Life at 33 1/3: Bombshell: “Born To Run” Disappoints

Bruce Springsteen: Born To Run (Columbia)

Bruce Springsteen: Born To Run (Columbia)

A street-gang serenade from New Jersey that feeds on Steinbeck, Dylan and West Side Story.  There are cars, flick knives and thumping juvenile hearts.  Lyric heavy, theatrical, noisy, overproduced and so self-important it’s almost touching.  The sound is pure fun fair (and rather tacky at that): stilted grand piano, fizzy organ, a huge saxophone, guitars, a flickering clatter of triangles, harmonica and glockenspiel, horns, strings and even more guitars – all blasting full throttle, quite often with the force of a hurricane.

Springsteen’s voice is raspy and cracked, rough as leather.  It’s an instrument with limitations, but not without charm.  But he can’t do much else here than to mumble in the quiet sections, and roar when the band ignites.  The huge and busy sound is a camouflage distracting you from the fact that these songs aren’t much songs at all but a string of undeveloped ideas soaked in drama.

When the music takes off big time it mostly sounds fussy and unfinished, there’s some half decent choruses, snippets of melodies that tend to just flatten out (listen how “Thunder Road” is struggling, running out of steam again and again).  When he slows down and aims for the big epic, as in the nearly ten minute “Jungleland”, he turns into a talkative guy surrounded by ambient, but hollow sound-scapes.

I don’t understand why this album has such a high standing.  The tinny production (almost painful to the ear at high volume), the lack of tunes, the stack of musical clichés that probably made Phil Spector reach for his gun, it is immature, busy, overdressed and doesn’t hand you a single song that you can actually hum.  It’s not even a riff here to chew on.

The arrangements are terribly misleading because they build up to something that never comes: A release, a divine melody that takes you straight through the diamond skies quivering with excitement.  To be honest, the title track does take you at least half way there.  It kicks like a Harley and roars like a Thunderbird, and for once the dizzy fun fair clatter works.  That tune does have its moments of magic.

“Born To Run” is one of the most overrated albums ever.  At the time I was seduced by the sound, the punch, the power and the enormous commitment.  I was.  But very soon I realized that I rarely played the bugger.  It turned into a dust collector.  The sequel, “Darkness On The Edge Of Town”, was something else completely.  With that album Bruce Springsteen made his real entrance.

“Born To Run” was just hype.

Released: August 1975
Produced by: Bruce Springsteen, Mike Appel, Jon Landau.
Recorded:  Record Plant, New York and 914 Sound Studios, Blauvelt, New York January 1974 – July 1975
(All songs written and composed by Bruce Springsteen).

Side One

1. “Thunder Road” 4:49
2. “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out” 3:11
3. “Night” 3:00
4. “Backstreets” 6:30

Side Two

1. “Born to Run” 4:31
2. “She’s the One” 4:30
3. “Meeting Across the River” 3:18
4. “Jungleland” 9:34

First Published in Pattaya Mail on