[This week, I finally get to cross off one of the very top items on my bucket list—seeing Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band in concert with my sons! In honor of that truly momentous occasion, I wanted to share a handful of the past posts where I’ve featured Bruce on the blog—leading up to a special weekend reflection on the concert!]
On two entirely different and equally inspiring recent albums from an all-time great.
As is no doubt obvious from this blog, many of my favorite American artists died long ago, meaning that (barring surprising rediscoveries) I have long since run out of new works of theirs to encounter and experience. As a result, I believe I get even more excited about new releases by the living artists I love—like John Sayles and Jhumpa Lahiri—than would already always be the case. There is, of course, always the possibility that these new releases won’t live up to the artist’s past work or overall career; but as I wrote in that Sayles and Lahiri post, I’m an optimist on this score as on most others (yes, even in 2023 when it is getting very hard out here for an optimist). And when it comes to my single favorite artist, Bruce Springsteen, I’m happy to say that his most recent two albums (NB. as of 2014 when I wrote this post) have entirely rewarded my excited anticipation, if in almost entirely different ways.
2012’s Wrecking Ball is one of the most thematically unified yet stylistically diverse albums I’ve ever heard. Every song on the album, including the two bonus tracks, represents a response to the 2008 economic collapse and its many ongoing effects and meanings in American society; yet almost every one utilizes a distinct style, engages with a different musical tradition and sound, with which to do so. For both reasons the album has been compared to The Rising (2002), Springsteen’s post-9/11 masterwork; I would agree with that comparison, yet to my mind, because September 11th has inspired so many responses and representations (in every artistic genre), Wrecking Ball is an even more unique and significant social and historical document. While it might not have any individual songs that crack my Springsteen top 10, I would say it’s one of his couple best albums—and that’s pretty impressive for a record released forty years after an artist’s debut!
About a month ago (NB. in January 2014), Springsteen released his most recent studio album, High Hopes. But to be honest, High Hopes isn’t really a unified album at all, existing at the other end of the spectrum from something like Wrecking Ball—it’s a collection of (mostly) previously unreleased tracks, representing the last couple decades of Springsteen’s career (if not even further back, since a song like “Frankie Fell in Love” feels more like his 1970s works). Interestingly, the most thematically unified songs, the title track and the concluding “Dream Baby Dream,” are both covers of other artists, the first time Springsteen has included covers on a studio album in his long career. And that last clause is precisely what makes High Hopes so inspiring to me—that even forty-two years into his recording career, Springsteen is continuing to experiment and innovate, trying new things, pushing himself in new directions, refusing to rest on that already impressive body of work. I didn’t really think I could love Bruce more, but these last couple albums have indeed raised the bar.
Next Bruce blogging tomorrow,
PS. What do you think?
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