Bruce Springsteen

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Janet Maslin

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[A] heightened intensity is what Born To Run is all about.

Springsteen's third album revamps his music as deliberately as it restyles his photographic image. The album has been designed to reach a mass audience—something its predecessor never could have accomplished—and the music has been honed accordingly. On both of these mesmerizing efforts, as well as on parts of Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J., his first, Springsteen's seemingly boundless energy and his infectious exhilaration, even in moments of relative despair … are what hit you first and hardest. But if E Street Shuffle is wildly exciting, it's also a little wild; the arrangements hinge on constant surprises, the lyrics are full of evocative but disjointed imagery, the mood is often indistinct yet always shifting. Born To Run seems far more distinct, and far more certain of its objectives.

First and foremost, Springsteen's persona has been crystallized here, enabling him to function as both actor and visionary. Previously …, Springsteen sometimes seemed to be on the outside of his own songs, narrating the adventures of handsome street types like Spanish Johnny (of "Incident on 57th Street") in a voice tinged with wistfulness and awe. But Born To Run makes him more of a central character in his own dreams—and shows that part of Springsteen's genius is his ability to transcend his new air of success and self-possession with that same desperate have-not's longing which helped make his previous work so moving. Here he's as much the vulnerable, romantic would-be tough as ever, so much so that the city around him is perpetually ready to explode, unable to contain the enormous pressure of his aspirations. The best songs—"Thunder Road," "Jungleland," "Backstreets," the title cut—have almost a western's quality of predestined and perhaps hopeless confrontation, as the urge to break away fights it out with the fear that there's nowhere to go.

This desire for violent escape constitutes a bid for glory…. The blatant buildups, the borrowed Fifties' riffs, the histrionic vocals and the overblown imagery fit together perfectly, and their combined impression is one of daring. Born To Run boldly and deliberately narrows Springsteen's scope in order to focus full attention on his ambition. (pp. 78-9)

[Along] with half of Asbury Park, [E Street Shuffle] remains more complex, more subtle and a little richer than the current album. But it's also certain that the equally stirring Born To Run is more straightforward, more definite, more dramatic and better suited to the wide audience Springsteen has at long last begun to attract. Bearing in mind his present need to make himself readily understood by a larger, broader following, it's hard to imagine a more effective or fully realized effort. (p. 79)

Janet Maslin, "Springsteen's 'Born to Run' Is Made to Sell," in New Times (copyright © 1975 by New Times Publishing Company), Vol. 5, No. 8, October 17, 1975, pp. 78-9.

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