Monday, March 7, 2016

Ranking The Albums: Bruce Springsteen (5 -1)

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 18 - 16 here: BRUCE 18-16

You can find 15 -11 here: BRUCE 15 -11 

You can find 10-6 here: BRUCE 10 - 6

05. Darkness On The Edge Of Town
Like all of the albums in the top five of Springsteen’s career, Darkness On The Edge Of Town is near flawless. Some would argue that it is flawless, and some would argue that it is the best album Bruce ever recorded. That is an easy argument to make, as Darkness is an amazing record. But so are the other albums ahead of it on this list.

Darkness is a record by a superstar band about to achieve worldwide fame and notoriety. The story of the long journey to the record’s release is well documented and known. What’s important about that long journey is what it created for final public consummation. From the opening drumbeats of “Badlands” to the closing notes of “Darkness On The Edge Of Town,” Darkness is impeccable.

Some of Bruce Springsteen and the E-Street Band’s finest musical moments are captured on this album. “Candy’s Room,” “Something In The Night,” and “Prove It All Night” are all timeless classics. As a cohesive unit, Darkness On The Edge Of Town is exceptional. The record is perfectly balanced with rockers and ballads. It also contains some of the strongest lyrics Springsteen has ever written.

He built on the characters contained in Born To Run. Those characters were youthful and full of hope. On Darkness they aged and realized that hope isn’t enough to get what you want out of life. The cynicism of reality gets in the way. The characters in Darkness On The Edge Of Town learned that you had to make it yourself and in your own way; that there would people trying to stop you and hold you back every step of the way. These characters saw what needed to be done in order to overcome that. It is this bitter resentment that Springsteen spilled into his music that makes Darkness such a timeless classic.

Even today, nearly 40 years after it was first released, Darkness On The Edge Of Town resonates with young listeners and creates a vast understanding of the harsh realities of the world.

04. The Rising
The Rising is the record that revitalized Springsteen’s career. Sure, he would have continued to make it as a live act and continued to sell out stadiums even if he never released another album after The Ghost of Tom Joad, but The Rising was proof that Bruce Springsteen could still create fantastic, meaningful, and relevant music. After 9/11 Springsteen went through a major period of inspiration. He drew from all the anger and confusion in the American faces and created art. The end result was one of the best albums of his entire career.

The disc kicks off with the high powered “Lonesome Day,” a song about hope after a troubled time. It sets the stage for the rest of the songs to come. “Waitin’ On A Sunny Day,” “Countin’ On A Miracle,” and “The Rising” are other hope filled songs peppered throughout the record.

Loss is another major theme that was well covered on The Rising. Whether it be people, faith, or spirit, Springsteen covered it well. Songs like “Empty Sky,” “My City Of Ruins,” and “You’re Missing” all entail loss and hardship in the elegant way that only Bruce could approach these topics.

Start to finish The Rising is near flawless. The album has rock, soul and jazz elements that combine to bring incredible music to the ears. Nearly every song is a masterpiece. Even the songs where Bruce took chances and went outside his comfort zone (“The Fuse,” “Worlds Apart”) were flawless. This is a record where Springsteen had the Midas touch. Everything was golden. It was spectacular to see Bruce create such a phenomenal record this late in his career. And he wasn’t done there. Future albums would be just as good, or better, but in 2002, The Rising was an exceptional welcomed return of the magnificent E-Street Band.

03. Wrecking Ball
Late in his career, Bruce Springsteen was still recording albums that mattered and sounded absolutely amazing. Wrecking Ball is one of the finest records in the Bruce Springsteen catalog. Sure, there was some controversy that Bruce had changed his style and sound. There were some whisperings that Wrecking Ball sounded a little too “folksy,” but at 60-something years old, why should Springsteen deliver the same exact sound and style album after album? I applaud Bruce for mixing it up and delivering fresh sounds.

Wrecking Ball is a masterpiece of musical genius. Multiple arrangements and different musical styles make this an album for almost anyone to enjoy. Hard rock, blues, folk, jazz, and soul is all present and accounted for. And even though he was over the age of 60 when he recorded Wrecking Ball his voice still sounds incredible. Springsteen aged like a fine wine and his music matured and continued to astound fans decades after his debut release.

Wrecking Ball contains many of themes that made Springsteen famous. Songs for the hard working man struggling to understand his position while the fortunate people continue to get gifted for no apparent reason at all. “Shackled And Drawn,” “Jack Of All Trades,” and “Death To My Hometown” describe the divide in the economy and class in ways that people relate to. The lyrics give pause and make the listener think.

Hope and change are also constant themes throughout the album. Springsteen doesn’t just talk about the issues as he sees them, he also addresses hope and the power of man to overcome challenges faced. He provides inspiration and makes one believe that they can overcome anything to be successful. It is the combination of desperation and inspiration that makes Wrecking Ball so spectacular and one of the greatest albums he ever recorded.

02. Born In The USA
Born In The USA is an all time classic album. It is a flawless record packed with 12 of the most amazing songs Springsteen ever wrote. And although the album was released in 1984 all of the songs and themes are still current today. A feeling of betrayal by your own country and lawmakers; running away with friends; working hard for minimum wages; having a crush; not giving up; and remembering the good old days are all there. I related to them then and I relate to them now. That is what makes Born In The USA such an amazing album. The songs spoke to the past, present, and future.

Then there is the matter of the music itself. Some of Springsteen’s biggest hits and greatest songs are on Born In The USA. Seven top-ten singles were released from the record including: “Dancing In The Dark,” “Glory Days,” and “Born In The USA.” The album sold massive amounts and is still the best selling Bruce Springsteen record to date. Hit after hit after hit were produced on this album. And every song sounds better than the last. There isn’t a bad song to be found on Born In The USA and the worst song on the record (“Cover Me”) is the best song on somebody else’s album. It’s absolutely amazing how incredible Born In The USA is. This is Springsteen more defined. And while he loses the greatest album of the catalog to his younger self, it wasn’t an easy pick. Born In The USA is a breathtaking album that enjoys multiple plays without skipping any tracks.

01. Born To Run
Not only is Born To Run the best album recorded in Bruce Springsteen’s career, it is also one of the best rock records ever released. A timeless classic, Born To Run is Bruce Springsteen at his absolute finest. There isn’t a bad song to be found on the record and in my opinion Born To Run is perfect.

The themes of young desires, the need to find your one true self, and the desperation to run away from it all are painted in perfect lyrical poetry. The music overwhelms the listener with precision and beauty. The band may have spent much more time recording Darkness On The Edge of Town, but Born To Run is the better piece of final art.

Born To Run was also the first album featuring Roy Bittan on piano and Max Weinberg on drums and their addition can be felt throughout the entire disc. All time classics such as “Thunder Road,” “Tenth Avenue Freezeout,” and the title track, “Born To Run,” fill the record with magnificence. One of the greatest Springsteen songs ever recorded is also included; “Jungleland.” Complete with the signature saxophone solo from Clarence Clemons, “Jungleland” is a behemoth of a song.

Layered in musical and lyrical brilliance, Born To Run is an all time classic that any fan of rock music should have in their collection and every fan of Springsteen should have in theirs. There is no finer Bruce Springsteen record than Born To Run. 

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