Sacred Cows: an occasional series in which NME writers re-appraise classic albums
‘Born To Run’ is a bona fide classic. Everyone says so. Rolling Stone once dubbed it the eighth best LP released, ever. Just about every music rag has held it aloft as one of the greatest things ever cut to tape… and the whole thing is a lesson in hype.
As you’ll no doubt have read in a thousand reverential magazine features, Jon Landau once proclaimed: “I saw rock ‘n’ roll’s future—and its name is Bruce Springsteen”. Joe Strummer of The Clash once said, “If you don’t like Bruce Springsteen, you don’t like rock ‘n’ roll”. And seeing as Joe Strummer is one of the biggest phoneys on Earth and Jon Landau worked for Springsteen, these opinions count for squat because, basically, ‘Born To Run’ is one of the most horrendously overwrought albums ever to clog up a human ear.
It’s become a cliche to point it out, but in places ‘Born To Run’ really does sound like Meat Loaf (seriously, check out the opening bars of the whole LP and try not to think of Meat mopping his greasy brow while heaving his bosom at a woman in a catsuit. Basically, ‘Born To Run’ paved the way for Meat Loaf. And Meat Loaf is terrible). Add to that, the awful gravel voiced white-boy soul that isn’t a million miles away from Bruce Willis’ baffling music career, and you’ve got something so unpleasantly bogus that it’s a wonder any music nut can take it. ‘Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out’ should be filed next to Rod Stewart’s ‘Motown Song’.
Of course, it has a brilliant album sleeve. Bruce looks prodigiously cool, guitar slung over his shoulder with the classic rock leather jacket, but alas, what the album sleeve doesn’t tell you is that its contents are smothered in awful saxophone solos, cod-teen melodrama and a rhythm section that has less balls than a eunuch support group.
And then there are the constant and incorrect Phil Spector comparisons. Many look at ‘Born To Run’ like it’s a child of the Wall Of Sound. Listening to it, there’s no denying that there are great slabs of noise, but Spector had a knack of making multiple instruments play at the same time, to the point where you couldn’t work out what was what. He used sounds not often considered for pop records and pushed noises into corners while revealing the space around others. The man was a genius (and a lunatic, granted), able to create rich canvases of sound that were as immediate as they were cinematic. ‘Born To Run’ just thunks you over the head with a thick soup of trad. rock instruments with a bloody xylophone stuck over the top.
What really jars is the perceived notion that this is somehow an album of The People. Like jeans, Chuck Taylors and bottles of beer, Bruce Springsteen has been appropriated by baby boomers and their spoiled children as something ‘honest’ and blue-collar.
With the message of escaping to a better life running as a seam throughout, Springsteen acolytes look at it like a paean to the working man, but to be honest, in 1975, the working man was listening to either Status Quo or disco. And who can blame them. The Quo were much more reliable, and disco’s sense of elevating yourself out of poverty was much more convincing than the whole Hollywood take on escaping into the American Dream that Springsteen sold.
And so, ‘Born To Run’ gave everyone yet another superstar charlatan to join the pantheon of Jim Morrison and The Eagles, later to be joined by the whole of British punk, INXS, U2 and Mumford & Sons, together in their spineless facsimile versions of the things they aped so enthusiastically. Bruce Springsteen is the perfect artist for the consumer who can’t be bothered to wade too far into the murky waters of pop-culture.
Previously in the Sacred Cows series: