Bruce Springsteen is an American archetype, and Born to Run will probably be the finest record released this year.
Springsteen is not an innovator—his outlook is rooted in the Fifties; his music comes out of folk-rock and early rock 'n' roll, his lyrics from 1950s teenage rebellion movies and beat poetry as filtered through Sixties songs rather than read. Springsteen's gifts lie in the way he has rethought traditional sounds and stances, coming up with a synthesis fresh enough to constitute a minor renaissance….
Springsteen's landscapes of urban desolation are all heightened, on fire, alive. His characters act in symbolic gestures, bigger than life. Furthermore, there's absolutely nothing in his music that's null, detached, or perverse and even his occasional world-weariness carries a redemptive sense of lost battles passionately fought. Boredom appears to be a foreign concept to him—he reminds us what it's like to love rock 'n' roll like you just discovered it, and then seize it and make it your own with certainty and precision.
If I seem to OD on superlatives, it's only because Born to Run demands them; the music races in a flurry of Dylan and Morrison and Phil Spector and a little of both Lou Reed and Roy Orbison, luxuriating in them and an American moment caught at last, again, and bursting with pride.
If Springsteen's music is calculated, it's to extract the most emotional mileage out of relatively spare instrumentation—rich without being messy, the solos are succinct, built for speed, providing a perfect counterpoint to the headlong surge of the lyrics. (p. 82)
When you do get to the words, you discover that they have been tightened up from his first two albums; no longer cramming as many syllables as possible into every line, he is sometimes almost economical, and the album resonates with breathtaking flashes…. It could almost be a concept album, from the opening "Thunder Road," where Springsteen grabs his girl and hits the highway in his car, "riding out tonight to case the promised land," to the melded metaphors of "Jungleland."… Through all of these songs Springsteen's characters "sweat it out in the streets of a runaway American dream," skating for a longshot in automobiles and beds with the omnipresent roar of the radio driving them on to connect anew, as even in the failure of their striving they are redeemed by Springsteen's vision: "Tramps like us—baby, we was born to run."
In a time of squalor and belittled desire, Springsteen's music is majestic and passionate with no apologies. He is so romantic, in fact, that he might do well to watch himself as he comes off this crest and settles into success—his imagery is already ripe, and if he succumbs to sentiment or sheer grandiosity it could well go rotten. For now, though, we can soar with him, enjoying the heady rush of another gifted urchin cruising at the peak of his powers and feeling his oats as he gets it right , that chord, and the last word ever on a...
(The entire section is 752 words.)