It took me a while to warm to Bruce Springsteen – the radio mostly played his 1980s hits from Born in the U.S.A., and I had him pigeon-holed as a lame, ultra-American, lowest common denominator rocker. But eventually I gave in to his critical reputation and gave a couple of $10 CDs from the bargain bin a try (18 Tracks and The Wild, the Innocent & the E Street Shuffle).
Here are my favourite five Springsteen studio albums. Perhaps unsurprisingly, they’re all from his first fifteen years as a recording artist, but after a lackluster 1990s, he enjoyed an artistic renaissance in the 2000s with albums like The Rising and Devils and Dust.
#5 – Tunnel of Love (1987)
After the huge selling Born in the U.S.A. made him a mega-star, Springsteen released a personal, adult-contemporary album focused on his troubled marriage. There are a few throwaways, but songs like ‘One Step Up’ and ‘Brilliant Disguise’ are brilliant examples of Springsteen’s song-writing craft.
#4 – Nebraska (1982)
Springsteen attempted to record 1982’s Nebraska with the E-Street Band. But he decided that his original demo tapes better suited the haunted, desperate songs, and his demos were released as the official album.
#3 – Born To Run (1975)
Born to Run was Springsteen’s initial commercial breakthrough after his first two albums failed to sell. The huge sound is reminiscent of Phil Spector’s 1960s pop productions. The songs include the fan favourites ‘Thunder Road’ and ‘Jungleland’, but I’ve always been partial to the film noir atmosphere of ‘Meeting Across The River’.
#2 – The Wild, the Innocent & the E Street Shuffle (1973)
The Springsteen of 1973 is a romantic, influenced by Van Morrison, and singing long, complex songs that are in contrast with his more stripped down later work. The E-Street Band’s drummer and pianist were replaced after this album, but Vini Lopez and David Sancious are both great players who bring a jazz feel to the album. The epics ‘Incident on 57th Street’, ‘Rosalita’, and ‘New York City Serenade’ make the second half one of my favourite LP sides ever.
#1 – Darkness on the Edge of Town (1978)
Springsteen toughened his sound for Darkness, which focuses on working class people trapped in unrewarding circumstances. Each LP side starts with hope and ends with despair, and the music varies from the intensity of ‘Candy’s Room’ and ‘Adam Raised A Cain’ to the resignation of ‘Racing in the Streets’.
Do you have a favourite Springsteen album that I omitted? A favourite from his later years?