Born In The USA
Columbia Records, 1984
REVIEW BY: Jeff Clutterbuck
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 04/18/2005
Name me one person who thought that Bruce Springsteen, after the bare, acidic album that was Nebraska, would follow it up with an album that would spawn seven Top 10 singles and become his biggest selling work of all time. Bet you couldn't, because who could have seen this coming?
Sure, Born To Run had established Springsteen as one of the big names in rock. However it wasn't until Born In The USA that The Boss became a certified superstar. The album would spawn a two-year, world-wide tour, and as a result Born In The USA gained its status as one the eighties' premier albums. However, does the music live up the hype?
There are certainly moments during Born In The USA that belong up there with Springsteen's greatest efforts. "Born In The USA" has to be one of the greatest opening tracks to any album, with Springsteen delivering some kick-ass, anger-filled vocals, and Max Weinberg laying down a massive beat. Many took this song to be an anthem for America, while it was quite the contrary. "Dancing In The Dark" is a song completely unique up to this point in Springsteen's career, with the very prominent synthesizers and danceable beat.
The main problem that I have with Born In The USA is that while the Springsteen sound is there, it's different. The album sounds dated, something I believe works like Nebraska, and Born To Run don't, which is a true testament to their greatness. Some of the songs on Born In The USA make up for this new sound simply because they are that good. "Working On the Highway" for example is one of the better tracks because it's simple. Drums, vocals, and guitars come together to form a retro, '50s style number. Shades of Springsteen's earlier work also can be found on "Glory Days."
"I'm on Fire" tries to stir up some sultry feelings, but to me Springsteen just sounds tired. In fact, "No Surrender" and "Bobby Jean" both suffer from the same problem. Bruce seems to really want to recapture that Born To Run magic, but this time around he can't catch that lightning in a bottle. It all comes down to the simple fact that Born To Run had a unique sound to it, Born In The USA tries too hard to sound just like it, and even adds some unnecessary flourishes.
Much of the material for Born In The USA was written for the Nebraska album, so fragments remain of the pessimism from the previous album. However, their impact isn't as great because instead of the bare bones these tracks would have gotten on Nebraska they are up-tempo, genuine rock numbers. I mentioned "Born In The USA" earlier -- the acoustic 18 Tracks version sends a chill down your spine, while the actual recorded version makes you want to roll down the window and wave a flag. However, some tracks manage to convey the seriousness of Springsteen's words. "Downbound Train" starts off with a terrific bass riff, and slowly builds more and more energy, while The Boss sings of a lover long gone. This is the kind of number that Springsteen has done so well throughout his career, and this is no exception.
Born In The USA is not Springsteen's best album, not by a long shot. However, it is an enjoyable album, despite its two-faced nature. Try as he might, The Boss rarely turns out poor music, and Born In The USA is continuing proof of that.