Bruce Springsteen

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M. Mark

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It is clear now that the rock messiah of '75 … embodies neither the state nor the future of rock music. But he has brains, taste, extraordinary talent; and he's capable of making transcendent rock and roll. At its best, his new album … [Darkness on the Edge of Town could] almost be called Reborn to Run. At its worst, Born to Rerun would be more like it. But there's a lot more good than bad.

Springsteen is still the prototypical '60s-style punk, the rebel tearing up the highways in his '69 Chevy, the teenaged loner whose last chance for freedom is almost within his reach. But he's not a kid anymore…. Work is on his mind, numbing jobs that grind a man down, leave him empty except for disillusionment and rage. These songs are more introspective and less exhilarating than the rich Spectorian anthems on Born To Run; they're more spare and dark than the word-infatuated street poetry of The Wild, the Innocent and the E Street Shuffle or Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J. But all of them belong in the same narrative universe: Springsteen's songs, old and new, define thanatos as settling for drab conformity, eros as searching for connection and speed and a kind of heroism…. He's a genre writer who creates melodramas about winning and losing; his confrontations have the compelling simplicity of a shootout in front of the old saloon. Perhaps the people who get so annoyed when Springsteen is called a great artist just don't believe that such a deliberately unpretentious genre can be Great Art.

Darkness on the Edge of Town is a fine album. I admire it, but I don't love it in the way I immediately loved Born To Run. There are few things to dislike. Springsteen's voice, which sounds throaty in concert, seems positively furry on the album. Lyrics occasionally veer toward the sentimental. But he has always been one of the boys and I've never felt particularly left out before—the relationship between Springsteen and the young men who are his most devoted fans looks more like benevolent bonding than misogyny. And there are many things to like: echoes of Martha & the Vandellas in "Racing in the Street" and of the Who in "Streets of Fire,"… the rich, dense sound of "The Promised Land," the dogged innocence of "Badlands."

Despite his newfound introspective disillusionment—call it his maturity—Springsteen refuses to be cynical, and part of me reacts to this stance with profound cynicism. But part of me finds it irresistible…. Listening to Bruce Springsteen's best—like watching first-rate detective movies—can help you forget for a while that you're scared and not so young anymore. It may or may not be Great Art, but it sure is great.

M. Mark, "Bruce Springsteen: Reborn to Run" (reprinted by permission of The Village Voice and the author; copyright © The Village Voice, Inc., 1978), in The Village Voice, Vol. XXIII, No. 24, June 12, 1978, p. 49.

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