Springsteen conveys a timeless world of perpetual youth, where all the archetypal characters of the rock 'n' roll world find a home. In the process, he makes that world seem vital again.
His lyrics are central to this conception. He works with a continuing cast that populates the same desolate streets of the "runaway American dream." It is a dream where escape comes hard, in cars and back streets, perhaps in a fleeting snatch of some half-forgotten rock song. There is much to say here, but little to talk about: Springsteen paints vivid characters, but the situations are stock, the action often stale; many songs suggest a soapy retread of West Side Story….
[There] is something troubling about the trajectory of Springsteen's career. In the search for superstardom, the safest bet is to latch onto something comfortable, familiar—and Springsteen's characters and melodies are nothing if not familiar, despite the original vision behind his renewal of the rock tradition. Such conflicting currents epitomize the ambiguous vitality of rock in the Seventies. In Springsteen's person, we find the contradictory claims of the old and new, and the critic faces the difficult task of discriminating genuine enthusiasm from reflex raves for a talent of recognizable dimensions. Springsteen himself has come to despise the high-pressure publicity surrounding his career; it's impossible to be the "future" of rock and roll, and Springsteen knows it….
Springsteen may prove a casualty of an era eager for new illusions, nostalgic for the simpler past rock once reflected, yet wary of false promises and resentful of stampedes to new superstars. The best rock still aspires to tap the temper of its time, to move an audience, and to profit from fulfilling its needs and expectations. Whether it can do so any longer without sacrificing the immediacy of its original impulses is the hard question raised by the orchestrated apotheosis of Bruce Springsteen as a pop hero for the Seventies. (p. 372)
Jim Miller, "Bruce Springsteen," in The Rolling Stone Illustrated History of Rock and Roll, edited by Jim Miller (copyright © 1976 by Rolling Stone Press; reprinted by permission of Random House, Inc.), Rolling Stone Press, Random House, 1976, pp. 371-72.