in Retrospecticus

Retrospecticus: Bruce Springsteen

Well here it is, the most epic retrospective of an artist’s discography yet.  I kept most of reviews of these albums fairly brief, and I didn’t attempt to listen to all of the Boss’s live albums, although him and E Street Band do give fantastic live performances.  I’m sorry I wasn’t able to get this up by monday, but give me a break this this thing is pretty huge, besides I didn’t want to take away from Nancy’s glorious post.  Anyways let’s get on with this look back at a very impressive discography from one of rock n’ roll’s most prolific talents.

Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J. (1973) 

New Jersey’s own Bruce Springsteen first made his mark with his debut, Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J.  The album’s sales were modest, but it established his unique abilities as a songwriter and drew many comparisons by rock critics as the “new Dylan”.  This was probably due to some of the songs have a bit of a more folk-rock sound to them as well as The Boss’s unique lyrical sensibilities that evoke fantastic imagery.  But the album also features plenty of songs with that certain anthemic quality that Bruce would later pursue such as “Growin’ Up” and “For You”, as well as his original version of “Blinded By the Light” which Manfred Mann would turn into a #1 hit.  At this point what would become the E Street Band certainly infused the songs with a great exuberance, even if they weren’t yet made up of what would become the classic E Street line-up.  

Favorite Tracks: “Growin’ Up”, “Spirit in the Night”, “It’s Hard To Be A Saint In The City”

The Wild, The Innocent, and The E Street Shuffle (1973)

Recorded and released the same year as his debut, The Wild, The Innocent, and the E Street Shuffle already shows The Boss finding his groove as a songwriter and  an artist.  He builds on the same sound he established with the first album, but the songs are definitely longer (4 of the 7 tracks are over 7 minutes long), but also at the same time much tighter instrumentally.  There’s some great intstrumental interplay between the musician’s and you can really hear the E Street Band start to gel as an outfit.  You can also hear Springsteen starting to grow lyrically as his songs are chocked full of distinct characters and vivid images of the New Jersey boardwalk.  Songs like “Kitty’s Back” and “Rosalita” are among the most thrilling songs of the Boss’s discography, and this albums still remains one of his best.

Favorite Tracks: “The E Street Shuffle”, “Kitty’s Back”, “Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)”

Born To Run (1975) 

The Boss’s third album was without a doubt the most ambitious album of his then young career and is quite simply one of the greatest rock n’ roll albums ever recorded.  From the opening piano bars of “Thunder Road”, you know you’re in for a special ride and Born To Run simply never lets up.  However, the road to the completion of Born To Run was not an easy one, it took over 14 months to record and nearly drove Springsteen and his record company to bankruptcy.  The production of the album is definitely a lot more lush than his first to albums, Springsteen has said that he was going for a Phil Spector-like “Wall of Sound” approach, and he definitely achieves it.  

Another big contribution to the sound of the album is the addition of drummer Max Weinberg, who adds a much more precise style of drumming, and pianist Roy Bittan who’s piano work is among the hallmarks of the album.  Also with the addition of guitarist/vocalist and future Sopranos star Steven Van Zandt, the classic E Street line-up was complete.  Also, songs like “She’s The One”, the title track, and especially “Jungleland” feature many of the Clarence Clemens’ best sax solos.  The song “Born to Run” is simply one of my favorite songs of all time, there aren’t many songs that are so epic and so brimming with hope.  The song as well as the album finally brought Springsteen some mainstream success and helped to establish him a national fanbase.

Favorite Tracks: “Thunder Road”, “Born To Run”, “Jungleland”

Darkness On The Edge Of Town (1978) 

Coming three years after The Boss’s breakthrough Born to Run, it seems that he had already distanced himself considerably from that album’s youthful optimism.  The songs still have the same energetic treatment from the E Street band, but there’s a slightly darker tone to Darkness on the Edge of Town.  Also, instead of Springsteen’s lyrics about teenage New Jersey life, many of them are unglamorous odes to the working man.  This album marked a clear turning point from The Boss’s early sound into the next decade, and I don’t really feel any need to write anything more considering I already wrote a CAT for this album.

Favorite Tracks: “Badlands”, “Candy’s Room”, “The Promised Land”

The River (1980) 

The only double album in Bruce Springsteen’s catalog, The River is composed of a number of songs that The Boss had written during earlier parts of his career as well as newer material.  One distinct feature of the The River is the contrast of almost frivolously upbeat songs such as “Cherry Darling” and “Crush On You” as well much more solemn, personal songs like “Independence Day” and “Drive All Night”.  The River was also notable for featuring The Boss’s first top ten single, “Hungry Heart”.  Most of the songs sound like Bruce and the E Street Band are just having a good time banging out these catchy pop numbers, and although most of the songs aren’t quite at the level of the past Springsteen outings up to this point, I think the fact that the album contains so many solid songs is what makes the album work.  And although I’d say the album’s lenghty duration does make it a little less appealing, I don’t think it would be nearly as good as a condensed single album.

Favorite Tracks: “Jackson Cage”, “Hungry Heart”, “I’m A Rocker”

Nebraska (1982) 

Though even at this point, Bruce Springsteen had shown the ability to take his music in a number of different directions, nothing was nearly as huge of a departure as the somber folk sound of Nebraska.  Demos for the album were initially recorded by Springsteen at his home on a 4-track cassette recorder with nothing more than guitar, harmonica, and Springsteen’s voice.  The same songs were then recorded with the E Street Band before being scrapped after it was decided that they didn’t capture the haunting nature of the demos, and the demos where ultimately released as the album.  

The sparse but effective sound to the album makes for one of Springsteen’s most memorable albums, even if the songs have a fairly bleak tone to them.  There are plenty of songs that explore working class themes such as the title track or “Highway Patrolman”, although this time around they seem to evoke images of the Midwest rather than Springsteen’s native New Jersey.  The Boss would pursue a similar bare, acoustic folk sound with The Ghost of Tom Joad and Devils And Dust, but neither of them quite capture The Boss’s more introspective side quite as brilliantly as Nebraska.


Favorite Tracks: “Atlantic City”, “Johnny 99”,  “State Trooper”

Born In The U.S.A. (1984) 

At this point Bruce Springsteen had acheived quite a bit of success with a couple of hit singles, but Born In The U.S.A. was the album that transformed him into a bona fide superstar.  The album is by far the best selling album of Springsteen’s career and contained an unbelievable seven top 10 singles.  The album shows Springsteen continuing to explore songs about “the working man”, although they have a much more optimistic and energetic feel to them than his previous album thanks to the reliable power of the E Street Band.  

A main aspect that can be attributed to the album’s success is the more pop-friendly sound to the album, with many of the songs containing some memorable use of synthesizers, especially on the hit singles “Born in the U.S.A.” and “Dancing in the Dark”.  However, there’s still many guitar driven songs such as “Cover Me” and “I’m Going Down”, even though guitarist Steven Van Zandt would leave the E Street Band after the recording of Born in the U.S.A. to be subsequently replaced by Nils Lofgren.  Born In The U.S.A. was certainly one of The Boss’s breakthrough albums and an album that defined the pop/rock sound of the early ’80s.

Favorite Tracks: “Downbound Train”, “No Surrender”, “Dancing In The Dark”

Tunnel Of Love (1987) 

After the overwhelming success of Born In The U.S.A. and the massive tour that followed it, Tunnel Of Love shows The Boss scaling back a bit.  Most of the songs feature meditations on love in the face of success with a bit of a regretful tone to them.  Synthesizers and acoustic guitars are definitely at the forefront of the album which make for one of Springsteen’s most polished sounding albums.  Some of the album does sound a little bit dated at times due a very ’80s sound, but the quality of introspective songs like “Walk Like A Man” and “Brilliant Disguise” make Tunnel of Love an enjoyable and somewhat underrated entry in Bruce Springsteen’s catalogue.

Favorite Songs: “Tougher Than The Rest”, “Tunnel Of Love”, “Brilliant Disguise”


Human Touch (1992) 

Lucky Town (1992) 

A few years after officially disbanding the E Street Band 1989, Bruce Springsteen released the albums Human Touch and Lucky Town on the same day.  Both of them have a similarly pop-oriented sound and are among The Boss’s most optimistic material.  The Boss would feature songs with less serious subject matter on many of his prior albums, but these two albums seem to be entirely consisting of mostly pretty poppy, upbeat songs.  I’d say this sound works to a certain extent on Lucky Town

because it has a handful of undeniably catchy songs like “Better Days” or “Leap of Faith”, but Human Touch just seems kind of bland in comparison to every album 

Springsteen had released up to this point.  For me, the ’90s seemed kind of like a time in which Springsteen didn’t quite have that same spark that he had in the earlier years with the E Street Band, although he would achieve another impressive accomplishment with his Best Original Song Oscar win for “Streets of Philadelphia” in 1994.

Favorite Tracks: “Better Days”, “Local Hero”, “Human Touch”

The Ghost of Tom Joad (1995) 

With The Ghost of Tom Joad, Bruce returned to somewhat familiar territory that definitely bears a similar sound to 1982’s Nebraska.  Much like Nebraska, The Ghost of Tom Joad features for the most part just Springsteen’s voice and acoustic guitar playing, although there are a few songs that feature some sparse keyboard work and percussion.  The lyrical content is among The Boss’s most politically driven, which make for some occasionally interesting songs, but a lot of them seem a little forgettable.  The Ghost of Tom Joad is definetely one of The Boss’s most personal albums as well as having a somewhat charmingly intimate sound , but for me fails to match the haunting intensity of his earlier acoustic folk effort, Nebraska.

Favorite Tracks: “The Ghost of Tom Joad”, “Highway 25”, “Dry Lightning”

The Rising (2002) 

Coming seven years after his last album, The Rising reunited Bruce Springsteen with the E Street Band while marking a major comeback for The Boss.  Much of the album was inspired by the terrorist attacks of 9/11, and The Rising features many songs that feature messages of hope and healing.  There’s a good mix of more downbeat mournful songs such as “Nothing Man” and “My City of Ruins” as well as  songs that have a more upbeat hopeful nature to them such as “Lonesome Day” and the title track.  One aspect that added another layer to the E Street sound is the inclusion of violinist Soozie Tyrell.  Also, thanks to producer Brendan O’Brien who has also produced each subsequent album by Bruce Springsteen gives a more modern sound to some of Springsteen’s most exciting work as a songwriter in years.  It seems like ever since the release of this album, there’s been a constant flow of creativity from Springsteen seeing as though he’s been incredibly active as far as recording.  Really the only complaint I have about this album is that at a running time of 72 minutes it’s a bit long, and I could do without a couple of tracks but for the most part it shows The Boss and the E Street Band in prime form.

Favorite Tracks: “Lonesome Day”, “Couning On A Miracle”, “Sally’s Place”

Devils & Dust (2005) 

Comprised mainly of older songs Sprinsteen had written that go back as far as ten years, Devils and Dust shows The Boss returning to the more stripped down acoustic folk sound of Nebraska and The Ghost of Tom Joad.  However, this time around the songs are considerably more melodic and not nearly as bleak.  Devils And Dust also has a bit more lush sound than those records because of the contributions from several musicians that Springsteen has worked with over the years.  The lyrical content is definitely pretty diverse, featuring songs such as the title track, a commentary on the Iraq War, “Reno”, about an encounter with a prostitute, and “All I’m Thinking About”, a simple love song featuring a falsetto vocal performance.  Devils and Dust is another charming addition The Boss’s more intimate acoustic material, even if it has a somewhat conventional sound to it. 

Favorite Tracks: “Devils and Dust”, “Long Time Comin'”, “Leah”

We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions (2006) 

Definitely one of the most unique sounding albums in Bruce Springsteen’s catalogue, We Shall Overcome is comprised entirely of songs written or made famous by folk legend Pete Seeger.  Springsteen is backed by The Seeger Sessions Band which comprised mostly of lesser known musicians that Springsteen had met through E Street violinist Soozie Terrell as well former collaboraters such as Max Weinberg 7 members, Mark Pender and Richie “La Bamba” Rosenberg.  The mix of lots of bouncy strings and brass combined with other acoustic instruments and Seeger’s songs give the album a very lighthearted and enjoyable sound, and make for another great addition to the slew of quality work The Boss has been putting out this decade.

Favorite Tracks: “Old Dan Tucker”, “John Henry”, “Pay Me My Money Down”

Magic (2007) 

Releasing an album for the third year in a row, Bruce Springsteen shows him and the E Street Band continuing to explore a similar sound as on 2002’s The Rising while also recalling the vigor of some of his earliest records.  The leadoff track “Radio Nowhere” is among The Boss’s most electrifying rockers in years and for the first time in years, “Livin’ in the Future” provides Clarence Clemons with a chance to really shine.  Producer Brendan O’brian once again gives the album a very lush pop/rock sound that are complemented excellently by some of Springsteen’s catchiest numbers such as “Girls In Their Summer Clothes” and “I’ll Work For Your Love”.  Magic is just another testament to Bruce and the E Street Band’s knack for turning out great records each time they get together to record an album.

Listening to all these albums has definitely gotten me quite a bit more excited than I would have normally been for a new Bruce Springsteen album.  But seeing as though all of Springsteen’s recent albums have been pretty great, I’m more than looking forward to hearing his latest album, Working On A Dream.  The title track has a similar feel to the songs on Magic, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the rest of the album has a similar sound considering some of the songs were recorded around the same time as that album.  Sadly, It’ll be the first E Street outing not to feature the recently deceased keyboard/organ player Danny Federici who’s been with the band ever since Springsteen’s second album.  I’m glad to see that “The Wrestler” made on to the album as a bonus track, and I’m also excited to see Bruce and The E Street Band play the Super Bowl the Sunday.  And of course you’ll be seeing a review of Working On A Dream form me in the near future.


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