The Wild, The Innocent & The E Street Shuffle

Bruce Springsteen

Columbia Records, 1973

REVIEW BY: Matthew Turk


Sometimes, an artist comes along and surprises you with an album that's completely out of left-field; so it was with me and Bruce Springsteen, when I bought this album. I'd only heard Nebraska, The River and Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J. when this album came my way - it's so different from them that only Springsteen's voice and lyrics can convince the listener that, yes, this is the same guy that brought you "Johnny 99" and "Hungry Heart."

This album begins with an homage to the oh-so-famous "tune up" segment of every orchestral concert, which is quite an apt way of sending home the fact that this album is full of lush arrangements and grandiose themes. A quick guitar line calls the troops into line, and then we're given a funk-style song with Springsteen deftly navigating over top of the music with more of his fully-automatic lyrics. The ending to this song, "The E Street Shuffle," is a tour-de-force of Santana-esque rhythms, direly funk horn arrangements and guitar.

"Sandy" is a delightful piece of music, even if I do now prefer the Live 1975-1985 version more. It's a quiet serenade from one friend to another - desperately hoping that this, his last night in his hometown, will be special with someone he has grown to love. It's not about undying love, or about a one night stand, but somewhere in the middle. It's about two friends who love each other. For a distinctly beautiful segment, listen carefully to the toy piano notes underneath Springsteen's voice starting with "The waitress I was seeing..."

I hated "Kitty's Back" for the longest time. I didn't like the opening guitar solo, and the rest of it just seemed to go on for too long. Sometime over the summer, however, I put it in the CD player at work, and it just hooked me - the screaming guitar, actually saying something with its notes, the horns underneath it helping it to conclude, and the gentle keyboards under the opening vocals all combined to bring the listener to the top of a crest, when suddenly the uptempo rhythm speeds them down the hill.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

As soon as that hill starts, it doesn't stop - we're given momentary respite occasionally, but the intensity remains. Somewhere in the background the drums are going maniacally, the guitar is picking all over the place, and Springsteen is shaking his head with his eyes closed, "Oooh, what can I do, oo-ooh, what can I do..." This song is one of the most complicated arrangements I've ever heard, with guitar and keyboard dueling like a Ritchie Blackmore nightmare, horns exploding left and right, and drums banging like a psychotic Buddy Rich. Through all of this, however, the music never loses its essential groove, which is definitely a tough task to do. I could write novels about this one song - it's so filled with different ideas, accomplishments, emotions and feelings that it speaks to me deeply.

"Wild Billy's Circus Story" is a fun little number, highlighted by the tuba oom-paa. The accordion and guitar strumming work to enhance this black comedy. I can imagine Springsteen standing at a podium, telling this like a story, screaming left and right with each verse - it's very vividly done, with not a wasted word.

Here we are given momentary respite, as images of the band getting ready for a long haul are called to mind. "Incident On 57th Street" starts out with beautiful piano, then moves into a story-telling mode, replete with piano, and the chorus doesn't even show up for what seems like an eternity. "The pimps swung their axes / and said Johnny, you're a liar!" The portrait here of life on the street is optimistic, not jaded - as Springsteen would come to be in later years. "Good night, it's all right, Jane." Around four minutes in it takes a break, as our faithful narrator delicately describes the scene in immense detail. Afterward, we're given a repeating chorus building up in strength until the magnificent guitar solo at the end, fading into a piano outro. Listen carefully for what sounds like metal guitar underneath everything else just before the finale.

This segues directly into "Rosalita," my clear favorite of the album. This song is so full of life and joy, optimism and feeling, and altogether it comes across as a song to listen to with the windows down on a warm summer evening while driving to the beach. The musicianship here is very tight, with everyone definitely in sync with not only each other, but with the song itself. One of my favorite musical tricks is simultaneous overdubs with different weights; here Springsteen shouts one chorus underneath a singing version. Despite the tone of the words, this song is uplifting and inspirational.

"New York City Serenade" is a song that shifts between moody, dwelling and uplifting and satisfying. It starts out with some beautiful "doodling" on the guitar, moving into dark, almost whispered lyrics, building up to strained vocal delivery over top of what sounds like classical string arrangements. The mood shifts suddenly into a not-quite happy, but certainly relaxing, sound. Another transition, and we see ourselves in a gospel-style rush of sound - and then back again. We're given three clearly similar ideas, telling of three different people, and they're all very uplifting but restrained.

This album is one of the classics of modern music. Everything about it is perfect; from the delivery of the vocals to the choice of instruments, even down to the cover art - Bruce looking contemplative but optimistic. This is one of my desert island discs; I'd be happy to drive a thousand miles with only this to listen to. Even if you hate Bruce Springsteen, this album is a must-have in any collection.

Rating: A

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© 2001 Matthew Turk and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Columbia Records, and is used for informational purposes only.