In the spring of 1972, talent scout and reputed critic John Hammond brought in a 22-year-old man to audition for him in a small studio. Flash-forward 50 years later, the same young man from New Jersey would be recognized as one of rock’s utmost living myths. Bruce Springsteen has already carved out a dynasty that only a few could achieve if they had more than one lifetime. From creating the best-selling albums of all time to leading the greatest ensemble of musicians ever assembled.
Yet, at 71-years-old “The Boss” has shown that a fine wine improves with age as he released his latest album Letter to You. An album that comes full circle for the artist’s career with a youthful soul covered by a veteran lyricist. As Springsteen reflects over his life through this album, so do we.
Accompanied by his longtime backing group, The E Street Band, Springsteen sustains his 20th studio record with a return-to-form sound. Poetic for his stylistic themes of everyday life, Springsteen converses with listeners with a bold tone familiar to millions. The record’s title track, “Letter to You”, takes a deep dive into the artist’s spirit while remaining guarded. E Street exploits their full strength with the same orchestral sound that had elevated them to icons. While the driving rhythm and piano masks Springsteen’s mortality, the singer still captivates with a harking voice. In reflecting over the song’s power, Springsteen added, “it’s a conversation between me and my fans, at a level that I think they’ve come to expect over the years.”
While the highlight of the record summarizes Springsteen’s life—the rest embody the singer’s inner thoughts. In the earnest of lyrics that personified a career, Springsteen slows down time for his opening track “One Minute You’re Here”. A ballad-like lullaby that transports you to the past winters of a weary traveler who long awaits home. The shortest track on the record rings in the bells of the holiday season as Springsteen sheds his heartfelt journey. The soft, acoustic sound compiles the nostalgia and tension of the decades spent performing for millions worldwide. Springsteen’s faint voice carries the memories of life flashing just as quick as the track does. All the while being accompanied by synthesizers that propel a leap through time.
The strangest twist of fate for the record comes from Springsteen dusting off unreleased material. Before being discovered by Hammond, Springsteen had fully written a trio of original songs for himself. The artist resurrects these tracks with an official studio debut that E Street empowers further. The first of these originals introduced is the intense, hammered down “Janey Needs A Shooter”. A six-minute epic that flexes the range of Springsteen with the brawn of accompanist Stevie Van Zandt during the chorus. This relationship transfers to the other originals as each track showcases the inception of Springsteen’s creativity from an early age.
The doubt and early strife that had plagued Springsteen during the initial start to his career seems like a far cry today. But in “Last Man Standing” the artist uses a gravelly voice to illustrate the shortcomings from his humble beginnings. What seems like a moment of triumphant in an empty stage setting quickly turns somber with a voice that fights back tears. The rock ‘n’ roll symphony weighs down conflicting feeling of joyous and remorse for being “the last man standing”. Though, E Street adds comfort to a track that holds a storied career and resolves it with a blissful send off.
To all who had been monumental in his life, Springsteen brings it home in the record’s closing track. “I’ll See You in My Dreams” pays tribute to past friends and lovers with the singer striking all the familiar chords of past hit singles. The eeriness from previous tracks are swept away as the singer presents a new view on death. Heavenly chords and an uplifting melody compile Springsteen’s narration on death not being the end. This cheerfulness and the band’s sonic convection arrive during “the most wonderful time of the year.” It’s been said millions of times during the holiday season, “it’s better to give then to receive.” For Bruce Springsteen, he gives fans an early holiday gift; a piece of his heart and soul.
Written by Trenton Luber