Monday, February 22, 2016

Ranking The Albums: Bruce Springsteen (10 - 6)

He meekly crawled onto the scene in 1973 with an album that received little fanfare. He would journey forward to become one of the most famous musicians in the history of rock and roll. What has been left behind so far is a body of work that not many artists can achieve. And the brilliance of all these records is what makes it such a challenge to rank them all. 

As of this writing, Bruce Springsteen has released 18 official albums, both as a solo artist and with the E-Street Band. I could have decided not to include his solo work in this project, but felt it was best to be all inclusive. For obvious reasons, live albums and hits collections are not included when ranking an artist’s albums. 

You can find albums 18 - 16 here: BRUCE 18 - 16 

You can fund albums 15 - 11 here: BRUCE 15 -11  

10. The River
Double albums are hard. Some are brilliant while others are absolutely horrid. In the case of The River, it suffers from too many songs. And while most of the songs are solid, and even spectacular, there are some clunkers as well. Party songs are plentiful and The River kicks off with two of Springsteen’s finest: “The Ties That Bind” and “Sherry Darling.” There are also some brilliant slower songs filled with passionate outbursts like “The River,” and “Independence Day.” And as previously mentioned, there are some songs that just aren’t very good such as “I Wanna Marry You” and “Drive All Night.” But with 16 out of 20 songs that are just mind blowing in their amazement, The River cracks the top ten of greatest Springsteen albums. How could it not? There are just too many fantastic songs on the record(s). The River is an album about hopes and dreams; both those to come and those lost. It is a record about maturity and growing up. The themes on the album reflect the journey into adulthood, the loss of innocence, the desire to hang onto your dreams, and the realities of compromises that have to be made. It is a transitioning record and the last of the youthful Springsteen albums. That is part of what makes it so special; it’s the last messages we hear from young Bruce.

09. Devils And Dust
Ten years after releasing the worst album he ever recorded, Springsteen took another attempt at a solo record. The end result was Devils and Dust and the finished product was better than either of his previous acoustic records. This one was damn near perfect. The record opens with the title cut, a fantastic song filled with beauty and brilliance. Bruce’s voice is strong and his guitar and harmonica work are articulate as he weaves notes to create a magnificent melody. Bruce also took chances that worked in his favor. Long Time Comin’ sounds like a song that would fit perfectly on The Seeger Sessions. Soozie Tyrell’s violin takes center stage and is magnificent. Instead of an electric guitar and saxophone solo, Bruce went with an acoustic guitar and a violin solo. The end result was pure beauty.

Devils & Dust is boosted by the fact that there is a backing band on several of the songs. And perhaps many of the songs were so strong because they were written years prior to being recorded. Time allowed the melodies to breathe and the lyrics to form new paths. I’ve heard rumors that Bruce is contemplating another solo acoustic album. If it builds off the beauty of Devils And Dust then I am in favor of it. 

08. The Wild, The Innocent, & The E-Street Shuffle
Springsteen was still finding his voice when The Wild, The Innocent, & The E-Street Shuffle was recorded. Admittedly, it took me a while to really get into this album. While songs like “Rosalita” and “4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)” hit me right away, the rest of the record took years for me to get into. It wasn’t until the 1999 reunion tour that I finally had a real appreciation for The Wild, The Innocent, & The E-Street Shuffle, and that was only because Springsteen performed “New York City Serenade” at one of the shows I attended. After hearing that live performance I dusted off my copy of this record and played it for a few days straight. It was during that listening burst that I discovered how brilliant the record is. I fell in love with “Incident on 57th Street,” and “E-Street Shuffle.” Springsteen was so young and early in his career, writing songs built on characters telling their own stories of city life in the mid-seventies. Tales of young love and big dreams that have hope and desire as a main theme fill the album. And while his next record would discuss the tribulations of life, The Wild, The Innocent, & The E-Street Shuffle showed what it meant to believe that things were going to turn out well. Bruce wouldn’t be this happy again until Born In The USA twenty years later.

07. Human Touch
I’ve always felt that Human Touch is far too ignored by Springsteen and way too underrated an album. I think it is the better of the two 92 releases. I also think it is absolutely breathtaking, brilliant, and near flawless. After its release, this album would be fourth on my all time Springsteen list. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on your viewpoint)for Bruce, the older he gets, the finer his work is, and new creations knock incredible records further down the list. The overall general opinion of most fans is that Human Touch is a lousy record (same as Lucky Town). But it is my belief that these “fans” have never sat and allowed themselves to bask in the beauty of Human Touch. Yes, the E-Street band is nowhere to be found (except for Roy Bittan), but the musicians assembled did an incredible job in their own right. Gems like “Roll Of The Dice,” “Soul Driver,” “All Or Nothin’ At All,” and “I Wish I Were Blind” are all but forgotten and their beauty can only be found by listening to Human Touch. Most fans think Springsteen wasted his time breaking up the band and working on these albums. I am in the opposite camp. I think it allowed Springsteen the opportunity to explore his reach and attain a new height of greatness.

06. Magic
It’s hard to believe that Bruce Springsteen reached his peak in his late fifties, but if you listen to his body of work, it’s hard to argue against that. Magic is an album of a band in their prime. Even as a politically charged record, Magic delivers brilliance and balances the issues of the day (“Magic,” “Last To Die”) with some light hearted fun (“Girls In Their Summer Clothes,” “I’ll Work For Your Love”). Whether it was the ability to see things from an older and wiser perspective, or just getting more gifted with age is hard to say. What’s easy to say is that Magic is one of the best records Springsteen ever recorded. And the honor of best song of the record belongs to the title track. Buried deeper in the album “Magic” is a haunting song about tricks, lies, and broken promises that mesmerizes the ears. Other strong songs include “Gypsy Biker,” “Your Own Worst Enemy,” and “Long Walk Home.” Beautifully balanced, exquisitely written, and impeccably performed Magic is one of the finest records in the Bruce Springsteen catalog of music.  

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