Sunday, June 08, 2014

On the occasion of Born in the U.S.A.'s 30th anniversary

"...the aural vibrancy of the thing reminds me like nothing in years that what teenagers loved about rock and roll wasn't that it was catchy or even vibrant but that it just plain sounded good."

- Robert Christgau

"Born in the U.S.A." holds a unique spot in the Bruce Springsteen canon - it's his most commercially successful album, and yet the album that is most detested by many diehard Bruce fans.  Even the website "Backstreets" has been known to dis' it on occasion - I clearly remember a time when they wrote something along the lines of "A concert without any songs from Born in the U.S.A.? Priceless."

So what happened?  For what it's worth, my theory is that the longtime fans resented the fact that the album was so successful that a) it made it a lot more difficult to get into his concerts; b) it was pretty clear that many (most?) of the new fans were fair-weather fans; and c) his popularity made it necessary to make the jump into the stadiums, resulting in a less intimate concert experience and (inevitably, given the massive scale of the enterprise) an overall drop in the quality of the shows. I saw one of those shows, and it was pretty damn good, but sitting near the top of the Oakland Coliseum surrounded by screaming young girls was definitely different than seeing him in the Arena, with a crowd that probably knew the words to every song.

As for the album, I've always thought that it was among his very best, and I'll continue to defend it now.  Would I put it above "Born to Run" or "Darkness on the Edge of Town?"  No.  But that's pretty heady company, and at the end of the day, it's hard to argue against the notion that with "Born in the U.S.A.," Bruce Springsteen achieved everything (and more) that he set out to accomplish.  As Christgau noted, it sounds great, which is as good a place as any to start.  There is no single track that reaches the level of "Born to Run," "Backstreets," "Badlands" or "The Promised Land," but neither is there a bad track on the album.  And while the music throughout is upbeat, the lyrics don't stray far from previous works - while you're tapping your foot to songs like "Darlington County" or "Working on the Highway," you might want to check out what those songs are about, and how they end. 

So no, it may not be his best - but it's certainly one of the best.

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