After watching Bruce Springsteen perform Born In The USA in it's entirety I thought I would revisit one of the classic rock albums of the 80's. It's an album that came at an interesting point in Springsteen's career, many wondered where he would head to next after the dark and despairing Nebraska, would he continue down a more acoustic road with his songwriting becoming more bleak as he descended into the heartland or would he return to the world of rock and roll.
Born In The USA is a rock/pop masterpiece, perhaps his most accessible album, but by no means does this album cover old grown, it's relevant and heartfelt. In the joy of the music you hear songs of fragmentation, decay, loss, a growing sense of hopelessness that was beginning to become all pervasive in the U.S The golden era appeared over, factories closed, small towns became derelict, their sense of pride stripped, Springsteen captured all of this on the album, he captured a growing sense of unease. This was encapsulated in the title track which kicks off the album, Springsteen sings of the despair of living a life where your constantly hit on the chin,
Born down in a dead man town
The first hit I took was when I hit the ground
End up like a dog that's been beat too much
Til you spend half you're life just covering up
He sings of the neglect of those who fought in Vietnam only to return home ignored and shunned, factories closing, the dislocation of small towns a sense that what was firmly rooted in American soil was now being violently uprooted. He takes an ironic look at small town life in Glory Days from the perspective of a jaded adult trying to live in the past.
Now I think I'm going to go down to the well tonight
And I'm going to drink until I get my fill
And I hope when I get old I don't start thinking about it, but I probably will
Yeah just sitting back trying to recapture
A little of the glory of, well time slips away
And leaves you with nothing mister
But boring stories of glory days.
It's a great lyric because it reminds you to not live in the past, not to get caught up in nostalgia. The fire branded Cover Me kicks the album up a notch and allows the rock and soul elements of the E Street band to come to the fore. Once again it touches on the sense of unease that was creeping into the world, Springsteen sings of a world getting rougher, it's about escaping from the perceived danger of the world outside. Once again it mirrors a feeling that many had in the U.S at that time, a sense of things coming to an end and hard times ahead and for many it was better to hide away and not face it. The sombre Downbound Train sees the protagonist down on his luck, laid off from the lumber yard, his relationship crumbles and he feels like his on a downbound train. It's an interesting title choice, because Chuck Berry recorded a song called Downbound Train and it had connotations of a train bound for hell. While not as direct or succinct in it's destination Springsteens song has a similar feeling of a downward trajectory that may be a living hell on earth. The soulful Bobbie Jean was interpreted by many as Springsteen writing about guitarist Little Stevie Van Zandt leaving the E Street Band after the album was recorded. It's a passionate song has Springsteen reflects on the past and the sense of loss at not having his right hand man next to him in the future.
Dancing in the Dark stands as a landmark single in the rock pop idiom, for Springsteen it was a song he felt uncomfortable writing. He was being pushed by his manager Jon Landau into writing a more commercial single for the album, and Dancing in The Dark reflects the difficulty he had in doing that. It's a got such a recognisable tempo and the opening synth lines immediately draw you in. There is a sense of disillusionment with the burden of expectation that must have weighed on Springsteen when he was writing and recording the album. Just as the album opens on a confronting note so it closes the album in the same way, My Hometown reflects the importance of small town values to many Americans, and how those values were beginning to erode. Springsteen sings of riding in his fathers Buick and being told with pride this is your hometown. Through the tribulations of racial disharmony, the failure of the local economy and the disintegration of the town there is still a sense of pride for Springsteen to tell his own child that this is your hometown no matter what has happened.
Now Main Streets whitewashed windows and vacant stores
Seems like there ain't nobody wants to come to town no more
They're closing down the textile mill across the railroad tracks
Foreman says these jobs are going boys, and they ain't coming back to your hometown.
Very few songwriters can convey that sense of hopelessness and sadness in the way Springsteen does, he writes these little vignettes with these characters who are working in lumber yards, mills and are faced with a changing world that no longer values them as human beings. It's an album that has a great sound, plenty of soul and raw rock and roll but it has a deeper penetrating message and it's a message that still resonates today.