Bruce Springsteen album Letter To You turns everything we love about the artist into a seamless listening experience

With the release of his 20th album Letter to You last month, Springsteen has attained a position no other artist has: He’s become the first artist in history to have a chart-topping album in each of the last six decades.

Lakshmi Govindrajan Javeri November 20, 2020 08:09:29 IST
Bruce Springsteen album Letter To You turns everything we love about the artist into a seamless listening experience

The earliest memory I can access with ease from the reserves of my mind, is a distinct visual of watching my uncle in skin-tight 80s-style jeans, flapping his legs and clapping hands a la Bruce Springsteen, swirling me around as the newly-released 'Dancing in the Dark' plays on loop. I’d be squealing with my arms outstretched as the room would fly me by, over and over, before he’d gently place me back on the floor as dizzied joy would fill our hearts. I’d finally plonk back my head, yet we’d continue the Springsteen clapping. “Again!” I’d demand, and we’d do this all over again. And again. Perhaps, watching old home videos ad nauseum over the years have played their part in keeping these memories alive so vividly.

To a large extent, we listen therefore we are. Today the world has lifestyle coaches to turn to, self-help apps and motivational speakers; yet for a lot of us, music has been our pivot. And Bruce Springsteen has been nothing short of pivotal.

Gurinder Chaddha’s part-charming-part-caricaturish film Blinded by the Light is so relatable about the impact of his music because it really does drive home the point repeatedly that there’s a Springsteen song for every chapter, every milestone, every complexity in our lives.

With the release of his 20th album Letter to You last month, Springsteen has attained a position no other artist has: He’s become the first artist in history to have a chart-topping album in each of the last six decades. The album premiered at No. 1 on Billboard's Album Sales Chart and No. 2 on the Billboard New 200 Chart.

Bruce Springsteen album Letter To You turns everything we love about the artist into a seamless listening experience

Bruce Springsteen's Letter To You isn't some kind of seminal album that offers sides to Springsteen we haven’t heard. Image from Twitter

Letter to You is not pathbreaking. It isn’t some kind of seminal album that offers sides to Springsteen we haven’t heard, exploring themes he hasn’t in albums before. But that’s what makes it so perfect. It takes everything we’ve come to love about him and every facet of his music we have found comfort in over five decades, and creates a seamless experience that is still so relevant, still so new-sounding in some ways and still so unmistakably warm.

When his friend and bandmate from his first ever band Castiles (1965-1968) succumbed to cancer last year, Springsteen realised that he was the last surviving member of the band. That epiphany can come with its own anxiety, drawing him to ask seek the answers for profound questions relating to mortality, longevity of one’s works, leaving behind a legacy and how one honours those who’ve departed.

That his E-Street Band too started to experience the demise of some members, inspired Springsteen to work with his trusted, decades-old band to create music that to quite a degree shaped him as well. The urgency with which he’s worked on the album and the ease with which the end product had met his expectations, reiterates his love for the band and its role in his own creativity. As he writes in his memoir Born to Run about what went into forming the E Street Band, “…I wanted good musicians, friends and personalities I could bounce off of. I wanted the neighbourhood, the block. That’s where all the great rock bands came from and there’s something about that common blood or even just the image, the dream of it, that stirs emotions and camaraderie amongst your audience. You’re not looking for the best players. You’re looking for the right players.”

The right players along the way brought to bring to life his genius; that which finds its roots in his childhood. He has always been candid about the diametrically opposite relationships he’s had with his parents: A vivacious Italian-American mother and a brooding Irish-American father. That corresponds perfectly with his musical personalities as a casual look at his five-decade career will reveal how he has managed to make his grandiose stadium rock anthem works coexist peacefully with his intense, introspective ones.

Within the expanse of this dichotomy, Springsteen has, over the years, repeatedly looked at themes that resonate with most of us, language or culture-irrespective. His voice and his words have given so many of us the courage to face loss…of relationships, of people, of time, of youth and of morals. His 'You’re Missing in The Rising' is an honest sketch of how numbing loss can be, compounded by the isolation of the world around moving forward.

Bruce Springsteen album Letter To You turns everything we love about the artist into a seamless listening experience

Bruce Springsteen. Image from Twitter

Yet he’s among the most heartfelt writers of love ballads. Where he’s hypothesising about a future with a woman in 'I Wanna Marry You' or puts his heart on a platter in 'If I Should Fall Behind' or making a case for himself in 'Tougher Than The Rest.' The opening bass sets the sensual pace of his Fire from The Promise, his ode to the rock and roll suaveness of Elvis Presley.

He has repeatedly tried to make sense of his relationship with his father and has bravely laid bare its intricacies in songs like 'When You Need Me', 'Man’s Job', 'My Father’s House' and 'Independence Day', among others. His battles with depression have found lyrical outlets yet he has always found a way to champion us through our own struggles. Even in the outstanding 'Thunder Road', Bruce goes: “With a chance to make it good somehow / Hey what else can we do now? / Except roll down the window and let the wind blow back your hair.”

Over the decades he has given us so many anthems for so many occasions and life moments: 'From Streets of Philadelphia' to 'Born in the USA', from 'The Ghost of Tom Joad' to 'Glory Days'. So, when he released his 20th album in 2020 no less, were we even surprised that it reached the top of the charts?

With so many of us brooding about how life has changed this year, how can the original rockstar troubadour not be on hand to help us navigate through the chaos? It’s as if Springsteen knew we wanted to hear his take on 2020, a year so unprecedented that it has managed to unhinge most of us. The album is a sparkling reminder of the consistency of Springsteen’s works in our lives and how it truly remains the tie that binds.

It makes us want to throw out our hands, and say, “Again!”.

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