Friday, February 1, 2013

Bruce Springsteen 2: The Wild, The Innocent & The E Street Shuffle

His second album to be released within a calendar year, The Wild, The Innocent & The E Street Shuffle leaves behind the acoustic troubadour with the rhyming dictionary. Now more confident in his words, Bruce is now stretching his tales, giving his characters room to breathe. No less than four songs are longer than seven minutes, which is tough to do without boring your audience to death.
That said, this album represents a lot of what some people don’t like about the guy. These are the songs that first made the Jersey shore a proud icon for its fans. From the start, “The E Street Shuffle” presents something of a theme song for the band, but it’s “4th Of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)” that hoists the most lighters above a stadium crowd, a near-whispered love song on the boardwalk. (Any hours spent stuck in traffic on the New Jersey Turnpike should help diffuse any of the “romance” of the Garden State.) We’ve never much liked the accordion anyway. A welcome departure arrives with “Kitty’s Back”, from its slow-burning intro through the improve section, nicely balanced by the tightly arranged horns, but “Wild Billy’s Circus Story” loses points for having a tuba—a tuba? Really?—and sounds the most like a refugee from the debut.
With three epics, side two presents a suite of songs with Latino and/or urban connotations. “Incident On 57th Street” invents some characters that might turn up on the next album; the melody seems to be descended from “Sandy”, but with better dynamics. “Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)” is where everything gels, and the sound of the E Street Band is established once and for all—piano and organ fighting for space, saxophones trilling all the way. The self-referential lyrics guarantee a cheer from any audience. The song spins away like a Ferris wheel, setting up the startling introduction to “New York City Serenade”. First there’s a strumming of piano strings, then some runs akin to “Love, Reign O’er Me” turn into equal parts classical and cocktail. It’s nearly two minutes before another instrument comes in, just in time for the vocal. Congas and bass help the verse along, and strings do too, stopping only for an edgy break in the middle. It’s a template that he’d soon improve.
People forget that Bruce Springsteen and Tom Waits are roughly the same age, and hit the bigs around the same time. While their paths wouldn’t officially cross for a few more years, the shaggy storytelling on The Wild, The Innocent & The E Street Shuffle does veer into Waits territory here and there (and there’s a good chance Rickie Lee Jones came across this album in her formative years too). We also detect a nod to Van Morrison in the title, and we should also mention that the acoustic guitar on the last track is just as much Van as it is Robbie Robertson. And that’s what’s most impressive about this album—all the guitars are played by Bruce, and there’s a lot of them. He knows what his songs need, and he has the chops to deliver. He just wasn’t there yet.

Bruce Springsteen The Wild, The Innocent & The E Street Shuffle (1973)—3

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