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Springsteen’s “Born in the USA” is 40 years old. Is this his greatest album?


Springsteen arrived in Worcester in 1984 when it was still near the start of the “Born in the USA” onslaught.

“Born in the USA” was released on June 4, 1984. File photo

Bruce Springsteen at Worcester Centrum during the “Born in the USA” tour in September 1984. – Ron Pownall / Courtesy of the artist and Panopticon Gallery

When Bruce Springsteen arrived in Worcester on September 4, 1984 – exactly three months after the June 4 release of his final album, “Born in the USA” – for the first of two concerts at the Centrum, he was doing pretty well. The album was #2 on the Billboard 200 (behind Prince’s “Purple Rain”), and its second single, “Cover Me”, was #17 on the singles chart, up from #22. not a bad performance.

Then things exploded.

“Born in the USA” would become the best-selling album of 1985, eventually selling more than 30 million copies and propelling Springsteen and his E Street Band into the stadium stratosphere. As for his relationship with Boston, he more than cemented it over the next few years, with (among other things) a triumphant five-night stand at then-FleetCenter during the 1999 E Street reunion tour, and two nights at Fenway Park in 2003. , the first rock band to play there.

But 40 years later, while there’s no denying that “Born in the USA” is Springsteen’s most successful album, and has attracted legions of new fans, it’s worth asking: Is it also his best? That’s a question Boston.com’s Peter Chianca asked in his book “Glory Days: Springsteen’s Greatest Albums,” whose chapter on “Born in the USA” appears below.

The argument in favor of ‘Bdecorated in the USA’

Released: June 4, 1984

Highest position in the chart: United States 1 / United Kingdom 1

Track listing:

1. Born in the United States

2. Cover me

3. Darlington County

4. Working on the highway

5. Downward train

6. I’m on fire

7. No surrender

8. Bobby-Jean

9. I’m leaving

10. Glory days

11. Dancing in the dark

12. My hometown

When Born in the United States was released in 1984, it wasn’t just that the world was ready for Bruce Springsteen. It was that Bruce Springsteen was ready for the world. Or at least for an attempt at becoming a monumental, global celebrity.

The album was, by design, Springsteen’s most commercial effort to that point – by far. Based on the Springsteen biography by Peter Ames Carlin Bruce, he saw the possibility of superstardom as an opportunity to better represent the people he had sung about throughout his career (think of them as “the unlucky, the forsaken, and the forsaken,” to quote Bob Dylan of “Chimes of Freedom”). . Or maybe the Elvis-fueled rock star dreams of his youth were finally too close to pass up.

Anyway, Born in the United States succeeded beyond wildest expectations, becoming the best-selling album of 1985 and ultimately selling over 30 million copies. It propelled Springsteen into stadiums around the world and elevated him to cultural icon status. It also became a sticking point for his longtime supporters, many of whom felt that Springsteen had betrayed his rock ‘n’ roll principles – and attracted a new band of beer-drinking, bandana-wearing fans with whom they feared being stuck next to each other during concerts. nowadays.

For anyone who remembers the album only through hazy memories of top 40 radio from the mid-1980s – where the album’s top seven singles lived alongside efforts from Culture Club and Wham! – it’s easy to overstate the album’s fluffiness, with its surprising (for Springsteen) preponderance of synthesizers and pop-friendly rhythms and melodies. But listening to it today, it still maintains its own thematic sense with the rest of his canon and certainly deserves a place in any discussion of his best work.

The genius of Born in the United States, in fact, it’s how he brought new fans into the Springsteen landscape through the backdoor. It’s deceptive in the way it pairs a catchy pop-rock sound with lyrics about abandoned veterans, prisoners, dying relationships, loneliness and boredom – not to mention sexual frustration. (It even fooled conservative columnist George Will, who declared, without irony, that Springsteen and his album proved that “there’s still no such thing as being born in the United States”).

The fact is that the themes that run through Born in the United States are the same ones that Springsteen has been exploring at least since Darkness on the Edge of Townbut the new album took the River formula – catchy rock ‘n’ roll alongside darker meditations – and put it in a blender. With a few exceptions, almost all songs broadcast UNITED STATES finds darkness and light inextricably linked. Masterfully, I might add.

That said, the album as a whole is infused with irresistible rhythms, catchy choruses, and sing-song “sha-la-las” that fit remarkably well into the bouncy pop landscape of the 1980s. Springsteen has always had a pop sensibility , but it generally reflects his earlier influences. Although it is still a rock album, Born in the United States was (to the chagrin of some) at first glance undeniably current and Top 40 radio-friendly.

As Springsteen himself said, given the way many people digest pop music as just that – music, with the lyrics often coming second in terms of a song’s emotional influence – it It’s no surprise that many listeners don’t seem to go below that. the burnished surface of this particular batch. The title track in particular, with its explosive synths and stadium-ready chorus, almost dares you to try and grasp the meaning on first listen.

Of course, as you listen more carefully, his scathing indictment of a country willing to turn its back on its own citizens, even those who fought for it, will become all too clear. The fact that so many people have repeatedly failed to do this shows a willful ignorance that frankly makes one scratch one’s head. We can only assume that Ronald Reagan’s advisors only listened to the chorus before recommending that the Gipper use it for his conservative re-election message.

While “Born in the USA” is the only overtly sociopolitical song on the album, many others further delve into the politics of human relations. It’s interesting how many of these songs use language usually reserved for the heat of the moment: “Cover Me,” “I’m Goin’ Down,” and even “I’m On Fire,” the catchy but scary to a “little girl”. » which can satisfy the desire of a tormented and sweat-stained wretch. Seen in this light, it’s probably no surprise that it seems to have been covered by every depressed indie band of the last few decades.

“Cover Me” in particular is a perfect example of the album’s split personality: Springsteen’s tone expresses urgent desperation (“go in and cover Me“, he pleads), even though his stinging guitar is matched by downright disco beats—it was originally written for Boston’s Donna Summer, after all. Even “Dancing in the Dark,” considered Springsteen’s most disposable pop single, is in fact a masterpiece of existential languor worthy of Samuel Beckett, but disguised as a giddy toe-tap.

The few songs that are deeper and darker musically, like the haunting “Downbound Train” with its unrelenting tale of loss and depression, still manage to coexist easily with the more anthemic aspects of the album, like the catchy “woah-oh – oh” of “No Surrender”, with its ode to friendship and its three-minute records – without forgetting the pop melancholy of “Bobby Jean” and the honky-tonk pleasures of “Darlington County” and “Glory Days”.

But if there’s one song that best cements the album’s place in Springsteen’s hierarchy, it’s the closing track, “My Hometown.” Nostalgic and realistic at the same time, it recalls both Born to runthe dreams of escape – the narrator and his wife are anxious at the idea of ​​”going out” – and NebraskaThe vision of a hardened landscape where jobs are scarce and violence is still as close as the back seat of a car. But he also shows a new maturity in his sensitivity to the importance of history and common bonds: when the singer introduces his little boy to his hometown, avoiding another reprise of the chorus in favor of a haunting choral drone, the moment is scary. beautiful.

Bruce himself may have referred to the songs of Born in the United States like a “handbag”, but they seem far from random; they’re tied together in their lucid realism – about life’s challenges, the fleeting nature of love, and the allure and danger of nostalgia – even as they blur the line between catchy, message-driven rock and the danceable (some might say throwaway) popular.

The album can always be a victim of his own success, and there are fans (usually those who are older, grayer, and grumpier) who always head to the bathroom, or at least let out an audible groan, when “Bobby Jean” or “Glory Days”” appear during a concert encore. And there’s no denying that the album’s phenomenal success and subsequent backlash caused Springsteen to regroup, a process of soul-searching that took him in several different directions over the next few years, both professionally and personally. .

But if the primordial question of Born in the United States If Springsteen could deliver his message to a vast global audience without having to sacrifice its underlying meaning, the answer is a resounding yes. And beyond that: it’s catchy and you can dance to it.

Note; A version of this article was originally published on Bruce Springsteen’s blog, Blogness on the Edge of Town.


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