Graham Reid | | 1 min read
From the downbeat opening ballad through the kick-drum rockers to the final piano note of chord of I'll See You in My Dreams, Letter to You – The Boss back with the E Street Band – is the album Bruce Springsteen will embrace for its familiarity.
Springsteen's Western Stars of last year was an excellent album which he populated with characters who might have been the mature, damaged and disappointed versions of figures from songs three decades previous when they were young and filled with hope and promise.
With swelling cinematic strings, Western Stars was a step into rewarding, cinematic musical territory.
But after such interesting albums Springsteen frequently goes back to the security of his long-running band and their rock or brooding ballad tropes.
After Darkness on the Edge of Town he went back to the band with the more mainstream songs for The River; after Nebraska he delivered Born in the USA with the E Streeters; after The Ghost of Tom Joad it was The Rising. . .
And here again after the quiet opening ballad which offers some familiar images, he circles back to more familiar material where the E Street Band fill the space.
His lyrics may be mature and thoughtful, but musically this rarely surprises.
But if Western Stars was him reflecting on a cast of imagined characters, here he and his band often seem to be the subject in self-referential songs of reflection and an almost existential sense of loss.
There's the snapshot of someone young and proud taking the crowd on their mystery ride (Last Man Standing); his long-held belief in rock'n'roll's ability to redeem lives and musicians going “from the stadiums to the small-town bars” (House of a Thousand Guitars); the title track about that impulse to write and communicate with his audience.
At 71, Springsteen continues to take stock of his life and that's where the interest lies this time.
But here too are Janey Needs a Shooter which dates back to the early 70s and two others from old notebooks: the almost embarrassingly Dylanesque Song for Orphans, and juvenilia on the faux-mythic If I Was The Priest where “Jesus is standing in the doorway in buckskin jacket, boots and spurs so fine”.
For the unshakable fan this is Springsteen as they would want him with heroic songs like Burnin' Train, The Power of Prayer and Ghosts (the latter two further reflections on pre-fame days on the Jersey Shore) playing straight to his loyalists. As does the folk-to-bellicose dustbowl sketch of the Rainmaker.
But for the occasional listener there are too many familiar gestures for Letter to Youto be much other than another Springsteen drive-by.
Letter to You is out now through digital outlets, on CD and double gatefold vinyl. The documentary Letter to You on the making of the album screens on appleTV+
You can hear this album at Spotify here.