Friday, November 6, 2020

Bruce Springsteen 27: Letter To You

As threatened, Bruce did indeed record an album with the E Street Band following the unveiling of his Western Stars project. Then he proceeded to sit on it for a year, rather than unleash it in time for blasting from car windows by fans happy to be out of the house amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. Perhaps then Letter To You might truly be appreciated as “just what we needed,” as all the other reviews would have us believe. Maybe the delay was because he knew this was the basic framework of an album, with lyrics far from polished and frankly pandering, and an overall sound that often sounds like somebody trying to imitate Springsteen.
“One Minute You’re Here” quietly eulogizes someone or something that has been lost, then the title track crashes in along the lines of “Lucky Town”. “Burnin’ Train” opens with a flourish of Charlie Giordano’s Hammond organ, then gallops along like the title. Then we come to the first of three songs pulled from the notebooks of the 1970s. Despite their age and their legend, they have two more things in common: they’re all too long and played way too slowly, in the same plodding tempo. “Janey Needs A Shooter” was started, then abandoned, and finally finished with Warren Zevon in 1980, where it’s still slow but not plodding. This version goes back to Bruce’s original, disturbing lyrics, covered by the three major chords. “If I Was A Priest” is loaded with the same hick Guthrie voice that Dylan adopted in an attempt to camouflage a suburban upbringing. “Song For Orphans” had been played live as recently as 2005; the choruses add a few notes to the melody. Each of these top six minutes, and drag an already slow program. (All date from his first demos for Columbia Records, supposedly unearthed for a yet-to-be-specified archival project; the songs, and fans alike, would be better served having the originals.)
The other songs fare a little better, but there’s still some sameness between “Last Man Standing” and “The Power Of Prayer”, which sit back to back. “House Of A Thousand Guitars” is mostly keyboards, but his repeating “a thousand guitars” a thousand times before the end doesn’t give it any edge. “Rainmaker” sounds like a louder version of the dusty anthems on Western Stars, which isn’t a bad thing. Nobody in the studio pointed out how much the verses of “Ghosts” resemble “Walls Came Down” by the Call, especially over the lengthy coda, which is too bad, since the choruses have potential. Yet “I’ll See You In My Dreams” is an excellent closer, and a shoo-in for any season-end montage you can imagine.
Letter From Home isn’t bad, and we have warmed to it, but those who consider it a masterpiece are just as deaf as those who didn’t get the lyrics to “Born In The U.S.A.”, and by now they should know better. He may have been going for the vibe of the sessions that produced The River, but this is not the same band as it was forty years earlier. Nor should it be. Take it for what it is and don’t put any more significance to it. (And what’s up with that cover shot? Shouldn’t he have saved that for his Christmas album?)

Bruce Springsteen Letter To You (2020)—3

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