Skrevet av Jack Feeney (9/10)
The River was something of a watershed release for Springsteen in more than one sense. Primarily, it cemented his position as a popular artist (on both sides of the Atlantic) and was the penultimate step in establishing himself as a veritable "American Legend". Such popularity was achieved, however, through a route that further commercialised his sound after the bombast of Born to Run and whisperings of the "Boss" first started to appear with the release of this album. On the other hand, although there are preliminary elements of Born in the USA on here, the majority of this album is still sufficiently intelligent, sensitive, and sporadically dark (the title track continues the theme of the previous album) in both the lyrical and musical sense. Although this album is the first to miss out on the 197- seal of approval (ie. any album of his released in the seventies is worth getting) it still seems a strong and authentic enough release for me to laud it as his final great album (for twenty years, anyway). As is no secret, this is his sole double-album release (although presumably The Rising would be a double-set if released on vinyl) and, appropriately, it both benefits and suffers from the effects of such an approach. On the plus side, of course, it means we get more music and most of it is pretty much great. On the down side, with similar predictability, it means we also have to sit through more filler. Rather unfortunately, all bar one song of the filler is of almost exactly the same style - moronic red-neck rock'n'rollers that are so lightweight they'd practically float away if they weren't used to intermittently stem the flow of good songs over the two discs. They thankfully don't use the offensively cheesy synthesiser/snare-drum combo of the similar numbers on the following-but-one album but there ain't nuthin' to justify their inclusion, apart from as a disappointing invitation for red-neck fans to hail the "Boss". Some are quite fun, I guess, ("Sherry Darling", "Cadillac Ranch"
but taking them away and condensing the album down into a single would leave you with a far less dubious 9* award. Insult is added to injury with the insipid, plodding eight-minute power-ballad "Drive All Night" which is embarrassingly misplaced given the quality of Bruce's other ballads on the album. When one hears him wheezing through the chorus or barking about "heart and soul" one is left practically begging for a bit of Bon Jovi's class in that department. Still, "Drive All Night" aside, the rest of the filler is hardly meant to be that important and, bar the odd exception ("Ramrod" sucks harder than a vacuum cleaner), easy enough to sit through. The majority of this album, of course, is pretty much up to the standard set during the previous decade. Disc 1 opens and closes with the two greatest classics on the album in the form of the absurdly melodic "The Ties That Bind" and the timeless regret of "The River". The latter is another of his unusually deserving greatest hits with an ominous (predominantly) acoustic arrangement documenting another desperate tale of crushed dreams and ruined lives. In truth, though, the subject matter of the title track is something of an anomaly as most of the lyrical content of this album reverts back even past Born to Run to times when the kids were still having fun (the strutting, cock-sure "Out in the Street"
or looking for love ("Two Hearts" and "I Wanna Marry You"
. As it happens, my parents listened to this album a lot when it came out (the year I was born into this life) and I was apparently a big admirer of "Two Hearts" in my infant state. These days, however, and my affection has switched to the more worthy numbers. "Independence Day" is a poignant ballad about the fragile relationship between a father and son (a favourite topic of Bruce's, given his own difficulties with his old man) and the motown-esque "Hungry Heart" was a deserved hit from the album. Bizarrely, according to Bruce himself, he originally wrote it for the Ramones but Landau made him record it himself. Even more bizarrely, it is actually something you could easily imagine the Ramones singing. Much like Physical Graffiti the fact that most of the classics appear on the first CD suggests if one is looking to condense the double set into a single one you might as well just throw away the second disc. I, however, disagree. There aren't any obvious hit singles but the ballads thrown onto disc 2 continue the fine form of the first CD, even if they are less subtly interrupted by the red-neck knock-offs. "Point Blank" begins the second disc as ominously as the first ended whilst "Stolen Car" belatedly continues such weighty ruminations. The best two numbers on disc 2, though, are undoubtedly the superior ballads "Fade Away" and "The Price You Pay". Bruce's vocal performance on the former is agonisingly authentic whilst the solemn latter number again warns against the perils of settling down too early in life. Indeed, this album, probably due to its elongated nature, can be rather inconsistent in its message as well as its quality. At times he is sounding off about how terrible life can be but then joyfully celebrating the thrill of romance or the simple pleasures of driving a fast car. For evidence of this, we go straight from the optimistic, romantic "I Wanna Marry You" to "The River", whilst disc 2 has a brainless homage to fast cars ("Ramrod"
on the same side as a pertinent warning about the consequences of driving recklessly ("Wreck on the Highway"
. It seems that Mr. Inconsistency also fancied playing at being Mr. Ambiguity for a while as well. Again, then, we are confronted with another inconsistent album but with several highlights as high as you like. Furthermore, with albums as stretched as this, do you positively weight it for all the good stuff or negatively weight it for padding it out with unimpressive filler? Obviously I've gone for the former option but it is a real pity Bruce put me in this dilemma in the first place. Unfortunately, I've got to do what my "Boss" tells me.