In a sentence:
Featuring key members of the E Street Band live in the studio with minimal post-production, ‘Letter To You’ is as energetic as Bruce Springsteen has ever sounded.
Growing up in his home state of New Jersey, I’ve been exposed to too much Bruce Springsteen in my life. Just take a drive over to popular beach town Asbury Park, New Jersey and you’ll see lyrics from ‘Born To Run’ plastered onto merchandise sold in stores on the boardwalk. There’s a large sculpture of Bruce’s Telecaster in front of a library in Belmar, the town where the E Street Band rehearsed. There’s even two separate statues of him in Princeton, a town he didn’t have many connections with. Between all of this Springsteen worship and middle-aged conservatives annoyingly misinterpreting the context of ‘Born In The U.S.A.’, it’s clear as to why I’ve had a complicated relationship with his music. But beyond my home state’s annoying obsession, Bruce Springsteen is worth praise, having many well-written LPs in his long discography. And although 2019’s Western Stars didn’t initially grab my attention despite the critical acclaim, I was excited to see where The Boss would stand on his 20th studio record, Letter To You.
READ MORE: Bruce Springsteen // ‘The River’ at 40 years old
Letter To You is full of classic Springsteen power
ballads and heartland rock odes, which in theory would sound uninspired at this
point in his career. But fortunately, the record is energetic, passionate, and
endearing enough to compete with some of the key records in his discography. He
uses this reflective, nostalgic sound to critically explore his past.
Let’s begin with the intro track, ‘One Minute You’re Here’. It
starts out stripped back and intimate, with Bruce crooning about loss. It’s an
interesting way to open this record, being the most sombre song on the album.
But it sets up what this record was inspired by: the death of the people and
musicians who meant most to him. This includes members of his early band the
Castiles to key members of the E Street Band, and it’s this track that really
helps to set the past-tense mood of Letter To You.
This swiftly leads to the title track, where we
get our first real hard-hitter. There’s something so exhilarating about the
tune, which perfectly matches the lyrics about an emotional pouring of the soul
into a letter. Whatever Bruce claims he’s putting into that letter, we’re
getting in this song. But the phenomenal performance doesn’t stop at
Springsteen. The rest of the E Street Band are locked in tight and truly sound
like they’re giving their all. All of the tracks were done live in studio with
minimal overdubs, and that’s exactly how this record feels. All the way down to
Bruce’s ad-libbed grunts, the only noise this record is really missing is the
roar of a stadium of fans in between tracks. It’s crazy that this record
achieves such an energetic live feeling with no audience to work off of,
especially in a time where we increasingly can’t remember what being in an
audience feels like.
Another highlight is ‘Rainmaker’. This is where
Bruce’s vocal performance gets ultra gritty. Accompanying this meaty rocker is
a string section in the chorus, whose contrast is ultimately satisfying. Plus,
the way that this track sounds like it could’ve been straight out of the
singer’s ‘70s material is pretty haunting. Although this song was not one of
them, a few tracks on Letter To You were written during that decade.
It’s a strange time capsule that’s nearly dead-on accurate in capturing the
feeling of Bruce’s glory days (no pun intended).
If this album was a half-assed rehashing of older sounds it
would be pretty stale. But there’s so much drive, power, and beauty in this
record that it can’t help but feel fresh. Even when stylistically similar, the
songs get easier to pull apart with more listens. Letter To You recalls
the past just enough to examine it, while completely avoiding glorification. (8/10)
Listen to Letter To You by Bruce Springsteen here via Spotify, and tell us what you think below!
Tags: album, Andy Ciardella, Bruce Springsteen, Columbia, Letter To You, review, The E Street Band
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