Born To Run
Columbia Records, 1975
REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 04/12/2005
[Adapted in part from a review that originally appeared in On The Town Magazine on 4/29/97]
In the liner notes to his 1995 Greatest Hits album, Bruce Springsteen describes the song "Born To Run" as "my shot at the title. A 24-year-old kid aiming at 'the greatest rock'n'roll record ever.'"
The kid didn't do too bad.
Born To Run -- the album and the song -- is a rock and roll fever dream, the most evangelical sermon ever preached in the Holy Church of Rock as Redemption. On this album, a brash young singer-songwriter fresh out of the New Jersey club scene set some of the most evocative American street poetry of the 20th century to an electrifying set of recklessly expansive rock and roll.
The musical and thematic rhythms of the classic opener "Thunder Road" mirror the album's as a whole: the young narrator wages a determined battle against the despair around him until he-and the music-finally erupt in life-affirming passion. The key instruments -- guitar, piano and sax -- play off one another in a flurry of mood-shifts that dazzle with both their audacity (after all, it's only rock and roll) and their precise emulation of the lyrics' emotional tenor. The reconstituted E Street Band -- now featuring Roy Bittan on piano and Max Weinberg behind the drum kit -- tears into the song's climax as if the players' lives depend on it. The lyric's themes -- the desperate fight to keep hope alive in a dark and dangerous world, the redemptive powers of love and faith -- are timeless and expressed in a one-of-a-kind, street-wise yet highly literate and sensitive voice.
From that remarkable beginning, the momentum only builds.
"Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out" shows off Springsteen's love of rhythm and blues with a dynamite groove and swinging horn section. A quarter-century later it had become a standard, one of the staples of the 1999-2000 E Street Band reunion tour. Turning the energy up even higher, "Night" and companion piece "She's the One" play the irrational cockiness of youth against the unquestionable certainty of a driving rock beat.
"Backstreets" and "Jungleland" are where I start to run out of superlatives. They are impossibly grand, ambitious and intense goodbyes to the Jersey shore street life romanticized so effectively by Springsteen on his first two albums, beautiful cries of agony and frustration at the loss of his friends, his youth, his world. Together, this pair of extended suites constitutes one of the most musically and emotionally complex mini-rock operas on record. Both feature remarkably patient, evocative arrangements that allow the songs to build and support the lyrics until they take on a mesmerizing, epic quality that has rarely, if ever, been matched.
And the title track? A simply amazing lyric (this is great American poetry here, folks) set to a four-minute full-out multiple-crescendoing rock and roll symphony. For one person at least, the ambitious young kid hit his target. "Born To Run" is pure musical ecstasy and, for my money, the greatest rock'n'roll record ever.
The corner Bruce Springsteen turned artistically on Born To Run would shape the rest of his career. His songs were expansive but no longer cluttered, and every note played by the E Street Band was fueled with an unstoppable energy and determination. That in itself makes for great music. The capper was that Springsteen dared to make it all sound like it mattered, like rock could and should aim higher than it ever had before. He dared us all to believe in rock and roll as art, maybe even salvation. Some of us still do.
|Bruce Springsteen's magnum opus.|
From the aggressive brassy sound of Born to Run, to the bittersweet, bluesy ballad We Got Style, this record is a clear winner.
|Not to mention Jungleland, arguably the best song in the Bruce catalog.|