Springsteen on stage with the E Street Band, this is the next best thing. “You take the crowd on their mystery ride,” he sings in Last Man Standing – and you’re left with “just the ringing in your ears”. No one captures the pure joy of making music quite like Springsteen. “Count the band in, then kick into overdrive,” he implores in the exhilarating Ghosts. “I turn up the volume, let the spirits be my guide.”
Of course, Bruce Springsteen has always been about more than just the music (even though the music is more than enough). This is an album about love and the need for connection. One song is called The Power of Prayer, while the epic If I Was The Priest mixes religious imagery with The Wild West.
The album opens with a meditation on loss. Springsteen has always known that life can change in an instant – “there’s things that’ll knock you down you don’t even see coming,” he observed on Tunnel of Love – and here he sings simply, “One minute you’re here, next minute you’re gone.”
He also knows there’s power in the union. Sure, he’s The Boss, but he knows there’s beauty in a band. He doesn’t need ’em, but he’s better with ’em. The closing cut here, I’ll See You In My Dreams, sounds like a farewell, perhaps a swansong for the E Street Band. If it is, they’re going out on an almighty high, still capable of making you feel as if you’re hearing music for the very first time. And they know how to make the grand sound intimate. It’s a sound to fill a stadium, but it’s as if they’re playing just for you. If you need proof, just check out the three songs from the ’70s that they revisit here – If I Was The Priest (which was recorded by The Hollies’ Allan Clarke in 1974), Janey Needs A Shooter (a title that Springsteen gave to Warren Zevon, who turned it into Jeannie Needs A Shooter), and Song For Orphans.
Springsteen’s 20th studio album is appropriately titled Letter To You. This is old-school communication: genuine, personal, believable. “I’m the last man standing now,” he notes. And that might be true. He still believes that music can save us. “A thousand guitars, a thousand guitars,” he repeats like a mantra.
In a world gone crazy, the classic sound of the E Street Band is reassuring and comforting. “So, wake and shake off your troubles, my friend,” Springsteen invites the listener. “We’ll go where the music never ends.”
They don’t make ’em like this anymore.
Letter To You by Bruce Springsteen is out October 23 via Sony.
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