Bruce Springsteen has never been one to sit idle. Letter to You may be his first album with the E Street Band since 2014 but he’s never been away. Constantly touring the world and a Broadway residency which lasted over a year (never one to do a live performance by half, is he?), co-directing a film alongside last year’s Western Stars, this almost feels overdue.
In a time when we need Springsteen’s blue collar anthems more than ever, New Jersey’s favourite son has instead looked inwards to create one of his most personal works. While he has dusted off a few older numbers from his earliest days and tells stories of hardship, most of the album centres on aging, mortality, and reminiscence. Indeed, if he had trod the ground he’s built his name on for over forty years in 2020, it would venture into parody.
Most of the album is laidback, sombre and wistful. It’s not so much saying “I still had so much to do” as much as “Look at everything we’ve accomplished” and feels rather poignant. However, there’s still that grandiose sound when Springsteen works with the E Street Band. There’s still that chemistry and magic in the tracks and is enhanced due to them recording the whole album live, together, for the first time.
“Burnin’ Train” has a massive, swelling sound and could have come from any point in Springsteen’s storied career. It’s one of the more upbeat tracks and while it’s no longer needed at this point for him, could easily fit into a commercial radio playlist. The other big number is at the other end of the album, buried towards the end, “Ghosts” examines the collective joy and companionship which can be forged through music but the other side of that knife also shows the slippage of time. The rockiest track on the album, it’s full of exuberance that has been present throughout his discography, it’s just more noticeable here because of the lack of similar songs.
Meanwhile, the afore-mentioned older songs in “Janey Needs a Shooter”, “If I Was the Priest” and “Song for Orphans” are the classic stories you’d expect pulled straight from the 70s. Lyrically, they’re more rough around the edges than their counterparts but it lends a rawness which bleeds into the polished precision of the rest of the album.
Musically, it’s more Springsteen, of which, you can never have too much. There’s hallmark sounds from keys, guitars, saxophone and everything else you’d expect from the E Street Band which hark back to all those classic tunes but if you weren’t a fan before, Letters to You won’t create any convert. It’s definitely not an album you’d point newcomers to – it’s not a bad album by any stretch but it’s not exactly Born to Run or Born in the USA. The Boss hasn’t missed a step, he’s simply slowed his pace.
Header image by Danny Clinch
Letter to You is out now