«Predictable from Bruce.»
ALBUM: Nothing is common nowadays, and you would think, for example, that the pandemic could be a good excuse to spend a long time in the studio. But no, here it was about getting done and getting home. “Letter To You”, Bruce Springsteen’s twentieth album, was recorded in five days, live and without dubbing, in his home studio in New Jersey.
This is something new for a band that is used to spending a long time in the studio. Maybe even for good time, when you hear what they’re up to in five days. Long time does not mean quality, it can, for example, affect spontaneity. There is not much of it here anyway. Of course it goes on rails, as it always does with The E Street Band.
His previous album, «Western Stars» (2019), which also became a film with Bruce as co-director, showed him from a different and softer side – in the direction of California pop, orchestrated music and country. He surprised. So what can we expect from the first album with the entire The E Street Band, and with new material, since “Working On A Dream” in 2009?
Little to prove
A lot more, I feel. It’s the first time they have played together since the “The River” tour in 2016, but it certainly does not sound like that. Most of all, it sounds like pure plank riding. If “typical Bruce” holds, this is good, if you want something more, you are allowed to be a little disappointed.
But hey, he’s 71 years old and has won 20 Grammy Awards. He released his autobiography in 2016. He has been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame and has been hailed for his “Springsteen on Broadway” show in 2017 and ’18. Bruce doesn’t have much to prove anymore. The lyrics, or the stories, are not as exciting, either. Many of them are about getting older and about losing people around you.
Of course, it’s great to hear The E Street Band again. They kick off and sound just as they should: Roy Bittan, Nils Lofgren, Patti Scialfa, Garry Tallent, Stevie Van Zandt, Max Weinberg and the “newcomers” Charlie Giordano and Jake Clemons. Bruce has produced with his regular partner Ron Aniello.
And – it’s just as if he himself sings with even more authority and weight. It may come with age. You hear it especially in «House of A Thousand Guitars», which is the best of the new songs. IN «Burnin’ Train» formally the guitars squirt fire, while «Rainmaker» is overbearing. In sum, this becomes too formula-based, too predictable – too much “typical Bruce”. I’m not getting any lift. It was clear on single number one (the title track): A catchy and in every way great song, but Bruce does not intend to surprise anyone this time.
The exception is the opening «One Minute You’re Here», which at first sounds like it was left after the acoustic and stripped-down “The Ghost of Tom Joad” (1995). Springsteen opens, before Roy Bittan enters carefully on piano – and strings fill up. Hurt. Exquisite. Right now, I do not miss The E Street Band’s ladle for a second. There you already have the album’s best song, and it may be a little crossword puzzle.
“Letter To You” contains nine new songs and three new recordings, of which «If I Was the Priest» is the most interesting. It was like «Song for Orphans» written before the debut “Greetings From Asbury Park NJ” (1973) and is only available on an unofficial release, “Before The Fame” from 1999. The seven minute long song is a highlight of this album, also lyrically. That he has not recorded either the two or «Janey Needs A Shooter» even before now is a mystery.
The world tour of Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band is unlikely to begin until 2022, with or without the songs from “Letter To You”. He has a little to take off anyway.
“Letter To You” is available from October 23.