Even Springsteen can’t reach us. This was released last week and I just found out today, via a SiriusXM playlist I get from the company each week, of added tracks. I’d heard the Boss had a new album in the works, not that I cared, he seemed to have lost track, this happens when you get caught up in your image, are beholden to your fans’ perception of you, you ultimately become irrelevant to everyone else. Then again, it’s your fans that keep you alive, so… But Springsteen is one of those acts that we all knew and we all might be theoretically open to once again, assuming we knew he had new material.
Then again, Springsteen owns the press, he gets mainstream media hype every time he farts. His album releases are military campaigns. Then again, his story is about played out, with his book and stage show, what else is there to excavate, what story is there to tell?
He had writer’s block.
I did not know this until I started to research “Letter to You” after hearing it.
In the tradition of “Born To Run,” the sound is rough, it’s not crystal clear, and therefore you get that miasma of sound he’s famous for and it’s hard to pay attention and then…suddenly you wake up, your ears stand at attention, has Bruce found the plot again?
He hasn’t had it for a very long time. The overhyped “Rising” was disappointing, at least on an absolute Boss scale, but what came thereafter was even worse, more self-conscious and less appealing, but at least he soldiered on, when everybody else gave up he continued to write and put out new material, kudos for that. But last year’s overbaked “Western Stars” fell flat. I hate to say it, but shut up and play your music, let it stand or not. The backstory, the concept of “Western Stars,” if only the music lived up to the endless hype, we even got a film…it’s not like “Western Stars” was awful, it just wasn’t great.
The problem is Springsteen is competing with himself. And therefore he’s always trying to reach a mark he may not ever be able get to again. Once again, his brethren have solved this problem by not even trying. But somehow, the Boss has connected again with “Letter To You”…it’s close, but no cigar, but maybe a cigarette, it’s got the majesty and the energy of the records that made him famous. It’s nearly anthemic. And not a moment too long, actually its length makes the record better, it allows the band to stretch out, the lead guitar playing at the end is so satisfying.
As for the front cover photo… It’s great, but it’s also part of the hype, if you search online you’ll find a whole story about the creation thereof…talk about eviscerating the mystery.
There’s a generic guitar opening, yet there’s a wild lead guitar way in the background and then it all fades and Bruce starts to sing. But it’s the change that gets you, when Bruce sings “Tried to summon all that my heart finds is true,” that drop down is reminiscent of the hook that makes “Green River” so great, even though that minor Creedence classic (talk about a contradiction in terms…it’s not as great as the greats, but it’s so much better than the competition) is superior.
The band comes in on the second verse, classic Springsteen, and then you get that change once again, adding meaning, gravitas:
Dug deep in my soul and signed my name true
And sent it in my letter to you
Unfortunately, the chorus is not as good as the verse. Except for the last line, “And I sent it in my letter to you.” But in the break the organ in the background gives you everything but the kitchen sink E Street Band sound.
I’d quote the lyrics but they’re substandard. This entire song is not up to Bruce’s standard. If someone else wrote the words you’d shrug. And as for “letter,” why not “e-mail” or “text” or “iMessage”? We’re not going back to letters, no way, which is one of the reasons why the post office is floundering financially.
But, there’s that drop in the verse. And the break. And the playing at the end. No one else is doing this. Then again, like I said, most of Bruce’s contemporaries are doing nothing.
But what I immediately thought when I heard “Letter To You” is…WE HAD TO WAIT FOR THIS?
“Letter To You” is not a one listen hit. They’ll play it on AAA but you won’t be closed if you’re not a fan, it can slide right off of you, unlike Bruce’s best work. But, like I said, it’s close, it gives one hope Bruce can recapture the magic.
Bruce went back to basics. As in the band played together, there was not all this tracking, overdubbing, and that aids the song, the performance is cohesive, you can visualize the song being played in a club, where Bruce started.
But Bruce should be putting out this stuff on a regular basis. Instead of worrying about living up to his lofty standards, why not put out new stuff when he writes it, keep the juices flowing, maybe he’ll capture lightning in a bottle. The old paradigm is broken, why is he beholden to it?
And a stiff today does not matter, it doesn’t tarnish your image, it just fades away. And creators know when you throw off the rust and finally get inspired you frequently end up on a roll of creativity, which is why we got “Lucky Town” along with “Human Touch.”
Writer’s block is usually fear about doing something bad, not reaching the level you used to be at, a peak in your mind that you probably never achieved anyway, then again, one of the worst things about making it is you’re saddled with the adulation, it inhibits you. Can you say Alanis Morissette? She became so self-conscious as to become irrelevant.
But Bruce is first and foremost a musician. Who came up on the road. And that’s about playing each and every night, improving, learning what works and what does not along the way. Now he can do the same thing online. And, if he rings the bell, hits the note, word will spread, after all, he’s got his army, although I must admit they’ve turned off disbelievers nearly completely, I’m a fan and they bug me, what I always say about Bruce is I don’t hate him, I hate his FANS! After all, I saw him live at the Bottom Line in ’74, the year before “Born To Run,” most are johnny-come-latelies, like the young ‘uns who lecture you on the Dead even though they weren’t even born when the band cut “Workingman’s Dead.”
So my goal here is to encourage you Bruce. You’ve recaptured something you’ve lost. Sure, “Letter To You” is not an “A,” but it has elements that are so close. Get the band together, write the lyrics in the studio, lay down some tracks, put them on Spotify, the rest of the streaming services. Surprise us. Irregularity works online. Not a track a week, maybe one and then another six weeks later and then three a month after that and then maybe nothing for months and then six all at once. What a fan wants most is more material. And today, when fandom is one of the few ways people can feel like they belong, they’re less critical, they forgive mistakes, they want to send the message they’re there for you, every step of the way, that they’re supportive.
Yes, Bruce is for listeners, not for the media. The people at the “New York Times” didn’t go to shows in the seventies and stay up all night. And neither did Chris Christie. It’s the nobodies who own you, admit it. Nobodies run the planet. In their world you’re a somebody, you make their lives worth living, live alongside them! You don’t have to be on the cover of “Time” and “Newsweek,” you don’t need to be all over MTV, everything is small these days, everything is cottage industry, the biggest of acts is smaller than you ever were.
So, can old rockers have something to say?
Age is respected in country, but not rock, why not? Bruce’s kids are out of the house, music is what he’s got. It’s time to get back to the garden, to go back to the beginning, and to take chances too, to keep it interesting.
Bruce is incomplete. That’s why he does this, make records. He needs you to fill the hole inside him. And you want to, and you want to tell everybody if he does something worthwhile, that’s the joy of being a fan, telling others about what you love, even if Bruce’s fans have overdone it in the past. So, Bruce wants it. The audience wants it. We’re just looking for that one track. Listening to “Letter To You” makes me think he’s still got it inside, ready to come out when he throws off the cloak of respectability, stops worrying about what others think, just starts being the alienated musician with a dream once again.